According to Statistics Canada, one in five Canadians experience mental illness or addiction each year – Kayley Reed and Kyle MacNevin, cofounders of Wear Your Label clothing line, beg to differ. They believe that five out of five people live with mental health problems.
“Everyone feels stressed, everyone feels anxious, everyone feels angry, everyone has insecurities,” says MacNevin. “Realistically, that 1 in 5 number could be drastically higher – we don’t know how many people are out there experiencing this alone. It is very isolating.”
Wear Your Label established a pop-up shop in Dalhousie’s Student Union Building on Oct. 8 in honour of Mental Health Awareness week, put on by Dalhousie’s Student Health Promotion in an effort to create conversations about mental health.
Reed and MacNevin met while volunteering for a mental health organization, bonding quickly over their personal experiences struggling with mental illness.
“We came to this conclusion that conversations about mental health and your personal struggles are very vulnerable but they’re also singular, they only happen one on one,” says Macnevin. “And we felt so connected to each other — but we wanted to help more people.”
The pair set about creating an agent of change that would allow people to start conversations about mental health while still protecting their vulnerabilities, ultimately challenging society’s perception of mental illness.
“We thought about fashion: let’s put mental health labels on clothes to raise awareness to end stigma, and to give back.”
Wear Your Label garments are loose fitting and designed for comfort. The messages are positive and create conversation about vulnerabilities: among the company’s many slogans are ‘self-care isn’t selfish’ and ‘it’s okay not to be okay’.
The clothing’s tags don’t only tell you how to wash your garments, but have encouraging messages such as ‘This size does not define you’. There is an additional self-care tag written by a professional psychologist with advice on how to take care of yourself, and 10 per cent of all the company’s profits are given to Canadian mental health organizations.
The business has grown drastically within the past year; in spring 2016 the brand will host its own show during New York City’s Fashion Week. Wear Your Label was recently accepted as one of Joe Fresh’s six innovators, resulting in a massive production change for the company. MacNevin has moved to Toronto to work closely on branding and marketing with Joe Fresh’s corporate executives.
“The company is changing, but our brand has to stay the same,” says Macnevin.
While the pair started out screen-printing and packaging each individual garment by hand, there are now production companies in both Scarborough and Florida. The manufacturer in Scarborough is a small garment shop owned by former mental health social workers.
“When you have a garment from Wear Your Label, you know that from sketchpad to runway to retail to your front door, every step of the way, someone delivering or making or designing that garment is affected by what you struggle with to help you get to your strength.”
The pair spoke in the Potter Auditorium at Dalhousie University about their brand after the pop-up shop in the SUB.
“If you break your arm, you get a cast: it’s a symbol to the world that you’re hurt, but you’re healing,” MacNevin explained. “People just accept that. We try to emulate that through our clothing with mental health – there is no cast for bi polar disorder, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia.”