Navigating health conditions through functional fashion

Zoya Jiwa, founder of As We Are Style website.  | Photo courtesy of Zoya Jiwa

Zoya Jiwa, founder of As We Are Style website. | Photo courtesy of Zoya Jiwa

Embracing each day despite health challenges is the premise for Zoya Jiwa’s website, As We Are Style. While navigating her own health conditions and inspired by the need for self-expression, she launched As We Are as a platform to share stories of how individuals with different physical and mental conditions cope through fashion.

Jiwa enjoys being able to share her personal experiences and is not shy about public speaking. She is a three-time TEDx speaker and has also won the 2015 Terry Fox Gold Medal Prize, which is awarded to one student annually who demonstrates courage, resilience and dedication to their community while facing their own obstacles.

Platform for fashion

Jiwa, an SFU sociology student, was diagnosed with Lupus (an autoimmune disease that causes organ inflammation) when she was 14 and fibromyalgia (a chronic musculoskeletal pain disorder) in her late teens. In the winter of 2014, both of Jiwa’s conditions were active. In between attending classes, extracurricular activities and juggling various medical appointments, she realized she had lost her sense of fashion.

“I woke up one morning and realized that I had more pajama pants than real pants,” says Jiwa, who is now in her early twenties.

After this epiphany, she began to look for clothes that reflected who she was and how she wanted to feel. In terms of her personal style, Jiwa says the most important thing was to feel confident and comfortable. Today, she gravitates towards more neutral colours while accessorizing accordingly.

“I became curious to see if other individuals also used fashion as a wellness strategy, and I discovered that the answer was ‘yes,’” says Jiwa.

As We Are shares the creative style stories of individuals living with various conditions ranging from anxiety to Spina Bifida. For example, one story features Ameera, who wears high top sneakers to help prevent her ankles from locking together when she has an episode of conversion disorder. The stories are relatable and serve to foster support and inspiration in readers who may be facing similar health challenges. Instead of always waiting to feel better, the site encourages individuals to live in the moment and enjoy a vibrant life in their current situation.

“My goal was to provide a platform for someone to meaningfully share their story,” says Jiwa. “At this point, I’m very thankful for the bravery and courage that people have demonstrated in sharing their story with me.”

Initially Jiwa reached out to friends who were willing to share their personal story on her site and gradually through referrals, Jiwa was able to collect more stories.

Inspire self-expression

As We Are focuses on fashion as a wellness strategy and coping mechanism. | Photo courtesy of Caleighkats Photography

As We Are focuses on fashion as a wellness strategy and coping mechanism. | Photo courtesy of Caleighkats Photography

For Jiwa, both her conditions are not visible. And with her young age, it is easy for others to assume that she is healthy. For those who are facing similar health challenges, Jiwa has a few words of advice.

“Try your best to be kind to yourself and treat your body as your friend. It’s also important to surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you: those who will support you through good days and bad days, celebrate small steps forward with you, and remind you that it’s okay to ask for help,” says Jiwa.

In addition to featuring the personal stories and styles of various individuals, Jiwa also hosts seasonal events in collaboration with local clothing stores such as My Modern Closet. These events are in the form of community brunches or personalized shopping events to provide opportunities for individuals to connect and more importantly, celebrate each other. She also plans to feature organizations and businesses that support wellness and accessibility through their products and services.

As We Are is about fashion, but it’s also about feeling empowered and inspired while navigating health challenges,” says Jiwa.

With a strong interest and passion for community development, social innovation and sustainability, Jiwa hopes to pursue a career in this direction.

To find out more about these personal style stories, please visit