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BODY OF WORK: KAYLEY REED

Meet the creator of a fashion label that challenges the labels we wear.

 

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“I think it’s a really important story to tell: Even when everything in your life is going great, and things on the outside look successful, you can still struggle with mental illness.”

 

When I first discovered the next guest in the Body of Work series, I was amazed by her accomplishments, especially for someone so young.

A fashion designer, CEO, public speaker, and passionate mental health advocate, she not only co-founded a values-driven brand with reverberating international impact… she also remains fiercely committed to spreading its message to the communities who need it most.

Channeling her own experience of mental illness into a drive to reach as many young people as possible, she is a force to be reckoned with, and a guiding light in an online space so often filled with mixed messages and confusion.

I’m delighted to share with you the third installment of the Body of Work series:

My interview with Kayley Reed.

 

Kayley, you’ve spoken openly about your own mental health struggles. Can you share a bit about your experience with mental illness?

I had the perfect childhood, supportive parents, I traveled and got involved with student activities… so I never thought that I had a “reason” to feel the way I was feeling. I wasn’t the picture of what “mental illness” was supposed to look like (or so I thought).

When I was 18, I moved across the country to go to university. It was my dream school, I was excelling academically, making new friends, partying… but over time I became miserably unhappy, unexcited, and numb.

After a lot of denial, I finally went to the doctor, she told me I had depression, put me on medication, and that was that.

Throughout university I tried to keep my mental illness a secret. I didn’t tell family or friends. I was afraid to crack the “perfect image” I thought I had to uphold. And eventually, my depression developed into an eating disorder, which I continued to keep a secret.

As part of my treatment, I went to group counselling where I met other women who were facing the same issues that I was. It was the first time in my life that I talked about these things. I realized how common these issues are, and how secretive the subject still is.


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For one of my final courses, I took a placement with a local mental health organization, and my passion solidified. I started seeking out more ways to get involved with mental health advocacy, and Wear Your Label grew out of that.

Today, three years later, I am the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been… due in large part to Wear Your Label. But building the brand has also been one of the worst things for my mental health (running a business is HARD!!!).

I don’t really believe in the concept of “recovery”… I think mental health is something you become more self-aware of, and learn to manage better, but I’m not sure there’s ever an end goal of being perfectly better.

How did you move Wear Your Label from inspiration to action?

So when I started volunteering at the mental health organization I met Kyle, who is the co-founder of Wear Your Label. We were working on a few projects together to get youth talking about mental health in a more relatable way.

Through that, we were brainstorming and thought, “How great would it be if we could create something tangible that would bring these conversations to life?”  Both being lovers of fashion, we thought a clothing campaign would be really impactful – and so it begun, as a side project in school.

We built a website and promo video (both of which were super rudimentary and terribly designed). We started pitching the idea of “Wear Your Label” at student entrepreneurship conferences: Clothing to help individuals take ownership over their mental health, and take pride in the “labels” that so often define us in a negative way.

It was born out of a shitty time… but has become exactly what I wish I had when I was struggling.

What do you hope to convey through your work?      
 

I hope Wear Your Label can be two things to people:

1) A reminder of hope… a piece of clothing and a space on the internet that can encourage them to keep going when they’re at their lowest, to remind them that they’re not alone, and that it’s okay not to be okay.

2) A physical statement to the world that mental health is something to be talked about. A reminder that 1 in 5 people live with mental illness but 5 in 5 have mental health, and that we all need to be having these conversations and reducing the stigma that impacts us all.

When your co-founder, Kyle, was struggling last year, he could have quietly resigned from the company but chose instead to share openly with fans via video…

Yeah, it was a collaborative decision for him to publicly resign, and came pretty naturally once the decision for him to leave was made. We’ve always wanted to be authentic and transparent with our followers, and so with such a big internal change we knew it was important to articulate the reasons behind that.

I think it’s a really important story to tell: Even when everything in your life is going great, and things on the outside look successful, you can still struggle with mental illness.

In the startup world, mental illness is rarely talked about as often as it should be; being an entrepreneur is incredibly trying on your mental health. So for Kyle to share his struggles and be open about resigning was a really brave thing for him to do.

 

What was the impact on you at that time, and how has the transition been since?

It definitely impacted me at the time, and has continued to impact me and the team. Building a startup is very personal – and it’s hard to separate the business from the personal. Co-founder breakups are something that is still a taboo subject in the entrepreneurial world. No matter the circumstances or however amicable, it is a very difficult thing to move on from something you’ve been a part of creating (and to work through the internal restructuring in the aftermath).

Thankfully I have some really amazing team members and advisors around me who have inspired me to push through, and continue to build Wear Your Label to be something really meaningful to a lot of people. And Kyle has been able to focus on his own self-care, and recovery.

Ultimately, the story isn’t about Kyle or I, though. It’s about creating something that can act as a medium for other people to share their stories. I don’t want the story to be about us, or end with us… I want to put it in the hands of others, because that’s where the real change happens.

So, anything we can do to amplify that– like being transparent about our own struggles, no matter how difficult– is something we’ll continue to do.

This week marks the end of Mental Health Month in the United States. How do you define mental health?
 

I think in defining mental health it’s important to distinguish it from mental illness. Mental illness includes things like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and eating disorders. Mental health is the well-being of your mind, being psychologically and emotionally balanced.

Mental health is something we all have. I like to compare it to physical health: We all have some level of health that we need to manage and maintain, whether or not we have an “illness”.

Self-care is important because mental health isn’t static. It’s variable based on your environment, relationships, and even your physical health.

What is one myth about eating disorders you wish could be dispelled once and for all?

It’s not necessarily about being “thin” or wanting to look a certain way. It’s much more complex than that. 

…and one myth about mental illness in general?

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It can affect anyone, regardless of income, gender, career, relationship status, or race.

As someone who continues to work hard at cultivating self-acceptance, what advice would you offer to someone struggling to improve their body image?
 

Self-acceptance isn’t going to happen overnight, and it’s not linear.

You will have good days when you feel inspired and find things to celebrate about your body and yourself. You will have bad days that make you question everything all over again.

There is no one “right” way to self-love, and it looks different for everyone– but it’s definitely not a perfect or simple path.

Some of the things that have really helped me, have been to consciously and critically assess the media I’m consuming.

Ask yourself:

  • What TV shows am I watching, and what messages do they have about body image? For example, I stopped watching reality shows like America’s Next Top Model and The Bachelor, and started watching informative documentaries instead.
  • Who do I follow on Instagram, and is their content valuable and inspiring? For example, I unfollowed bikini companies and “Instagram models” who often post retouched/filtered photos that look “perfect” but are unattainable.
  • Are magazines and ads providing quality content or trying to sell me something? I try to look critically at fashion ads, realizing they are photoshopped, and I have started buying from independent magazines that focus on honest & transparent content.

click for your free copy:

the love your body playbook


I would also suggest finding a safe space online– a community that you resonate with, whether it’s on Instagram, YouTube, or a Facebook group. Find people who are interested in the same things as you and who post REAL, relatable and inspiring content on feminism or body positivity or mental health, etc.

Then engage with those people, and make THAT what you consume daily. We all spend SO MUCH time on our phones every single day, we may as well be interacting with and viewing content that makes us feel good. These communities have helped inspire me on my recovery journey, and I’ve met some of my really good friends this way.

What is one of your favorite ways to practice self-care?
 

Bubble baths!

So cliché, I know. But I honestly have at least one bubble bath a week because it’s the ultimate treat to myself. With zero phone/outside distractions.

Also, I recently tried a meditation class with Moment Meditation and fell in love with the experience of meditating in a group. It’s something that I didn’t really understand before trying, but that I really want to try and incorporate into my lifestyle.


want some self-care inspiration?

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BODY IMAGE + self-caremental health


What’s next for you? Can you share a bit about what you’re working on now? 

So much!! (Isn’t that the predictable answer? Haha…)

This month, being Mental Health Month, we partnered with Joe Fresh for events in Vancouver and Toronto.

We designed an exclusive collaborative hat that reads “All the Feels”, and hosted Blogger Meet-Ups in each city co-hosted with mental health influencers to talk about the importance of authenticity in content, and how to talk about mental health online.

We also have a shopping event that’s open to the public, and 50% of all sales will be donated to the Canadian Mental Health Association!

Also, the past couple months we’ve been working on a Poetry Capsule Collection in partnership with 3 Instagram poets, and have just released Part 1 with Brittin Oakman. (We’re announcing the other two poets in June! :))

Poetry is something that really helped me when I was struggling with my mental health, and is such an amazing way to connect people. So, this collection has been particularly meaningful to me.

We’re also working on expanding our community. Last year we launched the Campus Rep program, and had 35 student representatives across North America. We’ve since expanded to a general Brand Ambassador program for those not in school, and have grown to almost 100 ambassadors!

The positions are much different than just promoting codes and product… we ask a lot of our reps, from writing articles, to engaging in dialogue about mental health, producing self-care related content, hosting events, and helping us brainstorm designs and give feedback on new products.

Campus Rep applications are now open for 2017-2018 college students.


Kayley Reed is the CEO of Wear Your Label, a fashion brand dedicated to ending the stigma around mental health. She is also a public speaker, content creator, and founder of Blogger’s Brunch. She lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick with her (very spoiled) kitten, Rose.

connect with kayley:

Website | Instagram (Kayley) | Instagram (Wear Your Label) 

 

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HI!  I’M MICHAELA. 

I help women love + care for their bodies, through simple daily practices that anyone can learn. After spending over a decade studying, researching, and teaching body image + mental health principles, I started Wild & Precious to empower women to make the most of their lives by making real and lasting peace with themselves. I share practical guidance so you and your family can free up time + energy for the people + things you’re most passionate about… and actually have fun along the way.

6 Comments
  1. Rebecca says:

    Very inspiring! I’ve heard of the brand, but it’s not something I’ve looked into much and so thank you for the introduction! I would love to support such an amazing person and initiative. Again, thanks for sharing! Off to check out tons of the links you’ve added in the article and dig into this so much more!

    Rebecca | morerebe.com

    1. Michaela @ Wild & Precious says:

      You’re very welcome, Rebecca. Enjoy, and thanks so much for reading!

  2. S.M.BoneyIV says:

    Cool interview, very powerful. I as well suffer from a mental disorder PTSD that I’m trying to raise awareness of. It’s good to see people being as proactive as I am. God bless her and I hope she is hugely successful in her future.

    1. Michaela @ Wild & Precious says:

      Thanks very much for reading, Samuel, and cheers to the important work you’re doing through your blog!

  3. Tonya Wilhelm says:

    Wow. What a powerful post and insight. Kayley was so open and giving in this post. Thank you for sharing her story. I hope it helps others with mental illness.

    1. Michaela @ Wild & Precious says:

      Yes, she certainly was. Just one more reason to love Kayley + Wear Your Label! Thanks for reading, Tonya!

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