FBF Body founder Zakia Blain speaks of being in the business for 10 years

questions and answers

Blain shares the journey of her body-hugging athleisure and shapewear brand. Also info on a special event she’s hosting next weekend.

Founded by Philadelphia native Zakia Blain (right), FBF Body creates athleisure and shapewear for women of all sizes. / Photos courtesy of FBF Body.

Ten years ago, Chester-born and currently based at Delco, Zakia Blain founded FBF (now FBF Body), a clothing and lifestyle brand bringing athleisure – like high-waisted leggings, t-shirts, sports bras – and shapewear to women’s sizes from small to 5X offers. What started as a small business built from the ground up by Blain – a former Philadelphia School District teacher – has grown into a multi-million dollar brand that empowers women to live their best, healthiest lives.

Next weekend, FBF Body will be celebrating its 10th anniversary with a series of events called Fit Girl Fresh at W Philadelphia. The weekend begins with a cocktail party on Friday 12th August. The next day, participants can expect fitness classes; panel discussions on financial health, work-life balance, relationships and entrepreneurship; and a soiree with a sit-down dinner, keynote speaker and time for networking. The program concludes on Sunday, August 14th with a fun farewell pool party on the hotel’s wet deck. Fit Girl Fresh also includes a separate Saturday event for girls ages 11-17 – a roundtable discussion on cultivating body positive image, self-esteem and self-love. (Fit Girl Fresh weekend tickets can be purchased here.)

With FBF Body celebrating its 10th anniversary and its upcoming event, I chatted with Blain about her company’s decade-long journey—what’s changed, what’s stayed the same, and why FBF’s mission in Philadelphia and beyond continues to thrive.

How did FBF Body come about?
I have always lived an active lifestyle and have always been what people would consider fat – I don’t shy away from the word fat. But about 12 years ago I was diagnosed with a brain disorder called Chiari malformation after experiencing severe headaches and dizziness. I was put on several medications to relieve my symptoms, but my medications had more side effects than the actual brain disorder – I developed a stutter and suffered from memory loss and cognition problems. At the time I was teaching in the Philadelphia School District and it was tough being a teacher while living with these symptoms. I ended up becoming incapacitated, and then I turned to diet and exercise to hopefully get off my medication, which I eventually did. My experience fueled my passion for helping people – especially black people – to be more proactive when it comes to their health. My brain disorder had nothing to do with my weight; However, the foods I ate were the triggers for my headaches. Everything we put into our bodies affects our daily lives.

I remember walking in Cobbs Creek with a friend of mine – it was summer 2012 and about 97 degrees. At one point she said, “You know what, fuck being fat,” and I said, “Yeah, fuck being fat. I’m going to put that on a t-shirt.” That moment made me start an eight-week weight-loss challenge that I had posted about on Instagram back in August. Eight people took part – our last challenge had 1,000 participants – but that’s how FBF was born.

You and your brand identify as body positive. What does that mean for you?
Plus size women have long been ignored by the fitness world. People always tell fat people to exercise and lose weight, but then they don’t welcome us to the gym or make clothes—especially cute clothes! — for us in our sizes. But FBF came and showed these fat people do exercise, and that fitness and health cannot be measured by what someone looks like on the outside. I think that’s why FBF has done so well over the past 10 years – we’ve built a community for people who have been ignored and/or criticized by the wellness industry.

To me, body positivity – which is what FBF is based on – means loving the body you have now, and maybe that includes working on the body you want to have, but not necessarily. We all struggle with insecurity based on what the beauty industry has been telling us all to do. That’s why I always say: We don’t sell clothes, we sell trust.

So how does FBF’s original slogan, “Fuck Being Fat,” fit into this? Can’t that be taken as dismissive or fatphobic?
When FBF started 10 years ago, the body positivity movement was just beginning. For FBF, this mantra, “fuck being fat” is more like saying, “You won’t shame me.” When you grow up fat, “fat” is the first insult people use against you. And it’s weak – you want to say, “Come up with something more creative!” Our original slogan was meant to help neutralize and reclaim the term “fat” by embracing it.

As we began to grow and scale the business – particularly alongside the body positivity movement – we wanted to evolve into a lifestyle brand that embraces the whole person, including mental and financial well-being. So around 2017 we renamed ourselves FBF Body.

Photo courtesy of FBF Body

What are the goals of the Fit Girl Fresh event next weekend?
This will be our sixth year running Fit Girl Fresh, but this is the first year it’s spanned an entire weekend. The event is primarily intended to celebrate community and bring people together. I also want to make sure participants go home with resources that they can incorporate into their lives this daythat is the purpose of the four-part workshop segment on Saturday afternoon on other aspects of well-being such as finance and work-life balance.

This makes a lot of sense when you consider that there is so much more emphasis on holistic well-being these days.
When you’re mentally unwell, it’s really hard to find the motivation to exercise, let alone get up in the morning. These worlds must come together in order to live a fulfilling life on all levels. It stems from FBF’s understanding that physical health – how someone looks on the outside – is not the whole picture of wellness.

The event is aimed primarily at adult women, but you’ve also included a teen summit in the program. Why is this?
I know from my own experience and my time as a middle school teacher that young women struggle with their self-esteem, especially in their formative years. That’s why we’re hosting a segment for girls, ages 11-17, incorporating our I Love Her project, which focuses on body image and self-esteem and is augmented with the insights of a teen therapist.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned after 10 years in the business?
Loving yourself is the hardest but bravest thing to do in a world that constantly tells us we’re not good enough or need to look or act differently to be happy. In my experience, it’s an opportunity to show yourself and your community how you can to embrace the body you have. You only get a house for your soul; might appreciate it too.

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