Melissa Berry sits down with Sonya Keshwani, creator of Style Esteem Wardrobe, to chat about how she turned her breast cancer journey into a collection of fashionable hair accessories fit for all cancer warriors, thrivers or anyone looking to try something new.
Welcome to another edition of, “A Common Thread,” where fashion and cancer intersect. I’m going to be sharing innovative fashion brands that feature clothing both stylish and functional while introducing you to the designers who created them.
Sonya Keshwani is such a wonderful example of what I like to call a “cancerpreneur.” Sonya wasn’t satisfied with the hair loss options available when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, so she created her own.
I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with the one and only Sonya, creator of Style Esteem Wardrobe — a cancer thriver and personal friend of mine. Here’s what she had to say about her breast cancer experience and how it led to the creation of this fabulous collection. These accessories are perfect for anyone looking to try something new — cancer thrivers, those struggling with alopecia, those in the middle of a bad hair day or those who just happen to love a good turban (“turbanistas,” if you will!).
Cancer Fashionista: How and why did you decide to create Style Esteem Wardrobe?
Sonya Keshwani: I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 29 with no family history and no genetic mutations. Everything was a first time experience, lots of trial and error. When I was diagnosed, I began to feel my sense of self slip away. The big hit came when I started chemotherapy, and my oncologist had a conversation with me and said my hair would fall out. I quickly realized a wig wasn’t going to work for me — too scratchy and hot to wear for an extended period of time. I started to look around for headwear, and thought maybe a high-end Chanel or YSL turban could work, but I couldn’t find anything current. On Etsy and Amazon, everything just made me look and feel like a cancer patient. So I decided to create my own solution, and began by visiting a fabric store next to my infusion center. I’d go there after each treatment and go fabric shopping with my mom. After a full day in an infusion chair, looking at fabrics became a ritual for me that got my mind off of treatment.
I began experimenting with my mom’s sewing machine and creating pieces that coordinated with my outfit. They weren’t just black-colored chemo beanies. It’s a small item, but it impacts your physical comfort, confidence and your ability to go out into the world, and I wanted to give that to other women.
CF: Who is your customer?
SK: I designed this collection with the intention of it being something that any woman would be proud to wear. My barometer is that if it’s not something I’d wear before diagnosis, then why would I wear it during treatment, when I’m not feeling good about myself? It’s designed to make you feel stylish and elegant. It’s for women with any kind of cancers — “turbanistas,” who are women who just love turbans; those with alopecia; or any other medical condition that impacts your hair, such as pregnancy, Covid and mental health. It’s a great investment because you can buy it when you have an issue, but still enjoy it after. Or just for a bad hair day!
CF: Do you introduce new styles on a seasonal basis?
SK: I like to create turbans for every season and occasion, so you can shop for stylish headwear the same way that you shop for clothing. For example, you won’t wear the same outfit for a holiday party that you’d wear to the beach. You can shop our collection by season or occasion. So we’ve got spring/summer and fall/winter. As far as occasions go, we have daywear, eveningwear, knitwear, loungewear, couture/runway and activewear.
CF: What are the price points, and where can you purchase Style Esteem?
SK: Prices range from $35 to $75, and you can purchase by visiting StyleEsteem.com.
CF: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
SK: Having grown up in NYC, my designs are inspired by high-end boutiques on 5th Avenue. I like to call it “functional avant garde.” I tapped into Indian fashion too, because that’s been a big part of my life and culture, and I’m hoping my next trip to India will inspire future pieces.
CF: Do you have a give-back program?
SK: Yes, we do! We give back a turban to someone in need for each turban sold. I’ve been committed to this from the beginning. It’s a way to help anyone who might need it.
CF: What advice would you offer to someone who’s considering creating a product to solve a cancer-related problem?
SK: Women who are cancer survivors have been gravely overlooked by the fashion industry. If you have something you’ve learned from your experience that is missing, that’s an amazing thing to do for others but also yourself. Creating something is also a path forward to healing — an ability to say, “I’ve done something with my journey,” and to help answer the question, “Why me?” If someone is out there reading this, I can’t wait to see what you’ll come up with!
CF: What do you love most about being a designer?
SK: It was a childhood dream for me to be a fashion designer. I love channeling the childhood inspiration by creating a superhero cape for women like me who can feel beautiful and powerful about themselves. When you think of it that way, there’s no limit to what fashion can be.
CF: What’s next for Style Esteem?
SK: More and more couture styles, and we’re looking to grow our activewear collection, too. I’m getting married again in India, so I was inspired to do some bridal-inspired pieces launching on my birthday on Dec. 1.
Sonya is offering “A Common Thread” readers 20 percent off all turbans and accessories at StyleEsteem.com, with code CANCERFASHIONISTA.