Written by Andrew Seale
Kayley Reed never dreamt of running her own fashion label, nor did she harbour some secret desire to start a business. Hers was a path of creating goodwill through law or policy making. But her personal experience with mental health and the community she met through counselling inspired her to co-found Wear Your Label – a conscious clothing line that that uses fashion to create conversations around mental health.
“Wear Your Label is a fashion brand that designs positive products to end the stigma around mental health,” explains Reed. “We do that through positive messaging in our clothing and little details within the brand that relate back to mental health.”
She points out that the tags in the brand’s clothing – which has slogans like “it’s okay not to be okay” and “self care isn't selfish” – includes instructions not only on how to wash and take care of your garments but also how to take care of yourself. They also don’t use gender categories on their website and feature “role models” instead of fashion models, highlighting regular, everyday people across Canada and the U.S. and their personal stories surrounding mental health.
Reed met her co-founder Kyle MacNevin three years ago while volunteering at a local mental health organization in Fredericton.
“I was still in university and, at the time, I was struggling with an eating disorder and depression… it was something I didn't really tell anybody in my life,” says Reed. “It was only when things got worse and worse that I dragged myself to see a doctor and was diagnosed.” After that, Reed started going to counselling and met other women with a similar experience.
“Up until that point I had felt super isolated,” she says. “I got really inspired that there were people talking about their stories because it is such a hard thing to talk about.”
Ultimately it led to her volunteering and meeting MacNevin whose own experiences had him reflecting on his role in breaking the stigma. The clothing line seemed like a perfect way to tackle some of the challenges surrounding talking about mental health. They decided to enrol in a small-business accelerator at the University of New Brunswick’s Summer Institute, spending three months on their business model.
“After graduating university, we decided to jump all-in,” says Reed. The duo was overwhelmed by the response they received. “We started seeing this community rallying behind what we were doing.”
But they knew that New Brunswick, supportive as it is from a startup standpoint, wasn’t “a fashion Mecca,” says Reed. Around the same time she came across Startup Fashion Week in Toronto.
“I was really inspired because they were one of those organizations bringing these two industries together,” she says.
The company participated in the fashion week in 2015 and the following year joined the Joe Fresh Centre for Fashion Innovation in Toronto. MacNevin relocated to Toronto for the first 12 months of the 18-month program with Reed moving to Toronto for the final six months.
“It was a really cool opportunity to be able to connect in that fashion hub… to build our network in Toronto especially with people like Joe Fresh who we continue to have a relationship with,” says Reed. Like the inspiration she felt when she first found her place within the mental health support community, opening the doorway on the startup scene both in New Brunswick and Toronto has changed the course of her life.
“I realized: sometimes businesses can have a bigger impact than government programs or a nonprofit organization… the way they’re structured allows more freedom and independence to actually create change and make things happen more quickly,” says the accidental entrepreneur. “That’s why I was really drawn to this idea of social enterprise and why I’m still in it.”