Fashion line helps consumers ‘take ownership’ over mental illness

By Lee North and Amanda Yevdaev

While showcasing their clothing line at New York Fashion Week in September, Kyle MacNevin and Kayley Reed received a phone call.  It was a 416 number.

“That’s Toronto,” MacNevin said.  “We should probably pick up the phone.”

On the other end was a representative from Joe Fresh calling to congratulate them on their line, Wear Your Label, for being one of six start-ups accepted into the Joe Fresh Centre for Fashion Innovation at Ryerson University. If accepted, they would have access to the senior executive team at Joe Fresh.

“They said, ‘we need one of you to move to Toronto for Oct. 1,’” said MacNevin.

After a round of rock, paper, scissors, it was decided that MacNevin would leave their hometown in New Brunswick and move to Toronto to be a part of the $1-million program.  They were among the first wave accepted to the 18-month program that allowed them access to Ryerson’s Fashion Zone as well as mentorships with several companies, including Joe Fresh and Shoppers Drug Mart.

The Joe Fresh Centre for Fashion Innovation is a start-up incubator for fashion-inspired ideas. It provides Canadian entrepreneurs with the chance to receive mentorship, gain access to workspace and receive funding for their ideas. With these tools, MacNevin and Reed were able to further develop their company, Wear Your Label.

The line mostly consists of gender-neutral T-shirts with sayings such as, “Self Care Isn’t Selfish” and “Sad But Rad.”  The tags on the clothing not only instruct wearers how to wash and care for their garment, but they also include self-care guidelines written by a psychologist. The instructions read “40 per cent stretch, breathe, meditate. 30 per cent sip tea and eat well. 15 per cent feel your feet, be present. 10 per cent laugh out loud. 5 per cent listen to an awesome song.”

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A label inside one of the ‘Wear Your Label’ T-shirts. (Lee North / Ryersonian Staff)

Since its inception in 2014, Wear Your Label has been internationally recognized.  Last May, the clothing line was featured on TODAY.com, BuzzFeed, People magazine and several other international news sites. Wear Your Label went from five orders a week to 500.

“Our five-year plan was to do a show at New York Fashion Week,” MacNevin said. “We did that in eight months.”

Wear Your Label aims to help consumers take ownership over their mental health instead of fearing it as a label that defines them.

“When you’re going through something and you feel like you’re the only person in the world going through that, it’s really humbling to know that there are people all over the world who are struggling with you,” said MacNevin.

Each of the models selected for the label’s showcases have a history with mental illness. MacNevin calls them “role models” and their photos are never retouched.

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Original sayings are created and printed on shirts by MacNevin and Reed. (Lee North / Ryersonian Staff)

Their new “With Love” campaign is another way the brand makes a personal connection with customers. Brand ambassadors host letter-writing parties and produce unique, positive hand-written letters that are included in each order.

And customers often write back. MacNevin recalls a response from a father who had a hard time talking to his daughter about her self-esteem and body issues. He wrote to Wear Your Label saying he bought one of their items for her and it brought them closer than ever before. “He sent pictures of them travelling all over the world together,” said MacNevin.

MacNevin and Reed were still in university when they decided to start Wear Your Label. Reed was battling an eating disorder and MacNevin lives with generalized anxiety disorder, manic depression and ADHD. They thought of the idea after bonding and dealing with their mental illnesses together.

There is more to come of Wear Your Label in the near future, as MacNevin has announced they will be doing a special project with Joe Fresh in May.
The second round of start-ups are gearing up to apply for the Joe Fresh Centre for Fashion Innovation. Applications are accepted until Feb. 26, 2016 and winners will be announced in April.

The Joe Fresh Centre for Fashion Innovation will hold a public tour on Jan. 27.

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This article was published in the print edition of the Ryersonian on Jan. 27, 2016.

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