Kayley Reed and Kyle McNevin want you to wear your label. It’s their philosophy and the brand name of their new conscious clothing line that aims to change the face of mental health through fashion design. Started in early 2014, Wear Their Label features Reed and McNevin’s original designs, which aim to help people become self-aware and find strength in where they feel most vulnerable. To make people feel their mental illness is apart of them, yet, not all of them.
“We design our clothes with positive reinforcing messages. Like ‘it’s ok not to be ok’ [and] ‘Stress, depressed, but well-dressed,’” says McNevin. “We want people to feel they can eventually moving into the areas where individuals can confidently wear their labels for themselves and increase their positive mental health. Understanding that it’s not something to be ashamed of but an accessory to who they are just like the clothes that they wear.”
So, how can tank top or a t-shirt make you feel comfortable about your mental illness? It’s about not necessarily the clothing item itself, but the brand. “We follow our ethos with everything. Our ethos is self conscious, socially conscious and style conscious,” Reed says. “Every decision that we make, from the textiles in our clothing, to the style, to the graphics that we put on, is all revolving around those three things.”
There’s a meaning and message behind every decision they make with the line, including thoughts and stories behind their logos and styles (explained in detail on their website). Their current summer line is made with Thread for Thought, a sustainable apparel company that uses organic cotton and recycled polyester.
The silkscreened shirts include tags that tell you how to take care of the t-shirt – and the wearer too. Oh, they also sew those tags themselves and send hand-written notes to each customer with their purchase. Right now Wear Your Label also donates some of it profits to mental health causes. Currently, when you purchase from their website, part of the proceeds go to support the St. Thomas University and UNB Mental Health Awareness Weeks, being held in October 2014.
McNevin say they want customers to know their t-shirt is made with love and with care … but is a lot more chic than the sweater your nanny knitted you for Christmas. “We decided to give out consumer a more warm and genuine feel. Making sure theirs a positive connection,” McNevin says. “Someone who is experiencing mental illness, someone who’s gone through the same thing you have has designed this shirt specifically for you. They’re the ones who pulled the ink across the shirt to make the image. Their the ones that sewn on the Wear Your Label tags.”
Both McNevin and Reed are dealing with mental illness. Reed is recovering from anorexia and McNevin is diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. With Reed a recent UNB grad and McNevin a STU student, you are probably wondering how the hell they managed to pull this all off in six months. They’re part of summer accelerator program at the Foundry Summer Institute at UNB. It’s a program from non-tech start-ups. They work with other start-up companies and support each other and grow over three months.
The institute gives members office space and provides mentorship from designers, business leaders and academics. Basically, the key ingredients needed to make a start-up successful. “Working at Foundry not only does it give us an opportunity to work full-time on what we’re both so passionate about. But it also has given us an opportunity to work with other like-minded people who really push our ideas and can challenge us on different aspects of out business,” Reed says. “I think without this program, Wear Your Label would still exist, but it’d be a lot slower process.”
For the future, McNevin says he can see Wear Your Label expanding beyond just mental health, but to other social conscious issues such as: lesbian, bisexual gay transgendered questioning (LBGTQ); juvenile delinquency and physical disabilities. “Allowing us to really help others and continue to grow the message that what you wear and what your labeled doesn’t define whom you are,” he says.
Cherise Letson is a freelance journalist based in Saint John N.B. Find out what she’s up to at @CheriseLWrites.