Proud2Bme | Mental Health Matters: An Interview with Wear Your Label's Kayley Reed

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Mental Health Matters: An Interview with Wear Your Label's Kayley Reed

By Laura Porter--Clothing can be a means of self-expression, a way to send a message to the world about your identity and your story. Wear Your Label is a clothing line designed to create conversations about mental health, give back to mental health initiatives, and ultimately end the stigma (in style). I had the incredible opportunity to interview Kayley Reed, one of the co-founders of this game changing lifestyle brand.

Laura Porter: How did you decide to create the line?

Kayley Reed: Just over a year ago, both Kyle and I were students in university. I was doing a co-op placement for one of my classes, working with a local mental health organization and I got paired up with Kyle, who I had never met before. We were tasked with creating youth engagement workshops for middle school students for Mental Health Awareness Month. As we were working together on this initiative, we both very organically began to share our personal struggles with mental illness with each other.

We were talking about different things we could do to raise awareness and we both have a love for fashion. I’ve modeled and have written for a few fashion blogs and Kyle is one of the best-dressed guys I’ve ever met. So it was this passion for fashion and our personal experiences with mental health that came together. One night over dinner, he was like, “We should create a clothing line called Wear Your Label and give back to mental health initiatives.” It was this idea we had for so long and we played with it and made a Facebook page but we never actually made any clothes until last July when we were working out of this business accelerator program called the Summer Institute.

They had basically accepted us based on our idea and were like, “We don’t really know what you’re doing, but we believe in you, so here’s some funding and mentorship. Go for it!” We had the opportunity to actually develop what we had been thinking about for so long and last summer we put out our first collection. Since then, it’s been a slow growth of building our brand, which is a really positive lifestyle brand that also tackles the stigma that plagues both of us.

LP: How does your line (and how can fashion in general) help us have these conversations about mental health?

KR: Fashion has been notorious for making people’s mental health worse. Just take a look at everything from Urban Outfitters pieces with dangerous slogans to the retouching of models and the super glamorous, superficial way the industry is. We saw this gap. We thought, “Where can mental health fit into this?” Right now, there’s a lot of movement toward social trends like eco-friendly or organic clothing lines and we saw all the great things happening with social giving and fashion. A lot of it is about the environmental or international aid (like TOMS) and we saw this gap with the mental health piece. Fashion has such power to do good, give back and get people talking because it’s something you’re wearing every day.

Wear Your Label is still a super small brand. It’s just Kyle and I and two students working with us. We’re constantly trying to reinvent the wheel of what’s the norm in the industry. There are some really awesome key players who are doing great things right now, like Aerie with their Aerie Real campaign, which is committed to using untouched models. We’re trying to both gain inspiration from that and also to find things that aren’t happening right now that we wish we could see happen and then implement that with our brand.

LP: Can you tell me a bit about the Role Models?

KR: The Role Models came about after our showing at Atlantic Fashion Week. We went for the casting call for the week with all the other designers who were showing and basically it was a full day of hundreds of models walking through. The director would call out their measurements and you’d see them for 10 seconds and you had to cast based on that experience. At the end of the day, Kyle and I were so overwhelmed and we thought, “Wait a minute. Maybe this isn’t how it has to be. Maybe we can actually create more of a connection with our models.”

We started sending out application forms asking models to share a bit about their personal connection with mental health and whether they were a fighter or supporter or survivor or in recovery, etc. We asked them to share their stories on our blog. It’s been really well-received so far and we have an overflow of emails asking to model right now.

I’m also signed with a modeling agency here and have done some modeling in the past. I use my experience on the other side of the camera, knowing that when you finish a shoot, you might not even recognize yourself after the photos are retouched and edited. That’s why we don’t Photoshop our models and that’s why we try to recruit people who are role models and can be champions of mental health for others. 

LP: What is your dream or vision for Wear Your Label?

KR: That’s a great question. So, when people used to ask this question a couple of months ago and kind of prior to that, I would always answer that my ideal goal was to have to strangers walking down the street wearing Wear Your Label. They see each other and they don’t know each other, but they notice the Wear Your Label logo or the design or whatever and they instantly feel that connection and they know they are not alone in whatever struggle they might be going through.

And then we started getting emails of people sending in stories like that—saying that they’ve met someone on their campus who was wearing another Wear Your Label piece and they just went up to them and started a conversation and my goals and dreams were a reality.

So I think for future goals, there are a lot of things that we want to tackle. We want to include more plus sizes on our website. We want to start moving into our manufacturing so we have more freedom for designs and things. Ideally, I think my goal is to one day be in New York or Toronto or wherever and be able to walk into a store and buy my own clothing.

LP: What has been the most important lesson that you have learned throughout your recovery journey?

KR:  I don’t think there is one most important lesson, but I think something I now am so much more aware of is how common these struggles are. And I remember when I was kind of first starting to struggle with my eating disorder and really in the midst of my lowest points, I felt like I was so alone and so isolated and I had never known anyone or I thought that I had never known anyone who had gone through a similar thing.

The only things I had to go off of were these things I had heard about in the media or read online, and you know as well as I do how twisted so much of that can be. And so, I think what I’ve learned through my journey, with recovery, and reaching out and advocacy—just that there are so many people who are affected, maybe not specifically by eating disorders, but by depression or self-harm or anxiety, and you never really realize it until you are able to share your story with them.

LP: What would you want to say young men and women struggling with an eating disorder, self-harm or depression?

KR: I think I might throw a couple of clich├ęs here, but obviously that you’re not alone and that no matter how isolated or alone you might feel, that there are thousands, if not millions, of other people out there in the world who are feeling or going through the same thing. But also that no matter what you are struggling with, it doesn’t make you less of a human being because you’re dealing with that.

Whether it’s low moods or self-harm or an eating disorder, just because you are going through something that can be really tragic or difficult to deal with, it doesn’t define who you are, and it’s never going to define who you are. There is so much potential to turn that struggle into a strength. And I think that’s the beauty in all this, is that it can be so scary and so isolating but it can also be a really beautiful way to create connections and community over an issue that we’re all really passionate about.

About the blogger: Laura Porter is a senior at The George Washington University majoring in political communication. After taking three semesters off of school for her own mental health struggles, Laura became passionate about advocating for increased awareness of mental illness among college students, specifically eating disorder awareness. Laura served as the president and founder of the organization Students Promoting Eating Disorder Awareness and Knowledge at GW (SPEAK GW) for two years and is a proud former communications intern at Active Minds Inc.  

Also by Laura:

5 Things I've Learned in Recovery (As Told Through Broad City GIFs)

5 Ways to Advocate and Promote Awareness on your Campus

Taking Up Space: An Interview with Beck Cooper

Never Stop Fighting for Recovery

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