Browse the lookbooks of Wear Your Label’s new line, and at first glance you might see beautiful people in trendy T-shirts, gorgeously photographed and softly lit. But look a little harder, and you’ll notice that the slogans “Sad But Rad,” “Self-Care Isn’t Selfish,” or “Stressed but Well-Dressed,” which are designed to provoke a question, to dig a little deeper. And while at first it may seem that the models share one defining quality–they are beautiful–read a bit more and you’ll discover that they were selected not based upon their height or their weight, but on their personal connection to mental health issues.
If you just read the phrase “mental health issues” and involuntarily felt uncomfortable, you’re not alone. There is a huge stigma in our culture surrounding issues of mental health. One in five people struggles with a mental illness at some point in their lifetime, yet it is still difficult to talk about these issues without feeling anxious, isolated, or ashamed.
Think that should change? So did Kayley Reed and Kyle MacNevin, the founders of Wear Your Label. They met in college, and quickly bonded over their mutual love of fashion, and their common experiences suffering from mental health disorders. (Kyle lives with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Kayley is recovering from Anorexia Nervosa). The young fashion superstars–Kyle is 22, and Kayley, 21– have crafted a brand with a mission: they want to change the culture of shame surrounding mental illness, fostering community and conversation, self-love and self-care.
We caught up with Kayley yesterday after being featured this week in People Magazine and on the Today Show, and with orders pouring in, she’s understandably a bit overwhelmed and we couldn’t have been more impressed with her ambition and energy. Equally as impressive is the attention to detail in the WYL brand: from the garment tags, which provide laundry instructions as well as “self-care” information, to the casting of the models (nicknamed “Role Models” due to their inspiring stories), to their commitment towards ethical manufacturing: no sweatshop labor and no underpaid workers. Also, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to mental health charities. They don't believe in labels like "girls" and "guys": all of their clothing is unisex, because navigating traditional stores is not so easy when you don't fit into societal gender norms.
All that, and the fashion is flawless. Meet Kayley, our new style superhero.
MTV: Hi, Kayley! How did Wear Your Label start?
Kayley Reed: Hi! I graduated from the University of New Brunswick in May of 2014, and Kyle is still a student at St. Thomas University. We live in Fredericton, in New Brunswick, Canada. We met just over a year ago, when we were both university students working with a local mental health organization. He was doing some youth consulting work, and I was there as part of a co-op placement for a class. We got paired together randomly, and while working together, we started to organically share our own stories and our own experiences with mental health. It was one of the first times I had ever been really open about the struggles that I had gone through with an eating disorder. As we were talking and trying to get to know one another better, we kind of came up with this idea to use clothing and fashion–something that we are both really passionate about–to create conversation and raise awareness about mental health. And as we began researching this idea, we realized how much of a gap there was, a need for this, even in our own personal experiences of not feeling comfortable talking to our families or friends about our mental health challenges. We thought this was something that could maybe help ourselves as well as other people take those steps to reach out for help, to create those conversations that are just so important.
MTV: One of the things that you address in your work is that it can be really scary and intimidating to have conversations about mental health, and yet you're right: those conversations are SO important. How do you think fashion can help shed the stigma?
Kayley Reed: When we first came up with the idea for WYL, it was just over a year ago. We spent a long time figuring out the best way to tackle these challenging ideas, way before we ever designed a shirt or produced a garment. Obviously, a T-shirt is not a solution: we can never be a substitute for treatment. But we’re fashion lovers ourselves–we love to dress up, we pay attention to style inspiration–and we knew there must be other people like us, who love those things too, but who also struggle with these issues. So we tried to figure out how to make that into something positive, something more meaningful than just, “Oh, I got this at H&M.”
As we’ve been growing, we’re realizing more and more that there are new ways to incorporate different aspects of health into the brand. We’re still new at this, so a LOT of this is a learning curve for us. We're really proud of the garment tags on our clothes, which we designed them with the help of a psychologist. They tell you how to take care of yourself, as well as the tags that tell you how to wash and take care of your garment. It’s a really great, personal reminder that there are steps you can take, something you can do right now to help start a conversation, or to help alter your mood.
Just this week, we started including Conversation Cards in our orders. They’re kind of like square business cards, with facts and quotes about mental health on one side. The other sides say things like, “Use this card as a prompting piece to help you create an uncomfortable conversation about mental health, and when you’re ready, pass the card along to someone else who might need it.” We started including information from the Canadian Mental Health Association. We try to fill the packages with more than just the clothing. I mean, the clothes are our favorite medium, but it’s always been about creating those conversations, finding new ways to spark discussion.
MTV: Can you tell me more about the way you cast your models?
Kayley Reed: Sure, of course! So in October of 2014, just a few months after we started WYL, we were asked to show our new collection at Atlantic Fashion Week, it’s a huge fashion event in Canada, and we were sitting at this casting call, alongside a ton of other designers. We sat there for eight hours that day and all the models walk through, they read off their height and their measurements, they say their names, they do a ten-second walk, and they’re out the door. Honestly, Kyle and I became emotionally exhausted throughout the day. You’re sitting there feeling overwhelmed at having to choose people based on ten seconds of time, and some numbers on a piece of paper. We talked that night, and said, “What if we did something differently?” So we asked our models to submit applications–something that, as far as I know, hasn’t been done at Atlantic Fashion Week–describing their personal connection to mental health, if they were a supporter, a friend, a survivor. If they had any labels of their own they struggle with; if the ideas behind brand meant something to them.
We realized pretty quickly how empowering it is to share the stories of our models. I think a lot of people see models as unattainable, or not real somehow, but every model is a real person. Every model, whether you’re a fashion model, a plus-size model, or a role model, they all have a story to tell. And putting out our casting call to say, “Look, you don’t need to be a certain height, no measurement requirements, just send us a couple photos of you smiling, and tell us your mental health story.” Their stories are rolling out on our blog. Every couple of weeks, we post a new feature.
MTV: And let me get this straight: you managed to accomplish all of this without ever studying fashion?!
Kayley Reed: Ha! Yes, that’s correct. Kyle and I do all of the designing. Neither of us has a fashion background exactly, although I’ve done some modeling. I’m signed with a modeling agency here. I’ve styled photoshoots before. I’m a fashion writer for a few different blogs. I’ve kind of been involved that way for a little while. Kyle just loves fashion. I mean, he gets it: he has an eye for it. And to be honest, in New Brunswick, that’s unusual. It’s not common for people here to be up on new trends, to be interested in this world, so it was so cool to meet someone who shared those interests. It’s honestly amazing what you can teach yourself when you’re just really interested, when you want to learn, and we have some really great mentors here from the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. We had professors who reached out, who work in our studio with us and have been amazing in giving us advice and tips, who have taught us how to use Adobe Illustrator, to sew, to screenprint. And so now, we do everything in-house.
We do outsource the blank garments, but it’s all made in North America, in certified factories that are ethical. Everything else, our screenprinting through distribution, that’s all done in-house by Kyle and myself. We’ve just added one more person who is working with us full-time. It’s a lot of work–sometimes more than a full-time job, to be honest. And we both do a lot of things on the side as well. We both sit on the Youth Council for Access Canada, which is an initiative to improve mental health services for young people. It’s a part-time job for both of us, and a really amazing way to stay involved in the mental health field.
MTV: And so what’s next for you? I saw that you have a Kickstarter rolling out any minute now…
Kayley Reed: May 20th! It’s so funny, we were trying to keep this under wraps before we were ready to launch, and then the press released it before we were ready, so … we’re rolling with it! We have a goal of $25,000, and we want to use those funds to expand our line as well as our team. We’d like to bring on another part-time person, and we’d like to reach manufacturing minimums to create a new line for fall and winter. We’d love to expand to higher-end pieces: things to wear to work, to wear on a date, not just the casual T-shirt line. The Kickstarter launches on May 20th, partly because that’s when we’re ready, but also because it’s Kyle’s birthday! We’re really hopeful that we’ll be able to use those funds to grow and expand.
MTV: Thanks so much, Kayley! We can't wait to check back in once your Kickstarter launches.
For more about WYL or to shop their amazing line, check them out at wearyourlabel.com.