A Reflection on Founding Label

Jo had the idea for Label in the summer after her first year at uni, and founded the company a year later. This piece is a reflection on that experience, what she has learned, and thoughts for what needs to happen going forward.

Founding Label has been the best and worst thing I have ever done. It has been the trigger of some of my happiest memories, for example, the models running to me after the first show. But it has also been the catalyst of my absolute worst memories. I am fortunate enough to have good mental health, but the stresses of the project caused the worst breakdown of my life. The next day, a model thanked me for the fact that they felt beautiful for the first time in their life. It was all worth it again.

The reality, however, is that the vast majority of the time is lived at neither of these extremes. Most of running Label has not been even remotely glamorous. My time is mainly spent with a laptop, not people: answering emails, filling out forms, uploading articles… The list goes on, and most of the time I love it. It is just that with everything else I do, I have spent the majority of my time at uni checking eight email accounts a day. I had got so used to doing this that it seemed normal.

I fall asleep remembering that message I clicked on and did not answer: "S***, it will come up as read - will they think I am rude? It won’t be there under ‘unread messages’ when I go through everything in the morning, and what if I forget?" So, I reach out of bed and grab my phone to reply to the message. No one is making me; the chances of the other person noticing or being offended are slim to none. Yet, St Andrews is a strange place where things that are relatively unimportant can suddenly seem like the pinnacle of your entire world. It is only by leaving that I can see the full extent that all my projects took over.

Running anything - being in the limelight in however small or large a way - means opening yourself up to a barrage of criticism. It is a fine line between people having the freedom to express their opinions and your own desire to cry out that you are only human and are trying your best. It may be totally fair game, but it hurts and can be slightly scary when people start publicly attacking Label articles or calling me out as an individual. I have been told everything, from accusations of being incompetent and ugly, to being told that I am too attractive to run Label (you have seriously misunderstood) and am too perfect, setting impossibly high standards for others. I am neither of these extremes; I am far from completely incompetent, but even further from perfection.

If you choose to take a lesson away from this, however, PLEASE do not let it be that running something is too difficult. In fact, I firmly believe that the opportunity to take charge is one that everyone should have, not only for yourself but so that you know what it entails. Please be kind to those who take the leap. I am far from perfect, and I could have done many things differently; but I am only human and I have tried my best. A combination of very few people remembering to say thank you, and a lot of people eager to complain, makes for a pretty exhausting experience at times. If that sounds like a moan, it is. I have burst the bubble now, so I get to do amazing things, like say what I think.

So, if all of that is true, then why is Label still one of my proudest accomplishments? People may grumble or tell me that I am/ Label’s not good enough…  But they cannot take away from the fact that, if only for a few people, I have made a difference. Strangers have told me that after one of their friends modelled, their increased confidence infected the entire group, and that they have stopped hating their body like they used to. Trans women have shared their stories, as well as those who have survived suicide attempts, and victims of Islamophobia… When people do say thank you, it means the world. Some say it more than once; tell me how Label has been their favourite thing about university, or even changed their life - doesn’t that make it worth it?

Every positive thing Label has done makes all the stress totally worth it. Even if you hate Label, I hope you appreciate this at least – that it was founded to do something positive. To share stories. Given that that is the case, it has always surprised me how few people have asked for mine: why I founded Label. That may sound egotistical, but it is not that I am offended; I just would have thought more people, especially those working on the project or modelling, would have been curious.

It is here that my biggest concern with Label lies: people want to share their own stories, but I sometimes worry they are not so interested in listening to others’. I hope that that is not true, and do not think that this is the case most of the time, but there is a danger. So many people have loved sharing their story through this platform, and that is an amazing thing to see; but it is completely pointless unless you also learn from what others are saying/ writing/ showing you. Going forward, it is important to listen, as well as to speak up.

Label brings together an eclectic group of people, to say the least. Several models have commented that they have hung out with people they would never in a million years have met otherwise. This is true for me as well, and I have loved seeing those barriers come down.

Ultimately, the purpose of Label is to no longer exist. The best-case scenario is for everyone to love, or simply be at peace, with their own body. To have the opportunity to speak up, to be listened to, to be seen and respected. In the best-case scenario, we shatter beauty standards once and for all, breaking down the barriers between one another. In the end, we should be able to wipe the slate clean of labels and write only those we chose, if any. This would require effort from everyone, especially those in a position of power, but it would render Label completely irrelevant. The best thing my company could ever hope to achieve is to no longer be needed - I hope we can make that happen.