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Zoya1Last month I had the privilege of interviewing Zoya, founder and creator of As We Are, a style community that combines peer mentorship, storytelling, and impactful collaborations to co-create resources that alleviate shared symptoms and side effects of diseases, disabilities, discomfort, and chronic pain. Zoya embodies vibrant living with her big smile, passionate voice, and desire to create an empowered style community. I hope that her story is as inspirational to you as it has been for me…

How did you come up with the concept for As We Are?

When I was 14, I was diagnosed with Lupus (SLE), an autoimmune disease that can create inflammation in my organs. I also live with fibromyalgia (FM), a condition characterized by intense pain in muscles and soft tissues.  With fibromyalgia, any pressure to tender points including my arms, abdomen, shoulders, and thighs feels like pressing on bruises: painful and uncomfortable.  For this reason, I’m not a fan of wearing tight shirts, skinny jeans, or multiple heavy layers.

Previously, comfort easily took priority over style, but I discovered that certain clothes can offer the best of both.  One morning, when I realized that I owned more pyjama pants than real pants, I had a good laugh and decided to start rebuilding my wardrobe. It was exciting to find outfits that reduced my pain while increasing my comfort and self-confidence.

When I learned that other friends of mine were also dressing to accommodate to their health conditions, the idea of As We Are emerged. We did not all have the same diseases, but we experienced similar symptoms, medication side effects, and pain. I saw an opportunity for us to connect our individual styles and stories to a greater community of empowerment and impact.

zoya2What values guide As We Are?

As We Are is guided by values of community, creativity, and confidence. It combines peer mentorship, storytelling, and impactful collaborations to co-create resources that alleviate shared symptoms and side effects of diseases, disabilities, discomfort, and chronic pain. It is a space where comfort meets style, where functional fashion thrives, and where courage shines.

In my eyes, As We Are is a platform to foster social inclusion, build self-confidence, and create a community of celebration. While focus is usually placed on living a vibrant life “when you are feeling better,” this is a space to celebrate and embrace who we are, as we are, in this moment. It has been an honour and great responsibility to share the incredibly moving stories and styles of dear friends of mine.

How did you move from frustration to empowerment after being diagnosed with Lupus?

It has been an ongoing process. Like anyone else, I have my ups and downs with handling certain situations. I recognize that we cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to overwhelming moments. This is what I have been focusing on. Practicing gratitude, surrounding myself with an incredible support network of friends and family, and finding joy in very simple moments has been truly meaningful and positively eye-opening.

How would you describe your personal style?

It’s very important to me that I feel both comfortable and confident in what I wear. Over the next few months, I am hoping to find a few timeless, simple pieces that are interchangeable throughout the seasons. About 60% of my clothes are from second-hand stores and consignment stores. I find it really exciting to revive beautiful, high-quality pieces by wearing them in a unique way. I also try to buy my clothes from local retailers. It’s great to connect with talented, thoughtful designers in my own city. It truly makes shopping an exciting and enjoyable experience! This all allows for a flexible style that evolves with me as I grow. I continuously experiment with different patterns and textures to figure out what feels best for me.

zoya3What advice would you suggest for others who are dressing to accommodate to fibromyalgia or similar conditions?

As I mentioned, I think it’s important to wear what makes you feel both comfortable and confident. I have grown to see style as an outlet for self-expression, a way to build healthy self-esteem, and an opportunity to foster positive self-image.  It’s not necessarily about getting rid of all of your clothes at once to completely revamp your wardrobe. Instead, it’s about finding pieces that reflect who you are and put a smile on your face.

zoya4Love what you’re reading? If you are interested in learning more about As We Are, please visit the website and follow the Facebook Page for updates. I had the pleasure of writing a guest post for As We Are on the art of wardrobe. Feel free to check it out here.