self care comes first: kayley reed
Founded by Kayley Reed, Wear Your Label is a Canadian-based company dedicated to opening conversation about mental health through apparel and accessories. For the last three years, Kayley has worked tirelessly on building WYL as a brand and as a community to help give a voice to those struggling with mental illness and remind people that it is okay not to be okay--as their motto says. As a #girlboss in the start-up industry and content creator, Kayley is outspoken about the lack of transparency in both of these fields. She has been particularly open about the struggles of entrepreneurs and the pressure of social media on content creators in the last several months. From hosting panels about authenticity during Mental Health Month to starting Blogger’s Brunch, Kayley is all about creative women supporting other creative women.
In this interview, Kayley speaks about overcoming the challenges of being a female entrepreneur, her tips on authentic advocacy in mental health, and the importance of supportive communities for women creatives.
For those who are unfamiliar with Wear Your Label, tell us your main inspiration for founding the brand and how you are working towards ending the stigma around mental health.
Wear Your Label started 3 years ago, when I was in my final year of university. I had been struggling with an eating disorder, and depression, but it was something I had tried to keep a secret because I felt completely overwhelmed by self-stigma. I didn't tell my family, or friends, and was somewhat in denial about my own struggles, because I felt like I didn't fit the "picture" of what mental illness was supposed to look like. When I finally reached out to get help, I joined a group counselling session for girls with similar mental health struggles - it was one of the first times I met other people who were experiencing mental illness, and I realized how common these issues are. That was also one of the moments I realized I wanted to do something more, and got involved in the advocacy space. So the inspiration behind the brand has always been very personal. When my co-founder and I started Wear Your Label, we didn't think we were starting a business - we just wanted to create awareness through something that we both loved (fashion). Fast forward a couple years, and Wear Your Label today is a clothing brand dedicated to ending the stigma around mental health, and giving back to mental health initiatives. We design things that act as conversation starters, with statements like "it's okay not to be okay" and "self-care isn't selfish", and incorporate little details like self-care tags in the clothing, that remind you how to take care of your mental health. We're also deliberate about casting Role Models - people with lived mental health experience - rather than fashion models, and we have a zero retouching policy.
WYL has partnered with the Joe Fresh Centre for Fashion Innovation and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. How did this impact the development of the brand and your own development in business?
Both have been amazing partners. We joined the Joe Fresh Centre for Fashion Innovation in late 2015, after showing at New York Fashion Week! The program was 18 months - which is LONG for a startup program - but was designed to foster growth through mentorship with the Joe Fresh team and Ryerson community. We've since developed an ongoing partnership with Joe Fresh - who have been super supportive with all of Wear Your Label's growth. The past 2 years, we co-hosted mental health awareness events during Mental Health Month (May) and donated proceeds to Jack.org and the Canadian Mental Health Association. We also introduced Blogger Events co-hosted with body positive influencers (like @omgkenzieee), to create safe spaces for upcoming bloggers, talking about authenticity in content. That's been my favourite part of our partnership thus far!
Our partnership with NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) was formed last year as well; we were recognized as 1 of the first 7 StigmaFree companies in North America! StigmaFree companies are organizations that value mental health for their employees, and are raising awareness through products or campaigns. philosophy was another brand that was recognized (whom we also love!). Afterwards, we designed the StigmaFree capsule t-shirt & long sleeve to further raise awareness for NAMI and encourage people to take the StigmaFree pledge on their website.
Beyond building a brand to create conversations about mental health, an amazing community of role models, campus reps, brand ambassadors and supporters has opened up on social media. How important is community and what does it mean for WYL?
So important, that we just created a full-time position called "Community Manager" this year! I think one thing we've recognized makes an impact is sharing stories - a wide variety of stories, from different people, ages, backgrounds, and experiences - and that's where our Role Models, Campus Reps and Brand Ambassadors come in. We really want Wear Your Label to feel like something that you're a part of - not just a company that sells t-shirts. Again, it comes back to the inspiration behind the brand, and trying to create something I had when I was going through that tough time.
You speak a lot about how easy it is to engage in conversations with people who “get it.” What advice would you give to people who want to start conversations with people around them who are not as supportive or understanding as the mental health community?
This is so hard, but so important. Advocacy can only really create change if we're challenging the stigma beyond our "safe bubble". A lot of us become comfortable sharing our stories within the mental health/ body positive communities, but not beyond that. I think understanding that everyone has different experiences, upbringings, and education, is really important. Someone might associate a negative stereotype or stigma with mental illness, because they've never experienced it themselves or they don't know anyone personally who has. They may only have the education of what they've seen in the media, or what they've heard in the news. Understanding that they're not necessarily evil, or bigoted, but misinformed is a big piece in having constructive conversations.
At the end of May, National Mental Health Month, you hosted a panel with Kenzie Brenna about transparency as an influencer. You have been very vocal about how the culture of social media, particularly curating on instagram, makes it difficult to open up about the tough stuff. How have you approached this issue and what advice would you give to people who feel like they can only post their highlights?
This was one of my favourite events of the year! Social media can be so toxic, especially in the influencer/blogger space. Women are literally making money by curating "perfect" versions of their life into a flawless instagram feed, and there's the false impressions to followers that that's how they actually live. The behind-the-scenes is often very different. What I love about the body positive community on instagram right now is that there's a push for transparency - rather than posting the highlight reel, women are posting their squishy bellies, cellulite, fat rolls, and saying "f* it, I love myself anyways". It's a revolution in media - which is now being democratized through socials - and I think it's going to keep trending.
If you're not already immersed in that space, it can be super intimidating to post something like a no-make-up selfie, unedited, unretouched. But people want more of that. We crave authenticity. I would suggest women who might be feeling pressured to post perfect photos, and keep their feed curated, to let go of those pressures a little bit, and let your personality and your personal life into your photos. Take the mask off for a bit - followers appreciate it, and it creates a more accepting culture when it comes to body image, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
As a mental health advocate, you have spoken about how you feel pressure to always be okay. However, as you’ve said, mental health really doesn’t work like that. How do you remind yourself to take care of yourself and alleviate that pressure of seeming like you have it all figure out?
It's been an ongoing journey of learning how to manage my mental health. People often assume that advocates are "recovered" because now we're able to talk about it, but I hate that term. I don't think there's such a thing, "recovery" is something that's always happening, ever day, in every decision that you're making. Thankfully I've figured out what triggers me, what inspires me, what motivates me, and I make conscious decisions about self-care around those things. There is still days that I feel completely overwhelmed and lost, and don't want to get out of bed. Sometimes you have to let yourself feel those down days - live in them - don't try to escape them. If you can, take the day off work/school, and let your body do what it needs to refresh. I'm lucky to have a partner who is super supportive and always tries to cheer me up when I'm down, which is really helpful. Surrounding yourself with people who believe in you, is a gamechanger. Cut out toxic people.
And remember that there's always tomorrow. If you're struggling to make it through a Monday, remind yourself of the rest of the week. Life goes on. You will too.
You started Blogger’s Brunch this year, bringing together and empowering content creators and girl bosses. What has been most successful about Blogger’s Brunch and why do you think the industry needs this?
I've been surprised at how it's taken off! I started it as a one-off event in New Brunswick, because we don't really have anything like that here (it's not exactly the fashion mecca). I think it's important to create these safe spaces, specifically for women, because of the pressures we talked about before. In the influencer/content/girlboss spaces, everyone wants to succeed, and show their successes, and nobody wants to feel like a failure. But we're all struggling with something - whether it's collaborations, or business questions, or gaining traction - and I wanted to foster those conversations in a space that was judgement-free. I'm also a big believer that cool things happen when you bring interesting, passionate women together. We're always behind our screens, and being able to connect in real life for once is such a breath of fresh air! I think the industry needs more of that. It's underrated. Everyone's talking about and focusing on digital, but we're forgetting the social aspect of building relationships in person, which I personally think adds depth to our relationships online.
As the founder and CEO of a small Canadian start-up, you are most definitely a #Girlboss. What have you learned as a woman CEO and what has been your biggest challenge? What advice would you give to other women in the start-up industry?
Thank-you!! It's not easy. It takes a lot of patience, and tenacity. I think from the outside-looking in, things are always more exciting/glamorous/big/important. And of course, a lot of my job is amazing - but I'm human, and there are numerous obstacles everyday that not everyone gets to see. Sometimes I wish the startup industry was more transparent (I'm starting to open up more and more myself). It's overglorified right now as this dream career path - being a unicorn entrepreneur - but no one talks about the actual struggles, the depression, the financial hardships. They're issues that get glossed over by the bigger picture. I wouldn't pick out one specific challenge, but rather the entire journey itself - building a business is really, really hard.
As far as advice: there's no such thing as an overnight success. Don't get caught up in what you think you "should" be doing, take all advice with a grain of salt, and recognize that only you know your vision and can make it happen. Work hard, but don't burn yourself out. Take care of your mental health, and surround yourself with other women! This industry is saturated with men (male entrepreneurs, male VCs, male-led events and organizations), and girls need to stick together and support each other.
Finally, always check in with yourself. It's not going to be easy, but you should enjoy the journey or where it's taking you. if you're not happy at the end of the day, ask yourself, why are you doing it?
Who are your biggest role models or inspirations in the creative and mental health industries
So many! Creatively, Sophia Amoruso (the OG Girl Boss), Emily Weiss (founder of Glossier) and the girls behind Nudestix (Taylor and Ally). In mental health, Kenzie Brenna (@omgkenzieee), Valerie (Depressed Cake Shop), Gina (@nourishandeat) and the women who work at the Jed Foundation!