BY BEN CROUSE
When Kayley Reed agreed to an interview with Buzzfeed about her small Fredericton clothing business, she had no idea that it would shut the store down for a month.
The Fredericton-born company designs clothing and jewelry that encourage positive conversations about mental health. The company donates a portion of its sales to mental health organizations and initiatives around the world.
The Buzzfeed interview and feature story in May, 2015, was a big moment for the company. Business exploded almost overnight for Wear Your Label. Buzzfeed.com claims to have more than 200 million visitors monthly, and the traffic referred to Wear Your Label’s website from Buzzfeed forced the up-and-coming business to stop taking new orders so it could catch up on more than 600 back orders.
“We literally closed our store for a month so that we could restructure everything and get the right partnerships in place for production, and make sure that the quality was better than what we were doing here,” Reed says. It was time to go above and beyond what in-house production could offer the company.
While the unexpected traffic and sales caused by Buzzfeed may have proved challenging initially, it helped Wear Your Label create an international presence for the small-town company and solidify its brand.
Heather MacLean, the owner of marketing company TaylorMade Solutions and a communications professor at St. Thomas University, likens a brand to “the value or the emotion that you want your customer to have about what you represent.”
“It [branding] is very important because it’s your reputation. It’s what makes you who you are,” says MacLean, who cites as an example the quality, high-end and expensive brand of Rolex watches. ”It’s all about the brand promise or the value that you’re going to bring.”
Small and emerging businesses can struggle to get their brand just right. MacLean says it’s all about solid planning.
“With a small business or a start up, you’re just really positioning yourself and you have to get the customers. You have to be very consistent, you have to have your brand statement very clear, you have to know who your customers are, you have to know what you’re offering them,” she says. “It’s about living that brand and maintaining the brand. It’s important whether you’re a start up, you’re established or you’re well established.”
Sad but rad.
Self care isn’t selfish.
It’s okay to not be okay.
These slogans define the Wear Your Label brand.
Reed and Kyle MacNevin started the company about two years ago when they were working for a local mental health organization. Reed was recovering from an eating disorder, and MacNevin was struggling with generalized anxiety disorder, depression and ADHD. They were both frustrated with the negative stigma surrounding mental illness.
“We kind of saw an opportunity to create something tangible that would bring this invisible issue to light in a positive way,” Reed says.
Wear Your Label has gone from being a small town start up in New Brunswick to an internationally recognized fashion line. It partnered with other brands and organizations, including the Canadian Mental Health Association, Jack.org and Joe Fresh.
Reed says this international reach has been helped by building a strong brand that consistently upholds the company’s key values.
“I see branding as the way that people perceive you, but also like the way that you’re communicating with your customers and your followers,” says Reed, who adds that effective branding is much more than having a nice logo or good visuals on a website.
“For us, where our entire mission is focused around mental health and creating those conversations, we’re consistently going back to the core reasons why we started and making sure that everything in our branding is super authentic,” she says. “If it’s not, then we’re not doing our job.”
The web branding has been especially important. Last year the majority of sales came from the United States.
“The internet is such a beautiful thing that you can be based in Fredericton and have sales in Chicago, New York, California, everywhere,” she says. “We can stay here, and we can be sustainable and grow to this big international brand from here.”
In its first year, all of Wear Your Label’s production was done in-house. The company has always employed a small team, and eventually staff could not keep up with producing clothing locally. Now production takes place in a factory in Florida. Shipping, marketing, website design and other business still takes place in Fredericton at the hands of a team of five.
The company is currently testing new product launches every month instead of seasonal collections. The fashion brand also hopes to expand the conversation surrounding mental health as a whole, as opposed to focusing on mental illness.
“One-in-five have mental illness, but five-in-five have mental health. We all need to take care of ourselves to get better. I think that’s a piece of the conversation that’s been lacking in the past,” Reed says. “I think that our goal long term is to be that number one source – that when you think of mental health, you think of Wear Your Label.”