Exclusive: Mental Health Activist Kayley Reed Talks Putting Your Self First and How to Deal with the Lowest of Lows

kayley reed wear your label

Kayley Reed is a total badass.

The activist has already started the successful clothing brand Wear Your Label, the meet-up Blogger’s Brunch for awesome women of social media, her own personal blog, and the Self Care Sunday podcast. Oh, and did I mention she’s only 24?

She started Wear Your Label at only 20 years old and even though it started as a side project, it soon blew up. The brand takes on the stigma of mental health and promotes self-care, self love, and honesty about your own feelings. One of their classics is the “it’s ok not to be ok” tee.

Although Kayley has recently left Wear Your Label to focus on her own mental health, she continues her advocacy work through her other projects and speaking engagements.

Kayley has shared her journey nearly every step of the way, and has been such an inspiration for women to share their own stories. On a personal note, I can totally relate to Kayley as someone who struggles to balance their own health issues with their growing ambitions. And that’s why I’m so excited to share our interview with the boss babe herself. I think you will really relate to her as much as I have.

1. You officially left Wear Your Label back in January. How did you end up making that decision?

Mostly, I was burnt out, and just a completely different person than who I was when I started the company. At twenty years old, most people don’t have a clue what they want to do with their life or how they want it to unfold. At twenty, I was in the midst of an eating disorder, starting recovery, and building what would become an international clothing brand. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew it made me happy in that moment, and creating something out of nothing was exactly what I needed to get me out of that mental rut.

Fast forward three years, and I was recovered, running a business, and on the outside-looking-in: “successful”. But the reality was that I was overwhelmed, constantly stressed, working too much, and not necessarily passionate about being the role I was in. I had learned so much about myself throughout those years, grown so much, and realized that I didn’t want to spend my life talking about my mental illness. I had spent every day for 3 years sharing my story to strangers on the internet, and audiences of 100 to 10,000. It was a blessing, but also a huge responsibility, and I wanted to step out of that spotlight to focus more on some of my passions, like writing, and feminism.

I mentioned this in my first podcast episode: “Being a mental health advocate doesn’t necessarily mean needing to talk about your struggles every single day on social media, but rather, proving that you don’t have to be defined by them because you’re out in the world, killing it at what you love.”

And that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to go out into the world and pursue the things I loved, rather than feel defined by the past three years of my story as an entrepreneur.

Credit: Kayley Reed/ Instagram
2. You’ve made a point of putting your mental health first, which can be really hard for a lot of us when women are expected to do everything and be everything. Do you have any advice on how to choose self-care over work?

Well, it took me a couple years of working ALL OF THE TIME on my startup, and experiencing burn out before I really began to take “self-care” seriously. It was ironic, because as a mental health advocate I was preaching all of these things around taking care of yourself, but wasn’t really taking my own advice. I always thought work was my self-care. I think for a lot of millennials, that’s a common mentality. Work defines us, in a way. When you meet someone new, one of the first questions is always “So, what do you do?” There is so much emphasis in our culture around being busy, around hustle, around this idea of “success” and being a “girl boss”, and I finally realized that it just wasn’t everything I wanted. At the very end of the day, I don’t want to be known as a “co-founder” or an “entrepreneur”, I want to be known as Kayley. And so with that conscious value shift, I’ve shifted a lot of my priorities as well, and what I do every day.

Self-Care Sunday was the beginning of this for me. Just taking one day out of the week to not work (which, as a startup founder or entrepreneur, is sometimes unheard of). Eventually, I began to incorporate more limits into my work life: No e-mails in bed. No work past 8pm. And I started saying yes to more things I love. Yes to passion projects. Yes to wine nights with friends. Yes to writing, for no reason at all, other than feeling inspired.

My advice would be to take a step back, and look at the big picture. I read a great quote recently that said “How you spend your days, is how you spend your life.” That’s kind of how I think of self-care now: big picture.

3. You’ve been extremely open about your story — are there any areas of your life you’ve decided to keep private?

I’ve been very detailed and open about my eating disorder, and mental health in general, but there are other areas I’ve kept more private. My relationships primarily, and even some of the “darkest” moments of being an entrepreneur (ie. some of the more stressful things that are still somehow not socially acceptable to talk about). I think even advocates and influencers online who are very transparent about showcasing the “realness” are still, in some ways, curating that realness. We’re always picking and choosing moments and captions and photos and emotions to share. I don’t know if it’s healthy to share absolutely everything, but I am glad that social media is beginning to trend more towards that transparency versus the constant highlight reel.

kayley reed interview
Credit: Kayley Reed/ Instagram
4. Depression can be, let’s face it, a bitch. How do you maintain hope that you will recover, even when you’re in the lowest of lows?

Ugh, yes. Depression sucks, agreed? I think self-awareness is key, which is something that takes time to develop. Three or four years ago, when I was in a rut, I would feel completely helpless. I would cry alone, hide my emotions, not talk to anyone, curl up and avoid the world.

Now, hitting those lows means knowing to reach out for help, to rationalize what I’m feeling, and to recognize that it’s just that: a feeling. I know now that I go through episodes sometimes that might last a day, or a night, but by the time I sleep and wake up, I feel much better. So I try to really put things into perspective for myself, and remind myself “You’ve been through this before. You’ve been through worse. And you got through it. You just need to get through this day, and tomorrow will be fresh.” Sometimes it’s just sitting with that pain, and taking a bath before going to bed early. Other times, it’s harder because you’re in the middle of a working day or have things that need to get done and you can’t just “take time for self-care”. Those days are harder, but still reminding myself to push through because I know that it is a temporary feeling, and incorporate little things into my day to make it better. I love to listen to podcasts while walking or working, or call a friend on a coffee break just to get out of my own head.

5. Where do you see your mental health advocacy work taking you in the future?

I would love to continue growing the Self-Care Sunday podcast. I’ve never created a podcast before, and had zero expectations around it, but it’s been so fulfilling and something I have a lot of ideas for in the future (we’re doing a live podcast taping in Toronto on March 25, and have visions of delving into video interviews for a Youtube series in the future). I also have plans to write a book (or a few!) in the future (who knows if it will be in 2 years or 10), and would eventually love to get into screenwriting… One day ;)

This interview has been mildly condensed for publication.


‘Star Wars Daisy Ridley is the Positive Mental Health Role Model We Need

Lena Finkel
Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules. When she's not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her hanging out with her tuxedo cat Tom.