This week, we're digging deep with Zoya, the founder of As We Are, "a style website for people living with health conditions. It combines peer mentorship and storytelling to support individuals experiencing symptoms and side effects of diseases, disabilities, and chronic pain. This is a space where comfort meets style, where functional fashion thrives, and where courage shines."
What inspired As We Are?
During the winter of 2014, I was navigating several health challenges that resulted in uncomfortable symptoms and medication side effects like nausea, muscle pain, weight fluctuations, and low energy. Between balancing my doctor’s appointments, school work, and extracurricular activities, I woke up one morning to discover that I had completely lost my sense of fashion in an attempt to wear only comfortable clothes. I actually opened my closet to find that I owned more pajama pants than real pants. I laughed, but I also realized that this was problematic. I saw this as an opportunity to rebuild my wardrobe to find pieces that reflected who I am and how I wanted to feel. Not only did I manage to find clothes that reduced the severity of my symptoms and side effects, but I also found clothes that made me feel confident.
When I asked my friends who live with health conditions if they also used fashion as a wellness strategy, they all said yes- each with a story to share. I started documenting their fascinating personal styles and stories one year ago through a website called As We Are. Today, As We Are is a fashion blog for people who are navigating health conditions with style and courage. While focus is often placed on living a vibrant life “when you are feeling better,” my intention is to create a space for people to celebrate and embrace who they are, as they are, in this moment.
Tell us about your style:
I’m focused on mixing comfort and style. I prefer to wear soft fabrics, neutral colour tones, and simple accessories. I’m currently in the process of rebuilding my wardrobe to own fewer, but better clothing pieces that I really love to wear.
How has your youth shaped your experience as a professional?
I have been living with chronic illness and pain since my teenage years, and I have learned so much about practicing empathy, compassion, and kindness towards ourselves and others. There have been ups and downs over the years with my health, but at the end of each day, I feel truly grateful for who and what I have in my life. The lessons I have learned translate to my career interests in social innovation, community development, and sustainability.
Last meal on earth?
Tacos topped with the best guacamole ever. Either that, or ice cream. Or, maybe both??
Something that gets you pumped up:
1. Going for coffee with amazing friends and mentors who make my heart happy.
2. Stepping outside, breathing in fresh air, and going for a walk or run.
3. A good night’s sleep. It makes a world of difference!
What's next for As We Are?
I will continue writing and sharing style stories, and I’m also starting to write more articles about awesome awesome people, businesses, and organizations that are enhancing wellness and accessibility through their services and products.
I recently bought a wide brimmed hat that has already become a wardrobe staple. It’s the perfect piece to protect my sensitive eyes and skin on sunny days.
Best thing about Vancouver in summer?
Enjoying the sun and outdoors! From exploring hiking trails to attending outdoor concerts beneath the stars, there’s always something exciting going on in Vancouver.
Who inspires you?
There are many people that I admire for different reasons. Over the past year, through As We Are, I’ve had the privilege of hearing stories from people in our own community who demonstrate resilience and creativity on a daily basis. Each person I have interviewed for As We Are is extraordinary; not just because of the fabrics of their clothes, but because of the fabrics of their lives... in which they have woven moments of courage, fostered closely knit communities, and intentionally stitched together the values and activities that bring their lives meaning today.
Want to learn more from Zoya? She's one of our featured speakers at the upcoming TED Talk-meets-yoga-inspired Storytelling Series.