TKEES GIRLS is a visual montage of the amazing women that inspire us. These are beautiful and accomplished visionaries who we applaud for putting their best foot forward everyday. Through their impeccable taste and modern lifestyle these women embody everything that TKEES believes in and stands for. We hope you enjoy these snap shots of a day in the life of a TKEES woman.

Carly Bennie, Ashley Steinhauer & Caroline Kassie

What does The Dialogue Projects mean to you?

The Dialogue Projects is about starting a conversation about mental health. We want to connect people in our communities, and eventually across the globe, to make a safe space to keep that conversation going.

How did you come up with the idea behind The Dialogue Projects?

Each of us has been personally affected by a mental illness, whether it is a personal struggle or helping a loved one through their struggles. We found that the common thread to all these different mental health issues, from anorexia to clinical depression, was stigma and a lack of accessible resources. The Dialogue Projects was our response and is a marriage of two different ideas: a content portal to educate and share stories about mental health and a philanthropic fashion brand to make a tangible impact in our communities. We were inspired by Lauren Bush Lauren’s FEED Projects because we love the way every product they sell specifically supports a different region or country in furtherance of its mission to ‘feed the world.’ With that as our starting point we spent a long time picking the programs we wanted to support so that we could be as specific and transparent as possible in communicating to our customers where their dollars are actually going and how they will help people. We also wanted to touch as many different mental health issues as possible, so each program is different in the issue or demographic it serves.

Tell us about the concept behind your elephant logo. How did you come up with the design?

We felt that our products needed to fit with our mission. We decided to brand every bag with an elephant, to represent the parabolic ‘elephant in the room,’ in support of our campaign to fight the stigma attached to mental illness. Elephants are a meaningful symbol across many different cultures and the depiction with the trunk up symbolizes a showering of good luck.

Has fashion always been a passion for you? What made you decide to create handbags?

We are all lovers and big consumers of fashion! Our passion however is the philanthropic component of our project and giving people the opportunity to make an impact with their purchase. Part of that impact is the dollars that go directly to the programs each product supports, but the other part of that impact is starting a conversation and contributing to the dialogue by wearing the bag and educating each other about mental health.

We chose a tote bag because we wanted to create a multipurpose (and unisex! guys they look great on you too) product that people could use everyday. We want to provoke as many conversations in as many different places as possible. As we expand our product line we still keep that in mind – we want the products to be visible and versatile.

How do you hope to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness?

DIALOGUE! We are aiming to get to a place where talking about an illness or struggle with our minds is as common and normal as talking about an illness or struggle with our bodies. If a friend broke her leg you would not hesitate to ask how she was doing and we think that should be the same for any type of mental health issue. Two spaces that we think are crucial to this goal are schools and the workplace. If effective and sustainable support structures are implemented there people will feel more comfortable and confident in asking for help when they need it.

Your amazing project inspires us! Who inspires you?

CB: The brave individuals that have shared their stories with us about mental health and their inspiring words, which make others feel as if they are not alone.

CK: My mother for her resilience and capacity to love, my sister for her passion and drive and my father for his integrity.

AS: My grandfather for his courage, determination and generosity, my parents and brother for their unwavering support and love, and my partner Jesse for encouraging me to become the best version of myself.

You’ve had some incredible voices, like Chantal Kreviazuk, speak out in support of your mission. How has this helped get your message out?

This has been an incredibly impactful part of the project. It is very easy to look at a celebrity or high profile individual, or even an acquaintance’s social media, and think ‘wow that person really has it all.’ The reality is that EVERYONE struggles with something and being able to relate to someone you respect and/or look up to and understand that no one is perfect is very comforting. It is really important to us that the ambassadors and friends of the project who are representing the brand really understand the mission, so we are honored to have inspiring people like Chantal and Kelly Hrudey share their voices.

Any advice for those struggling with mental illness?

Try to remember that these feelings, struggles and challenges are not forever, that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. Utilize the support system around you. Stigma often prevents us from reaching out to the people we love for help – but when we do it can make a world of difference. Lastly, finding a way to channel what you are going through into something positive (whether that be volunteer work and helping others, something creative or finding a new passion project) can be a great way to help yourself and find purpose.

What has been the most rewarding part of starting The Dialogue Projects?

We love bumping into people wearing the bags, but the most rewarding part has been the e-mails and texts we’ve received from strangers and friends. They tell us that they’ve read through the Voices section of the site and were so moved and comforted that they were not alone in their struggles, and that now they want to share their own stories. One individual wrote to us that she has long felt that who she truly is often gets overshadowed by her illness, but that fighting for herself and for others by getting involved with the project would help save herself and those with similar struggles. That is the breaking down of stigma and EXACTLY why we started this.

What are the top 5 things that get you through the day?

(1) Each other
(2) Working hard at something we love
(3) Exercise!
(4) Food! We try to hold all our meetings over pizza
(5) Our families and close friends who provide daily inspiration and encouragement