Imagine being exceptional at everything you try your hand at – and then receiving news that would change your life and the ways in which you have to do things forever. For Zakia Blain, founder and CEO of FBF Body, a highly sought out shapewear and lifestyle brand, there is no need to imagine. This became her reality when she was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation at 30-years-old after working in Corporate America and as an educator before pivoting into entrepreneurship.
As defined by Johns Hopkins Medicine, Chiari Malformation is, “A problem in which a part of the brain (the cerebellum) at the back of the skull bulges through a normal opening in the skull where it joins the spinal canal. This puts pressure on parts of the brain and spinal cord and can cause mild to severe symptoms.”
Blain’s diagnosis changed her lifestyle.
After being told by doctors that she could no longer workout and after experiencing weight gain, Blain decided to begin her wellness journey. One day while on a walk, Blain’s friend uttered, “F—k being fat.” Inspired by those words, she took them and printed them on t-shirts. With a newfound sense of enthusiasm, Blain loss over 60 pounds. And, that inspired her to start the “FCKBeingFat” online weight loss challenge, which thousands participated in.
“I wanted to help people who might have been experiencing the same thing as me. I also wanted to help people be proactive in their health. My brain disorder had nothing to do with my weight, but me being able to get off of medication had everything to do with my diet and exercise,” said Blain.
Living With A Disability Doesn’t Disqualify You From Doing Business
Shortly after launching, the FBF t-shirt line as well as Blain’s following began to grow tremendously. The culmination of those experiences, without any formal business background, prompted her to create the model for her business around her brain disorder. For Blain that meant creating a strategy for FBF Body that allowed her to prioritize her health while doing business. In 2012, Blain officially launched FBF (F—k Being Fat) Body with drops as a part of her strategy.
“A drop is when you have a product and you build up the anticipation of it [releasing]. And it’s only available for a limited amount of time and in limited quantities,” Blain explained. Integrating the drop methodology into her business early on helped her manage her time and energy as a solopreneur at the time.
“I got sick a lot at the time. I had recently been diagnosed my brain disorder and I was still learning how to manage it. I would have days where I would literally be in bed for days. I would experience migraines for 11 to 13 days straight. So, I had to make sure that by limiting the timeframe that people could shop – and by limiting my orders – I wasn’t becoming overwhelmed. I knew that I might not have been making the most money. But that was okay with me because my focus was to make sure that I was okay,” said Blain.
Blain’s drop strategy made FBF Body stand out. She went on to brand FBF Fridays on social media, which became a special day for customers. “It created a sense of urgency for people wanting to shop, knowing that they only had this limited amount of time to get items. Customers knew that if they didn’t get the item then, they weren’t going to be able to get it again – even if we didn’t sell out,” Blain added.
That formula helped Blain master customer service and learn more about her customers through audience engagement on social media.
“If there wasn’t a drop for FBF Friday, it would be a day for customers to share reviews with us. If they posted a picture on social media, I would repost it. People love to feel acknowledged. People love to feel seen. So, it was an amazing marketing strategy!” said Blain.
The Shapewear Industry Has Taken On A New Form
Through her social media savviness, Blain has used audience insights to inform ideas for new products. In 2016, after catching the attention of hundreds while showing off her new Miraclesuit shapewear that she purchased from Macy’s on Snapchat, she decided to do research and see how she could grow her business with shapewear of her own.
In a recent study by MarketWatch, the shapewear and compression wear industry is projected to grow by 5.3% over the next five years.
“I’ve worn shapewear most of my adult life – and there was always an issue, whether it was rolling or digging,” said Blain. The Miraclesuit was different. Blain wanted the opportunity to help others experience the quality of the product.
“It was so amazing that I just had to tell everybody about it. That is when I recognized my influence. I had over 800 people screenshotting [the video review] on Snapchat. I then had the thought that I was about to send 800 people to go buy the product from somewhere else when I could be selling it myself,” said Blain.
As a businesswoman, Blain was well aware of the power of her influence. She began making calls so that she wouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to convert her engagement into sales. “I contacted manufacturers to let them know that I had an audience, I loved the product, and I wanted sell it. They said, ‘Okay’. That’s how I started to sell shapewear.” Now, Blain jokingly tells people, “God made me gain weight so that I could sell shapewear!”
In 2017, FBF Body Shapewear was made available online in up to sizes 5x – making it the most inclusive shapewear brand at the time – and the quality of the product and sales took the company to new heights.
Present day, the shapewear industry is valued at a $83 billion. As she and her team continue to build the company, they have intentionally created an opportunity for members of the FBF Body community to make money through an ambassador’s program. To date, FBF Body has paid over $32,000 to those enrolled.
Excellence Without Excuse
What once started off as a weight loss challenge has grown into a lucrative e-commerce business and mobile boutique. Blain even has her own warehouse. Beyond her success, the mission of FBF Body is what matters most. That is, to empower people to live their best and most healthy lives no matter what size they are. On any given day, Blain can be seen on the FBF Body Instagram account engaging with the company’s 156,000 followers about anything from new products to business tips to inspirational messages.
Showing up in business as her authentic-self has made her a fan favorite and a trusted businesswoman within her industry.
“I am steadfast in everything that I do because I know that it takes hard work to get results that you want in this life. I’m someone who has come up against so many different obstacles in life that I had no choice but to be my own advocate and cheer myself on. So for me, my Why is always showing people that it can be done.”
To others who might be living with a disability, Blain says, “No matter what card you are dealt, you have to play your hand like you have the best hand in the house.” In hopes of being a source of encouragement to others, Blain went on to say, “You have to make the best of your circumstances. There are a number of people living with disabilities who are running a gamut of things. There are people who are paralyzed, or people who have depression, and those who have mental disorders. That just means that you have to take care of yourself. Learn how to manage whatever that disability is and make the best out of it – so that you don’t live a life of ‘should have, could have, would have.’”