Woman uses fashion to overcome anxiety, launches podcast in Colombia’s budding fashion industry

I felt like an anomaly – challenged to inhabit my own body. My very senses seemed detached from what I touched or felt in my environment. When I inhaled a deep breath of air, a strange reality came over me. A long time later I learned everything I went through at that time had a name. I suffered from anxiety.

  • 2 years ago
  • November 1, 2022
6 min read
Valeria contributed to the book Estudios de la moda en Colombia - the first text of its kind in the country Valeria contributed to the book Estudios de la moda en Colombia - the first text of its kind in the country | Photo Courtesy of Valeria Akl
Valeria Akl
Interview Subject
Valeria Akl is one of the few Colombians dedicated to academic and critical analysis of fashion. The discipline of fashion studies in Colombia is just emerging, and she is one of its protagonists. She recently collaborated in putting together one of the first texts on this subject in the country. Her professional experience led her to pursue a master’s degree in the United Kingdom in fashion and culture studies.

Valeria grew up in a world where entertainment and fashion were thought of as empty topics that had no impact on the social and cultural scene, but with her podcast “Poder, Glamour y Gloria” she seeks to challenge this vision. Through this program, she explores the relationship between conflict, crime, and the media in the world of fashion.
Background Information
Fashion studies are made up of a set of disciplines that, through socio-cultural, political, and economic analysis, seek to understand the relevance of fashion and consumption in a historical context through specific social groups. Despite the different challenges that Colombia presents and the fashion analysis that can be carried out, this discipline is little known.

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — I created a career in the world of fashion – launching a podcast and collaborating on a book. Yet, this work had as great an impact on me personally as it did professionally. It became a form of self-therapy, soothing my anxiety and struggling mental health.

I have always been a dreamer – curious, creative, imaginative, and hungry for knowledge. At university, I found it difficult to pinpoint what to study. I liked so many topics. As I considered fashion studies, questions consumed my mind.

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Why is something considered “in fashion” but before you know it, goes “out of fashion?” How do people choose what they purchase? How does this world of fashion affect us personally? As my doubts cleared away and with my questions answered, I found myself in an industry somewhat unknown to Colombia. It is an industry that changed my life forever.

A young woman finds relief from anxiety and familial connection through fashion

Beginning my fashion studies program, I found passion and inspiration, but it did not detach me from myself. I continued to feel the same desires, affections, problems, and emotions I always had. Despite my love for the work, my very existence felt opaque and ambiguous. I watched as people walked calmly by and wondered why I could not feel that way. They seemed relaxed, but I felt haunted by overwhelming emotions every day.

I felt like an anomaly – challenged to inhabit my own body. My very senses seemed detached from what I touched or felt in my environment. When I inhaled a deep breath of air, a strange reality came over me. It felt like I had no control and no ability to embrace a sense of serenity. A long time later I learned everything I went through at that time had a name. I suffered from anxiety.

fashion studies
A woman browses a rack of clothing | Photo Courtesy of Cam Morin (Unsplash)

By studying fashion, I began to analyze the reasons behind social and political experiences, and how they affected me personally. Dressing became a form of self-therapy. I feel the embrace of soft, friendly textures and a sense of calm comes over me. When I am down, putting on accessories lifts my spirits. Wearing clothing I inherited from my mother and grandmother helps me to feel them with me. I can visualize a hug from my father when I work with the slacks he gave me.

Through fashion and personal expression, I can better manage chaos and navigate the world. I feel transformed.

Becoming a podcaster and author in the Colombian fashion industry

Throughout my journey with mental health, fashion provides a small refuge, offering me a sense of emotional well-being. Exploring daily decisions like conscious eating or products like weighted blankets – I find benefits beyond clothing.

I continue to be a woman who wants to see the world from different perspectives, but I feel more grounded today. Where I once felt detached from my senses, now I can walk barefoot in the grass. When I wake up each day, I decide to get up and get dressed up – to be strong and brave.

The rewards remain innumerable, and my professional life has taken off. My podcast Power, Glamor, and Glory, serves as my contribution to fashion studies and its critical analysis. On the podcast, I chat with guests who allow me to learn more about the world of fashion and share important information with my listeners thoughtfully and dynamically.

Similarly, I recently collaborated in the making of the book Estudios de la Moda en Colombia (Fashion Studies in Colombia). I felt gratified seeing my work reflected in one of the first texts of its kind in this country.

People do not realize fashion studies span several disciplines: history, anthropology, design, political science, etc. Colombia has a unique textile industry and fashion can be influenced by the narco aesthetic. You see unique designs for bathing suits and girdles. However, a huge gap exists between academia and professional practice, culture, and consumption. Still, at university, many consider the study of fashion a bizarre and fleeting topic. Some criticize it as shallow and socially irrelevant.

Fashion offers both personal transformation and regional, global understanding

What critics do not understand is that our daily activities like choosing what to wear have repercussions on the entire geopolitical system. Fashion proves a great predictor of the future. It can read both social and political contexts very well.

Fashion indeed reflects the chaotic, sometimes apocalyptic, world we live in. Consider the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine War. I want to explore how fashion ties together all these diverse experiences in our world.

While fashion offers a vehicle for social transformation, it can also counter a system of political ideas and cultural practices that oppress social groups. Some modern Colombian brands use fashion to materialize the post-agreement peace with FARC guerrillas, for example.

It becomes more than a superficial, irrelevant topic because it shapes us socially and culturally. We must appropriate fashion to understand the importance of our current global experience. At the same time, fashion also offers personal transformation.

By dressing up, I explore a form of self-therapy. Holding a piece of clothing in my hands, I examine every detail. I slowly run my hands over the fabric to feel the textures; to embrace them. Fashion offers me greater control over my life. Through this incredible work, I learned to rediscover who I am and make myself a priority.

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