When Kayley Reed and Kyle MacNevin met while working with a local mental health organization. Kayley was battling an eating disorder, and Kyle living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and ADHD. They connected over our experiences, but realized how rare it was to actually talk to anyone about their illnesses. From that realization, Wear Your Label, fashion tackling the stigma of mental illness, was born. We talked to Kayley to learn more about this amazing venture:
What inspired you to found Wear Your Label?
Three years ago, I was battling an eating disorder, and at a completely different place in my life. I had struggled with depression for some time before that, and I’d barely opened up to anyone in my life about what I was going through; my family didn’t know, many of my friends didn’t know. I held a lot of self-stigma around what I was experiencing, and had no idea how to reach out or talk to those around me about my mental illness.
So, in the same year that my eating disorder was at its worst, I began volunteering at a local mental health organization. There, and through group therapy, I finally met people who “got it” – who understood what I was going through, and were open to sharing their own challenges too. It was the first time that I realized I wasn’t actually alone.
The idea for Wear Your Label was conspired between a friend, Kyle, and I who both had experiences with mental illness and knew that there must be a better way to create positive conversations around such a stigmatized issue. We both love fashion, and in a “lightbulb” kind of moment, decided to combine the two (fashion and mental health) to help bring visibility to this, typically invisible, issue. Wear Your Label was born!
How do you think Wear Your Label is helping to change the conversation about mental illness?
We challenge the stigma in two ways: by designing physical conversation pieces (like a t-shirt, or a mug) that can be used to spark meaningful dialogue and raise awareness, but also by producing things (products, and content) that act as a personal reminder to the consumer that they are not alone, and that it’s okay not to be okay. The products themselves can act as statement pieces to the world, or a physical mantra to help fight that negative self-talk so many of us experience.
Beyond the products though, are so many little details that truly make Wear Your Label what it is. We removed gender categories from our website in an attempt to create a safer online space for transgender and gender non-conforming youth. We also choose to cast Role Models
instead of typical fashion models: there’s no height/weight/size restrictions, rather models have to apply with their mental health story, and why ending the stigma is important to them.
I think the real conversations happen by engaging our community (in person, and online) and that’s why we have a pretty heavy focus on all the little things (like our Role Models Initiative). It’s not enough to create a positive tee and donate back to a charity – it’s an old model. We’re continuously trying to innovate in the fashion & mental health industries and collaborate with other key players to create change; we can’t do it on our own.
You knew you had a good idea. Who else did you have to convince? How did you do it?
At first, we had to convince everyone around us. Starting a brand is hard – starting a brand about something controversial and stigmatized is even harder. There was a few months where we really struggled to articulate our story and WHY it mattered. But once we convinced a few key supporters, things started to grow.
We got accepted to a business accelerator program after graduating university (WYL at the time was still an idea), and pitching to funders became a *real* thing. We worked with professional designers, branding and marketing mentors to help us craft our story in a way so that people “got it” in 30 seconds. From there, we started to realize that the more we shared our story, the more support we got, because every single person could relate or knew someone who was going through a similar struggle.
So, we kept storytelling. We kept putting ourselves out there, and hoping that by genuinely opening up and putting this idea out into the universe, that it would evolve into something… and over months of hard work, it totally did. Granted, it was really hard. I think individually, telling your mental health story, and starting a business, are two very challenging things. So doing those things together – in tandem – was overwhelming at times, and definitely scary. But also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
Where do you get the ideas for your graphics? Share with us one or two of your favorites.
Everywhere! But primarily from personal experience… when you’ve gone through a struggle, your perspective changes, and I think that’s why I’ve developed a lot of little mantras and sayings (or are attracted to them). Sometimes it’s a line in poetry, sometimes it’s graffiti in a new city, sometimes it’s a heart-to-heart with a friend who’s in the midst of things. My favorite is “it’s okay not to be okay”.
What’s your favorite fall look?
I’m loving that the 90s choker trend is back! I also love anything oversized: boyfriend jeans, oversized plaid, or a baggy cardigan sweater.
What do you think is the most fun part of what you do?
I love the creative side of things: being able to turn a trend that I love into Wear Your Label products (like our new choker collection) that give back to mental health charities. The whole design, branding, and marketing process is really fun for me.
But at the end of the day, the reason why I do what I do is the messages we get, from people all over the world. Sometimes they’re little thank-yous for starting this WYL community, other times it’s that we’ve inspired them to reach out for help or start a campaign of their own. It’s pretty amazing to know that something that sparked from a simple idea has reached and impacted so many people!
If you could go back in time, is there anything you would do differently to prepare you for founding and running Wear Your Label?
Oh boy! There’s a million things that I wish I could go back and change… but honestly, there’s something really great about being SO naïve when you’re starting out. You don’t know what you don’t know. And I think if we would have had any clue about how hard things would have been, or the challenges we would have faced, we wouldn’t have done it. But without knowing, you have nothing to lose, and you’re forced to figure it out along the way. It’s a blessing and a curse.
How can we help (besides shopping of course!)? Is there something we all should be doing to raise awareness about mental illness on college campuses?
There is so many ways to raise awareness for mental illness – Wear Your Label is one small piece of the puzzle, but it definitely doesn’t start or end with us! Educating yourself is super key to understanding the challenges and barriers faced by individuals and the systems that we live in.
College campuses have a really unique opportunity to create conversations within your own community through events, fundraisers, guest speakers, etc. There’s some amazing non-profit organizations in Canada & the USA that have chapter programs (like Jack.org or TWLOHA) and can assist with a lot of the grassroots stuff if you’re super passionate about bringing change to your campus.
But on a simpler level: just talk. If you’re struggling, take that (terrifying) risk and reach out to someone you trust. If you don’t live with mental illness, it’s still important to create these conversations; genuinely check up on a friend who’s been going through a rough patch, call someone you haven’t talked to in a while. I’m a big believer that change starts with conversations – and in the moment, it seems like it’s just a drop in the ocean, but when it adds up, we can honestly make waves by just making mental health something acceptable to discuss.
What is your advice to young entrepreneurs?
Patience is key. There is no such thing as an overnight success. From the outside looking in, things always look bigger and more glamorous than what they really are. And there’s no tips or tricks that will get you ahead faster – just honest, hard work, a lot of passion, and the right people around you.
Do you have campus ambassadors? Do you hire interns? Do you do sorority trunk shows?
We have a Campus Reps program! It just launched this year, and we’ll be expanding & opening applications again next summer. We do tend to have 1-2 interns each semester – we post most open positions on our website, but if you don’t see the perfect opening don’t lose hope; we’re still a small startup with big plans to expand over the next couple years.
We also always try to structure internships so that they could lead to a real position down the road. In fact, every person who works in our Fredericton office started out as an intern and evolved into their current role!
We also do speaking engagements & pop-up shops at universities across Canada & the US. No trunk shows for now, but we’re always looking for ways to stay connected & engaged with our followers. So if you have an event idea or want to collaborate, don’t be afraid to shoot us a note.