Mental illnesses are invisible. Or at least, they were.
But two young entrepreneurs are looking to change that.
Kyle MacNevin and Kayley Reed are co-founders of a business project called Wear Your Label, which produces fashionable clothing with mental illness labels such as “anorexic” or “bipolar” prominently displayed.
“It’s basically un-labeling by labeling. So [it’s about] taking ownership over your mental health, whether you’re happy and healthy or struggling with a disorder, and just realizing that it’s something that you can own and . . . realize it doesn’t define you. [Wear Your Label] takes an inside-out perspective on crushing the stigma rather than an outside-in,” said Reed, a third-year student at Renaissance College.
“One of the reasons why we started the campaign was because we noticed a gap with different mental health campaigns, where a lot of them are really loud about crushing the stigma . . . and saying that you support this or you support that, but there wasn’t anything that really started from within yourself. So we thought instead of saying that you support somebody else in something, why not start by saying that you support yourself, that you accept yourself for whatever label you have. And by doing that you’re then helping others realize that they can do the same thing,” she said.
The project combines mental health activism with business savvy in a way that MacNevin said will provide “real, tangible outcomes” for its consumers.
“Labeling theory is pretty clear, from many researchers that we’ve talked to. If you give an individual a label, and you start encouraging them to wear it in a positive way, research suggests that it will have individual, positive improvements in that person’s life,” said MacNevin, who is a fourth-year STU students and co-founder of the New Brunswick organization Youth Matters.
“What we’re trying to do is reclaim the label from a position of strength and love. So in order to help others, you must first help yourself.”
In addition to the stigma-reducing statement of their clothing, Wear Your Label also aims to simply create fashionable clothing.
“We really want to incorporate both the fashion and the mental health and bring them together into one new world. There’s different organizations for different causes. Ten Tree is the environmental fashion line, and Me to We is the international aid clothing line, but there’s not really one that’s associated with mental health. So what we want to do is not just create your regular boxy t-shirts, but fashionable clothing that people actually want to wear,” said Reed, who has recently been accepted into a Master’s program in fashion studies at Parsons The New School For Design in New York City.
MacNevin and Reed both said that their personal experiences with mental illness have been the “driving force” behind their initiative. In addition to statement clothing, they are also hoping that Wear Your Label will help to create an online resource for people looking to learn about mental illness and stigma.
“[There are] little things on the actual clothing, like where most garments say how to take care of your garment, our tag will also say how to take care of yourself, including mental health information either about a specific illness or about mental health in general. So our consumers aren’t just buying a shirt . . . they’re continuing to educate themselves after the fact,” said Reed.
“So really you’re buying a garment, you’re a trendsetter, but you’re also a part of this large connecting group that’s also championing mental health. We’re not saying that we want to be the one place where everyone can all talk about mental health, but maybe we can be the one place where everyone can stand up for their illness from a place of love and compassion,” added MacNevin.
Although the initiative is still in the early stages, Wear Your Label has gained traction and support at a variety of mental health and entrepreneurship conferences. MacNevin and Reed pitched their idea at the Unleash The Noise 2014 national mental health conference in Toronto earlier in the month, and Wear Your Label came in second place at the Atlantic Youth Entrepreneurship Summit pitch competition. The duo is currently applying to the Foundry Institute at UNB.
Although Wear Your Label apparel is not currently available for purchase, Reed said that many people have signed up for pre-orders, which are available on the website with no monetary commitment — you simply leave your email address and will be notified when the product is available. The pair hopes that the first line of clothing will be ready to launch this summer.
Wear Your Label was also launched on Facebook and Twitter last week. Although the responses were largely positive, some people did have concerns about the initiative.
“I think with anything that goes big, there’s going to be people who dislike the opinion or want to fight it . . . and sometimes that sticks with you, especially when you’re just starting out and it’s your brainchild and you love your idea so much it’s harsh to hear people fight it,” said Reed.
“But getting this criticism has been really good for us because we are still at this development point where we can question ourselves and [ask] what we can do to make our philosophy valuable to everybody.”
Despite the criticism, the pair remain very confident about the future of their company. MacNevin said that the pair are their own harshest critics, and are working on developing cautionary measures to ensure their product has the intended effect.
“Without losing our principles and values and what we believe in our company, we want to make sure that what we’re doing is successful, not only in profit but in change. So [we are] looking at making a positive impact of individuals lives, and how we measure that, and how we make sure that each person who buys our product is ready to wear that shirt . . . I feel very assured that what we’re doing is right and what we can do to make a difference, but we do need to make sure exactly what we’re doing is doing good while making money,” said MacNevin.
“The only thing we need to worry about is at the end of the day, can we confidently say why are we doing this, is it important, does it matter, and is it going to make a difference. And as long as we can answer those questions and move forward, then yes, we’re doing the right thing.”
To find out more about Wear Your Label, check out their website at WearYourLabel.ca.