Introduce yourself! Tell us about you and what you'd like to share with the Love Club community. This past year I have grappled with this question in the sense that I have always marked my identity by the work I do. I took immense pride in my work as a creative in magazine publishing. In February of last year right before New York went on lockdown I walked away from that Identity that I had nurtured for ten years because it was no longer best suited for my mental health. Walking away from all that led to a crisis of faith so to speak one where I had to access who I was without this thing that I worked so hard on. What I decided was that I wanted my identity to be bolstered by the qualities that I want to uphold in the world ergo compassion, integrity, and a deep seeded belief that despite the race-based discrimination that I face on a regular basis that my Blackness and my humanity are inextricably linked. 

Naaya is the outward facing vessel for how I want to show up in the world. Naaya is the Shona word for healing and I believe deeply that regardless of one's race, gender, or physical ability that the right to be well is a human right. 

Please share a bit of your work journey and experience with The Love Club. I moved to New York in the summer of 2010. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, optimistic to soak in all the magic the city offered. I was also a recent college graduate, totally naïve to what it would take to “make it here.” 

After studying photography and marketing in college, my dream was to work for a magazine. I interned at three major publications prior to graduating, and I thought I would be a shoo-in for a job that married photography and marketing. I was wrong.

I landed my first job at an agency that managed hair and makeup artists, stylists, and some photographers. Not a perfect fit, but worth a shot to at least try. It was in my general industry and included photography, right? I cried a lot in that job and ended up getting fired nine months into it. 

To distract myself from the misery of my job, I started training for the NYC Marathon. Unfortunately, I ended up getting injured. Fortunately, I found yoga as part of my rehab. Yoga became something that I looked forward to despite being in a toxic work environment. 

After leaving the agency, I did everything I could to stay afloat. I became a weekend nanny to a wealthy family with three children. I managed a yoga studio where our checks were more likely to bounce then they were to clear. I worked for a startup founder who didn’t champion women … despite being a woman and a woman of color herself. Juggling all three at the same time wasn’t easy. 

In November 2015, I landed a full-time position at a prestigious magazine as a photo editor. The pay was abysmal (a byproduct of a dying print industry) and I was overqualified for the work, but it came with benefits and a paycheck that was guaranteed bimonthly.

I left that job after four years in February of 2020. It was grueling on my mental health and not allowing me room for growth in the role. 

What is Naaya and what inspired you to start it? Naaya is a well-being company at the intersection of social justice and wellness. We desire to disrupt the paradigm that tells you in order to be well you have to be white, affluent and able-bodied. We embolden Black, Indigenous, and People of Color to be mentally, Physically, and emotionally well. 

I started the company after spending years in different facets of the wellness industry ( teaching yoga and meditation, managing an yoga studio, and working for the top Men’s Fitness magazine in the country). Noticing that so often I was the only one like me in the room or that people were often shocked to find out that I would be the one facilitating the class etc. All of these combined experiences  coupled with my deep desire to uplift people that look like me. Led to me starting Naaya in 2018. 

What services does Naaya offer? 

  • The Check In: Is our initiative for young BIPOC folks which enables them to get free access to yoga, therapy, and meditation.
  • Our corporate wellness program: Brings Yoga, Meditation, Strength Training, and Pilates into the Workplace
  • Black Folks Breathing: Is our editorial content platform that focuses on the exuberance of the Black experience and not just our trauma and our pain

What is your day to day like? As a founder, what are some things people don’t know that happen behind the scenes? I think people don’t realize how small Naaya is. I genuinely pour all that I have into Naaya in order to show up for my community. That often means that when folks email with a general “ lets connect” or something to that effect. I often have to politely decline. I love being in collaboration and building relationships (It helps Naaya grow in the most beautiful way). Just being such a small team I don’t have the capacity to go through a vetting process. By that I mean whenever I reach out to other folks or brands that I want to work with I always come with an idea ( I have so many of them). I always want to make it very easy for the person on the receiving end of my communication to easily decipher if they want to work with me. 

When folks send along an email that is vague I am more inclined to say no. I think the more specific (and kind) you can be with your asks the better. I have had folks be really mean to me when I have said no before. But I genuinely believe that it may be a no right now but might be a yes down the line. There are so many things that haven’t worked out for some reason and then because I was kind even though I got a no people took notice of that and later reached out to me when a project made more sense. This goes for Naaya and for me in my creative career. 

What has been your proudest moment or memory since starting Naaya? As a Black Woman raising outside funding like Venture Capital has been incredibly demoralizing. I generally get more offers for mentorship than I do for capital. As such Naaya is bootstrapped and for someone that lives paycheck to paycheck this has a certain weight to it. I am immensely proud of my sheer desire to make this work. I have never wanted something so badly in my life and feeling grateful that I am resourceful and have been able to do some much with what I have. 

How do you Love Yourself Well? I love myself by being radically honest with myself. Shining a light on all things even when they are uncomfortable and even more so when they are painful. Namely like allowing previous partners to continue to have access to me although I know that those relationships no longer serve me. It is so hard to give up on someone that you know is not right for you/ does not care for you when you still care for them. This is a lesson to my chagrin that I won’t let myself learn. 

What is your favorite Mantra, inspirational quote or something that keeps you going? I hail from Zimbabwe. I immigrated to the US at the age of seven by way of the UK. (Zimbabwe was colonized by the British; as such, a large contingent of my family is there.) Moving to the US with a British accent (R.I.P) and wanting to assimilate to a new culture was something I didn’t reconcile until I got a little older. 

When I came here, my identity was Black—but because I had an accent, there was a clear distinction that I wasn’t African American. I wanted to not be the child with the accent that stuck out; I wanted to fit in. What followed was a young adulthood punctuated by learning rap lyrics and eschewing the parts of me that were “other” within America, in order to embody the version of Black that was widely accepted.

Then college hit and my own awareness of racial politics began to grow. Suddenly, the girl that went by Niki (Si-Niki-we) because her name was “too difficult” wanted nothing more than to go by Sinikiwe because it rooted her in the land where she was born—even if that meant minutes-long discourse every time I met someone new on how to pronounce my name and what it means. 

What has continued since college is an ongoing negotiation, an enmeshment of my roots in Zimbabwe and the Black American culture I strived so hard to assimilate into.

This journey has illuminated for me that identity is somehow of us and yet also determined for us. I am reminded of the Buddhist philosophy of non-duality; it’s derived from the Sanskrit word Advaita, meaning “not two and non-separation.” In layman's terms, this is oneness—all things are interconnected. So I can be both rooted in the land that bore me and entrenched in the culture that shaped me. I don’t have to choose between the two.

What do you hope to see for the future of Wellness? In order for us to be well I think that we need to think critically about the ways in which society is deeply unwell. Like it is wholly disturbing to my spirt that on a weekly basis we’re faced with the death of another Black person or another mass shooting. I am also deeply disturbed by how we have become so accepting of violence in our society. It breaks my heart that a desire to have power over (people, land, and things) takes precedence over humanity. We all have the right to be well and we can not fully access this collective well being without expanding the consciousness of our own well-being to include that of those around us.

Interested in connecting with Sinikiwe and learning more about Naaya? We've got you covered!

👇

naayawellness.com

@naaya.wellness

@sinikiwe.stephanie

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGrmB-bF6s0