This summer, RADIUS Fellow and SFU student Zoya Jiwa was awarded Social Innovation seed funding from RADIUS and Embark for her new project, As We Are. Here Zoya shares the story of how As We Are came to be.
When the cold, damp weather arrived last winter, I struggled to find clothes that were warm, comfortable, and stylish. Every morning, in addition to dressing for Vancouver’s sporadic weather patterns, I had to consider my equally unpredictable pain.
Alongside an autoimmune disease called Lupus (SLE), I live with an interesting condition called Fibromyalgia (FM), which is characterized by intense pain in muscles and soft tissues (musculoskeletal pain). Essentially, any pressure to tender points including my arms, abdomen, shoulders, and thighs feels like pressing on bruises: painful and uncomfortable. For these reasons, I am not a fan of wearing tight shirts, skinny jeans, or multiple heavy layers.
One chilly morning, I opened my closet to discover that I owned more pajama pants than real pants. After having a good laugh, I decided that it was time to rebuild my wardrobe. Comfort often took priority over personal style, but I hoped that certain clothes could offer the best of both. I chose to invest in a few simple, high-quality pieces that reflected my personality. At local clothing stores, I found softer materials, relaxed-fit pants with elastic waistbands, and light accessories that added sparkle to my outfit. Not only did these clothes reduce the pressure on my muscles and soft tissues, but they also made me feel confident. Suddenly, I was excited to define and embrace a truly personal style.
When I asked my friends who also live with health conditions if they dressed to accommodate to their daily challenges and to feel better, and they all said yes, each with a story to share. Although we do not all have the same diseases, we experience similar symptoms, medication side effects, and emotional moments. I saw an opportunity for us to connect our individual stories to a greater community of empowerment and impact.
This is where As We Are emerged.
Guided by values of community, creativity, and confidence, As We Are is a style website for people who are 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. We seek to feature personal styles and stories that are relatable, that make us smile, and that remind our readers that they are not alone in their challenges. 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.”
Over the past three months, I have had the honour of featuring the incredibly moving personal stories and styles of some extraordinary people. Whether you are living with a health condition or not, I invite you to read through the ten Style Strategies we have featured.
A big thank-you to goes out to RADIUS for supporting As We Are in its early stages. It means a great deal to have this social innovation community that is excited to be part of our next steps forward.