ABOVE PHOTO: Zakia Blain, Founder/CEO FBF Body
By Kharisma McIlwaine
Chester native Zakia Blain began her journey to entrepreneurship unconventionally.
Originally a teacher in the Philadelphia School District, Blain was led to her calling after getting a life-changing diagnosis of a brain disorder called Chiari malformation. Chiari malformation is classified as a condition that occurs when brain tissue extends into the spinal cavity, with symptoms that range from headaches, loss of memory, vertigo, numbness of hands and feet, imbalance and more.
Blain went on disability after being medicated for the disorder and decided to treat her symptoms without medication through diet and exercise. During a walk at the beginning of her fitness journey, one of Blain’s co-workers made the statement, “f being fat.”
Blain decided to share that message on a t-shirt, which was the start of her clothing line, FBF Body.
Since then, Blain, the CEO of the lifestyle brand FBF Body, has grown her business immensely and continues to expand. Featured on “Good Morning America” and “The View,” FBF Body offers workout attire, leisure wear (including their signature tights), shapewear and more. Blain is celebrating 10 years in business during her signature Fit Girl Fresh Weekend. Blain spoke with the SUN about her journey to entrepreneurship, the importance of body positivity and the legacy she hopes to share through FBF Body.
Blain is a prime example of when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Instead of letting her diagnosis derail her future plans, she used it as fuel to create an invaluable brand.
“In 2010, I started to experience headaches and didn’t know what was going on with me,” Blain said. “I went to the doctor. They put me through a bunch of tests, but they weren’t really figuring out what was going on — so I went to another doctor. At first, they put me on a lot of medication to stop my symptoms, but the medication had adverse side effects. I began to stutter and lose my memory, so I really looked at diet and exercise as a way to get off of my medication. That was really the catalyst for how FBF got started. Once I did that and looked at how food and exercise can be a healer to us, I wanted to help other people be proactive in that.”
Blain started the “F Being Fat” challenge in 2012 as a way to give back and help an underserved community. What started as a general idea quickly transformed into an entire movement.
“When I decided to start with this weight loss challenge, I started researching ways to lose weight,” she said. “I wanted to create something that wasn’t restrictive, and that people could turn into a lifestyle. I created the program, and I didn’t know what to call it, and that’s when FBF came back to my mind. That’s literally how FBF (now FBF Body) was born.”
With FBF Body, Blain is promoting body positivity and inclusion in all forms while empowering women of all sizes.
“FBF was really saying what a lot of people were thinking, and also it was taking back the word “fat,” she said. “I’m not afraid of the word fat — it is what it is. A lot of times (especially if you grow up being someone who is fat or plus size) when people want to degrade someone who is fat, that’s the first thing they call you. For me, it was about empowering this group of people who have been overlooked for so long, especially in the fitness world.”
When Blain created FBF Body, there was a lack of fitness attire available for plus size women. The lack of availability encouraged Blain to continue making FBF Body widely available.
“I came in at a time when the fitness world was not receptive to clothing plus size bodies,” she said. “You couldn’t go to Nike and get a 3x — it wasn’t available. They weren’t putting plus size people in their ad campaigns; there was no representation for us. When people are talking to fat people, the first thing they say is “Go to the gym and lose weight.” You tell me to go to the gym and lose weight, but you don’t want to make clothes so I can feel good about it. You want me to go there and cover up my body — no, I want to look cute, too! I want a cute workout set that matches, and I’m going to work out.”
“That’s the other thing — I had to show that people of all sizes love to work out and love to take care of themselves,” she said. “We really came in at a time when the community needed it — people were looking for community and we provided it.”
Although it was far from easy, Blain remained steadfast and candid about the ups and downs of her fitness journey. Those ups and downs also inspired a pivot and expansion of the FBF empire.
“My doctor told me, ‘If you want to walk when you’re 50, you have to stop training as much as you do.’ I was working out seven days a week and I didn’t have any cartilage in my knees,” she said. “I was getting cortisol injections just to be able to work out and not be in pain. I’m one of those people that has to work out for my body to maintain a certain look and level of fitness. Once I stopped working out, I started to gain weight. Here I was, this leader of this fitness company, and I’m gaining weight, but I didn’t hide because it was something I had no control over.”
“One day I was going somewhere, and I bought a shaper,” Blain continued. “I posted it on Snapchat and like 800 people screenshotted it. I said, ‘Well if all of these people are screenshotting this, then I need to be selling this.’ I reached out to the manufacturer [and] told them about my business. They said we could partner, so I started to sell shapewear. That was the second pivot in our business and then the shapewear became a thing of its own.”
In addition to the business acumen that FBF Body has gifted Blain, it also offered a number of life lessons.
“This journey has taught me that life is meant to be lived,” she said. “You really have to go at it with all that you have. I don’t sell an item, I sell confidence. Regardless of what that item is, as long as we’re still sticking true to making women feel confident, loving their bodies, no matter what size they are and no matter where they are in their journey, that’s key. We’re here to provide you with the items that are going to help you feel good.”
As FBF Body celebrates its 10th year in business, Blain is honoring that milestone with a three-day weekend of events during her annual “Fit Girl Fresh Weekend.”
“We’re going into our 6th year [of holding this event],” she said. Of course, we took a break because of the pandemic, but what better way to bring it back than with our 10th year anniversary? There are five events — we made it a whole weekend. Friday night we’ll be having a celebratory cocktail mixer. Saturday morning, we have our Philly Fit Party workout, [and on] Saturday afternoon we have our School of Life workshops, where we’ll have panels on entrepreneurship, investing, relationships and work-life balance. Then we have our Snatched Squad Soiree and [on] Sunday, we have a pool party.”
“I wanted it to be a weekend of not just coming to get resources and learn about health and wellness, but also to let your hair down, have a good time and celebrate,” Blain said. “We are celebrating 10 years!”
“It’s amazing just seeing that FBF is changing people’s lives and the community that was built,” Blain continued. “Seeing people who have been around from the beginning, who are still a part of our social media community, who are still purchasing clothes today and who have been at all my events from the first Fit Girl Fresh Weekend to those who are coming now… it was just, like, wow.”
Additionally, Fit Girl Fresh will also host a Teen Summit, offer opportunities for grants through their sponsor Chase and feature a number of celebrity guests including “P-Valley” star Brandee Evans. Fit Girl Fresh Weekend will take place on August 12-14 at The W Hotel. The popular event is currently sold out, but if you’d like to support the mission of FBF Body be sure to visit their website at: www.fbfbody.com and follow them across social media platforms @fbfbody. To follow and support Zakia Blain, follow her on social media @zakiablain.