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An Ode to Autumn with Shafaque Eqbal

Over the past few years, gender norms have been challenged by the gender-fluid fashion movement and unisex clothing, thereby also reshaping the prevailing fashion rules. This Autumn, as we embrace the concept of fluidity in fashion, we want to introduce you to Shafaque Eqbal; a mother, a fluid fashion icon, and a body positivity advocate, Shafaque's passion for sustainable clothing and her vision for breaking the binary with her art of fluid fashion is what lead to start of our beautiful collaboration. Read on for an interesting conversation that we got to have with her on life and more... WE: What has been your story thus far? Tell us a little bit about your childhood/journey.

Shafaque: When I look back on my childhood, I see more pain than happiness. A series of betrayals shaped my view of how the world works. My parents parted ways in my early childhood and my mother remarried. With a promise to take me with her when the time is right, she left me behind in her maternal home in Munger, Bihar. The right time never came. I spent my 16 years in hope that one day my mother will come and take me with her. She never came. In my maternal home, I was body-shamed, physically abused, made fun of, and criticized for any and everything day in and day out. I was used as a substitute maid. Life was tough. Then I met Salis, who had a similar story to mine. We listened to each other when no one listed, we cared for each other when no one cared, and we invested time in each other when everyone around us had no time for us. That's how two strangers became friends, two friends became best friends, and two best friends became lovers.

WE: If there’s something you could tell your younger self what would it be?

Shafaque: Invest your time in people who accept you as you. Growing up, I always had this notion that I was different from others. My brain was wired differently. But people around me consider my individuality a flaw. They wanted me to change. Some had issues with my lip size, while others criticized me for being outspoken. There were moments in my life when I thought of killing myself because I looked like a dark spot on a white wall. But, after coming into a relationship with Salis, I realised that even Pablo Picasso used different shades of colors to create a masterpiece. I was just another shade of this colorful universe. We are all different in some way or another.

WE: How has the experience of pregnancy /motherhood been? What is your take on sustainable maternity wear?

Shafaque: During my Senior Secondary School, I found out that I had PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome). Since then my periods were almost always delayed. There was no fixed pattern to it. When I was in college, I fell sick. My gynecologist termed it "food poison" and gave me medications for it. A few days passed by, but there was no improvement. So, I changed my gynecologist. My new gynecologist straight away asked me to get my Ultrasound done. My Ultrasound reports came, and I was 5 months pregnant. I came out of the Ultrasound room and revealed it to Salis. He supported me and we decided to keep the baby. Four months forward, a day before my due date after midnight, I was feeling extremely uneasy. Every part of my body was in pain, but I was controlling it. I assumed it was Braxton Hicks Contractions (false labor pains). My assumption was wrong. By 6 in the morning, a head popped out of my vagina and Sahar was born at home. Salis was the first one to touch her. I will never forget the next day, when we came back home from the hospital and washed the blood-soaked bedsheet, and mattress, and wiped the floor. No one around to help, just me, Salis, and Sahar. That's how my pregnancy was. Just the three of us together, always.

The best part of motherhood is having a life-size doll to dress up, play with and talk to. It's like pottery. You can shape a human's life by giving her new experiences, by being around for her, and by helping her explore her creative side.

During my pregnancy, we had nothing. By nothing, I mean nothing. We were working day and night just to afford the hospital bills, home expenses, and other essential things. Maternity wear was like a luxury to me, and I never had one. I bought four oversized panties from a local market for Rs 100 and used them throughout my pregnancy, and beyond.

I believe Sustainable and Affordable maternity wear is something that every mother-to-be deserves.

WE:How / Why did you begin sharing your stories, and experiences more with the online community?

Shafaque: It was 2 am, my heart pounding, sweating furiously, I woke up Salis. It seemed as if it was my last day. Everything around me felt strange. Am I dying? Is it my last day? My brain was pumping negative thoughts in a blink of an eye. I asked Salis to take me to the hospital. Soon we were in the Emergency ward. Doctors were doing ECG Test (An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a medical test that detects cardiac (heart) abnormalities) on me. What was happening?

I had a Panic Attack. I shared some photographs on Instagram requesting people to help me fight it out. Individuals who had similar experiences gave me ideas and supported me. It eventually led to me sharing my life story on Instagram.

At the end of the day, we all are humans. We should always share our stories so that others with similar thought processes and experiences can connect with us. It's a WIN-WIN situation.

WE: Who are some people you look up to today/your role models?

Salis Afaque. When he was 13, Salis lost his mother to cardiac arrest. Everything came crashing down in 5 minutes before his very eyes. Started having panic attacks at 17. Lost 1.5 years to lung infection. Failed 12th Boards Exams. He managed to come out of it all being such an easy and loving person. I want to be as considerate as he is about my feelings and emotions. I want to be as empathetic as he is.

Apart from that, I look up to myself, my younger and future self. I have a lot of respect for myself for not giving up and choosing to change my narrative. I love myself for not giving an f about being myself.

WE: What does body positivity mean to you? What are some words of encouragement/advice you would give to someone struggling with body issues?

Shafaque: Body Positivity for me is accepting the way I am. I was body-shamed almost my entire life. During my adolescence, I was body-shamed by my mother & relatives. Comments like "Suar jaisa lips hai tera (You have pig-like lips)" were part of my day-to-day life. When my breasts started to take shape, I was forced to hide them. My brain was continuously fed with negative opinions about my body shape. Soon, I started to hate it. I began wearing oversized T-shirts to hide the shape of my breasts.

Body-shaming didn't stop there. I am still trolled on Instagram for my saggy breasts, stretch marks, body hair, hip dips, etc. Everyone trying to pinpoint my weak points. Then, it happened! One day I decided to accept the way I am. At that very moment, Shafaque became the real Shafaque Eqbal. I don't give a f*ck about what you think about my body. It's my body, and I love it.

A short message for everyone struggling with body issues: "Start by saying yourself you're beautiful. Do this every day. Don't ask others whether you look good or not. Don't take any option other than yourself. The day you decide to not give a f*ck about others' opinions will be the best day of your life. Just give it a try."

WE: When and why did you start experimenting with Gender Fluidity in fashion?

Shafaque: Towards the end of 2021 after my 24th birthday in November, I felt a sudden shift in me. I wanted to express myself, the real shafaque through the art of dressing. I started to read about people like me who don't necessarily feel confident in clothes that according to society they should be wearing as a man or woman. I always used to feel more like myself in clothes from the men's section but that doesn't necessarily mean that I am not a woman. So, I decided to f*ck what society had to preach to me instead chose to express myself in a genderfluid fashion.

WE: Do you see enough inclusivity in the apparel industry today? What do you think brands could be doing to be more inclusive?

Shafaque: Sadly no, I feel the fashion and apparel industry needs to be more considerate in this aspect. As a person who finds herself somewhere in between the gender spectrum I so badly wish brands would stop dividing clothes into two categories: men and women. Why don't make clothes and let the customer decide what is supposed to be worn by whom? I am talking about freedom from labels. There should be only one division - size because an XXL won't fit in XS.

WE: What is your take on sustainable/eco-friendly undergarments?

Shafaque: Even the thought of sustainable/ Eco-friendly undergarments makes me feel comfortable AF and happy, to be honest.

Because first of all think like this; brands who are so much considerate of our planet, sustainability, and environment think about how much effort and time, and care they would have invested in their products to make their customer feel at their best wearing those products. This theory of mine works not just for undergarments but anything sustainable and eco-friendly. I mean when I think of it, I've felt most comfortable wearing clothes from brands that practice sustainability. Be it a homegrown small brand or a well-established one. I have personally felt the difference in the comfort level between the clothes of big brands that do mass production and the ones that are into small batch production and sustainability. You get to see the difference between them.

WE: What drew you towards collaborating with us?

Shafaque: When I first came across your profile on Instagram, I was so happy to see a brand bringing change into society through its products. I am a believer in fashion with an impact. Your brand does exactly that. Fashion x Activism. And the fact that your products are upcycled makes them more special.

WE: You’ve tried the pieces from our new collection and also our eco-friendly T-shirt; What’s your review on our products?

Shafaque: I am in love with your entire product range. I mean apart from being stylish the T-shirt is so soft and comfy. I instantly fell for it. Also a big fan of your undergarments. They are so light and breathable. I wear them on daily basis. The latest collection is amazing! Love the beautiful prints!!!

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