When I came across Wear Your Label, I instantly reached out to Kayley for an interview. Her story was so inspiring and I loved what her and her co-founder had created: a clothing line to spark conversation…conversation about mental illness.
Kayley talks about the importance of self-care, understanding that what makes other people happy may not make you happy and the fact that mental illness isn’t just a one-size-fits-all illness – nor is mental health. Wear Your Label is a #stigmafree brand with an amazing story, creating conversation…one shirt at a time!
Megan: I love wear your label and what it stands for. It’s so nice to see a clothing line that’s not just a comfortable sweater, but part of a movement. Do you mind telling me about your story; how you started and why it came about?
Kayley: When I was in university I struggled with an eating disorder and depression and it was something that I didn’t tell anybody in my life about. I held a lot of self-stigma, and was in denial that it was something i was struggling with and was really just afraid to reach out and talk about it because nobody in my life had really talked to me about that sort of thing. I felt like I was the only one who was going through it and felt super isolated because of it. So I kept it a secret for a couple years in university and in my final year I started doing group counselling and met some other women who struggled with eating disorders or body image issues and that was the first time I had ever met other people who experienced something similar to what i was dealing with and who talked openly about their mental health. It was the first time I realized i wasn’t the only person going through these kind of things.
I then started volunteering at a mental health organization and met so many other people who were open about their mental health journeys and who were really passionate about fighting the stigma – I realized how common mental illness is, how big of a problem it is and how big the stigma surrounding mental health is. So i kind of really slowly started opening up more and more about my own experiences and near the end of that year, co-founder Kyle and I came up with the idea to create a clothing line that would help people create conversations around mental health, to make this invisible issue visible and easy to talk about by putting it on the clothing that we wear everyday. That was really the inkling of wear your label- which was three years ago. We started brainstorming some more and talking to more and more people and we realized it was something that could actually have legs…so we applied to a business accelerator program right out of university to access funding to start the clothing line. Both of us didn’t accept our offers to grad school, we jumped in full-time into wear your label…it was scary but exciting and we really put everything we had into creating this brand that meant something more. It’s more then a clothing line because we also give back and we have role models – we don’t just cast fashion models, we showcase the stories of people who live with mental illness.
We also have little things within the clothing like garment tags that not only tell you how to wash and take care of the shirt but how to take care of yourself.
It wasn’t until about a year after we started Wear Your Label that we started getting picked up by press like Buzzfeed, MTV and The Today Show, who shared our story. It was a total life changing experience because overnight we had all these new followers and sales. It was the validation that Wear You Label could be a brand that could create a movement, at the forefront of the mental health movement.
M: I just want to jump back and talk about the garment tags you have with the positive messages. What kinds of positive messages do you have?
K: Our general tags say “breathe, stretch, drink lots of water, listen to your favourite song, watch a kitten video on youtube, take ownership of your feelings, talk about it and treat yourself.”
M: That’s so nice! I think sometime, especially for those who struggle with eating disorders or body image issues, looking at a tag can be so triggering and cause so many negative thoughts. Having a tag that can give you a boost of positivity and happiness is so great.
K: Totally and that is exactly where that idea came from, with my own experiences with my eating disorder and just having a negative experience with putting on clothes in the morning and feeling unhappy when you’re shopping and looking at size tags. I just wanted to have something that is positive, yet so simple, that can turn your day around when you are putting your t-shirt on.
M: I know that Canada is really working hard on ending the stigma that surrounds mental health, but it is still an issue. In you own words, why do you think there is such a stigma?
K: I know it’s a cliche answer, but the way that the media portrays mental illness is one contributor to the stigma. How often do you hear about “a crazy psychopath” or “some person with bipolar committed a crime”? it’s definitely not always talked about accurately or portrayed in a positive way in media stories or even movies. I mean, that whole side of things is definitely getting better, like we are seeing a lot of media that is representing mental health in an accurate and positive way and showing that people with mental illness are more then their illness and that you can be a fully functioning and successful human being and still have anxiety or depression.
The other thing is the language that is commonly used…like throwing arounds “crazy” and “bipolar”. That can be pretty debilitating and it just ingrains further our thoughts on what mental health and mental illness looks like….associating it with a negative label.
People are also still really afraid of reaching out to share their own stories. Even though we hear it in the media, often times we only hear an experience from one side. Mental health isn’t one dimensional – it’s so diverse and complex. If you struggled with an eating disorder and I struggled with an eating disorder, our stories are probably similar but also probably different in many ways.
I think it’s really key for advocates and those with lived experiences to talk about it because the more diversity we’re sharing about what mental illness really looks like, the further we’ll be in eradicating that stigma.
M: It’s so true. when you do open up and talk about something, people tend to be more inclined to say whether they have it or not maybe they know a friend or family member who has it and are more comfortable opening up
M: How do you like to take care of yourself when you’re having a set back or not feeling okay? Are there certain things you’ll do to destress or chill out?
K: In a sense I’m really lucky because i’m an entrepreneur and business owner, so I do have that flexibility with my work, which i know a lot of people don’t have…but i’ve made very specific choices with my work in order to balance my mental health and self care. Instead of working 9-5, I will work 11-6 because i’m not a morning person at all…it makes me very anxious and sad to wake up early and try to start my day. So rather than fighting that I chose to set my day at a different time. i’m also a big believer in self-care Sundays – so taking one day out of the week to treat yourself and do something good for you…whether it’s going to the gym, taking a bubble bath, hanging out with friends…just fully disconnecting from work and focusing on stuff that you love, especially on Sundays when the Monday blues are hitting.
Day-to-day I’ve been trying to listen to more podcasts and read more to help me disconnect from social media. When i spend a lot of time on social media it can be really draining emotionally. I think a big piece of all of this is self awareness and learning what’s triggering for you or what negatively impacts your mental health. It might be very different from other people but having that self awareness to say “okay this is something that is having a negative impact on how I feel everyday…so i’m going to do something else instead.”
M: That’s so important. and it must be hard sometimes as a business owner to get yourself into that routine to set aside your personal life with your work life…especially if there is always something going on. How do you find the balance?
K: It is very difficult and for the first two years with Wear Your Label, I didn’t really disconnect very much. I kind of fell into that whole idea of the start-up grind and hustle and that over glorification of working super hard and being busy all the time. For some reason society highlights and celebrates when people are ridiculously busy and stressed out because for some reason it equates success. I realized after doing that for two years, that working 12-14 hour days made me miserable with no time for myself. Here I was trying to build this brand that is all about mental health and yet I wasn’t even taking care of myself…so I really made a big adjustment in my everyday life and took steps back and removed myself a bit more from the business to focus on the things that make me happy and the things I value…all while building the business.
I also realize that Wear Your Label is only one part of my life and my work doesn’t have to be everything that makes Kayley, “Kayley” – which I think is an overseen thing. When you meet someone for the first time, one of the first questions is “so what do you do?” and we equate our business and work lives to who we are. Getting away from that concept has been so refreshing for me and rediscovering happiness and passions outside of work is really important for self care.
M: What kind of hobbies do you like to do?
K: Well my boyfriend and I started painting a joint painting. Neither of us had ever painted before so it was really fun trying to do that. I love animals so any chance i get to go to the SPCA and hang out with cats is the best. One of my goals for 2017 is to read more. I’ve always been a big book nerd, but since starting a business it sometimes just feels so busy and feels like you don’t have time…so now I’m making time to read more.
M: Do you have a favourite book? Rr a book that has been inspirational to you?
K: There have been many. One of my favourites ever, which is so relevant right now, is 1984. I just reread it in the past couple months and everything with the US election and the book are weirdly similar, which is kind of depressing at the same time.
Another book, which I started reading and am super in love with is called Sapiens. It’s a brief human history of how species and humans evolved into where we are now and it’s so cool to understand the psychology and biology behind the way we act and what we do.
M: That sounds like a good book!
M: Is there anything else you want to share about yourself or Wear Your Label?
K: I will just say one thing: I’m working on a little bit of a side project that has to do with the idea of self care Sunday…and i won’t say what it is just yet, but it will be launching later this year!
M: That’s exciting! Thank you so much for everything. It was so great to learn more about you and Wear Your Label.
*All photos courtesy of Wear Your Label’s photographer, Kelsey Schroeder.