Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
December 13, 2022
Keisha Greaves | Girls Chronically Rock
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Keisha Greaves and I am the CEO and founder of the clothing brand Girls Chronically Rock. I started Girls Chronically Rock started in 2017 and was inspired because I wanted to help motivate and inspire others in the disability community. I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when I was in graduate school around 2010.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I’ve always had a passion for fashion. Growing up, I always liked to sketch. I looked up to designers such as Tommy Hilfiger, Betsey Johnson, and Kimora Lee Simmons. I studied fashion design and merchandising at Framingham State University. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and envisioned seeing my clothing line in different retail channels and in stores such as Macy’s.
I was in graduate school receiving my MBA when I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. I thought the doctor must have mixed up the test results. At the time I was working in merchandising at Macy’s and in different stores and was in total denial of the diagnosis.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I believe what I am doing with Girls Chronically Rock is so important. It’s not just about the clothing, it’s about the advocacy and the awareness that I’m bringing to the disability community. I’m a true believer that things happen for reasons that we may not understand at the moment. My own diagnosis in my early 20s opened my eyes to a bigger perspective within the disability community, and not just for myself but for my friends and family as well.
I believe that I was diagnosed in order to use my perspective, my fashion skills, and my knowledge to bring awareness to the disability community. That’s why I think what I do with Girls Chronically Rock is so important. I started with shirts with inspirational quotes, like “Hello, my name is chronically ill badass,” but I didn’t just stop there. I created an adaptive accessible swimsuit line. You know how difficult it is for an able-bodied person to deal with a bathing suit that just sticks to you, so imagine someone like myself hanging for dear life in a wheelchair. So I wanted to make something that was easier for us to take on and off, but most importantly for us to feel confident in our own skin.
I’m trying to bring about that awareness through speaking engagements at colleges and universities, and share the importance of adaptive fashion. When I was in fashion school, I didn’t know anything about adaptive fashion, so I’m trying to bring that awareness to the community as someone living with muscular dystrophy.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
People don’t know how much positive messages can make a difference. When I get messages through Instagram or email, from people who understand what I’m doing with Girls Chronically Rock, it can make a difference. It reminds me and helps me realize that people are getting my mission. I may have a down day, and people don’t know that those little messages keep me motivated and inspired. It helps me continue to impact the world and bring awareness. Little messages have helped me along the way connecting with so many other individuals, like disability influencers and others who may be going through the same thing as me, because I’m reminded we’re in this together. There’s nothing like talking to somebody who gets and understands what it’s like living with a disability. A lot of people impact me and inspire me. They may say I inspire them, but they inspire me and definitely keep me grounded. They make me happy and may inspire me to create another t-shirt design. They give me the energy to keep going.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
When I was first diagnosed, I was in total denial. I didn’t tell most of my family, and I didn’t tell any of my friends. Every time I visited the neurologist for a follow-up, I thought she was going to say, “Keisha, we got your test results mixed up.” Even working in retail when I was using a cane, I told them I was in a car accident or had a sprained ankle. What inspired me at that time was a friend who suggested I write a blog about my symptoms and what I was going through. Something clicked and I opened my laptop and started writing about falling and not being able to get up and my first doctor’s appointment. It was at that moment as I was typing and reading it out loud that I realized I have muscular dystrophy. From that moment I realized there have to be others out there like me. So I started posting on social media and using hashtags like #DisabilityAwareness, and #ChronicIllness. I’ve met so many other people who not only have muscular dystrophy but have lupus or other challenges.
There’s a celebrity named Julian Ricardo who is into fashion and who inspires me because she has muscular dystrophy like me. If she can do it, I can do it. I still have my bad days, being permanently in a wheelchair and having to rely on caregivers. But people I meet on social media or being part of support groups have helped me along the way. I may have the support of family and friends – and I’m grateful for them – but there’s nothing like talking to somebody who knows what it’s like on a daily basis.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
My big dream is to build an empire. I would love to collaborate with designers I look up to, like Betsey Johnson, Kimora Lee Simmons, or Tommy Hilfiger. I would love to see Girls Chronically Rock in New York Fashion Week or LA Fashion Week. I would love to see retail channels such as Target or Kohls have Girls Chronically Rock t-shirts or swimsuits. I’m taking each day at a time focusing on my business, but also focusing on continuing to spread awareness. I am on the Commission for Persons with Disabilities for the City of Cambridge where I live. It’s an opportunity to express my feelings as a young adult. I love this city, and I’m happy to now be on the board so I can express what needs to change.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
The biggest challenge is just living with a disability. I want to build this empire, I want to do what’s necessary to build it, but I have to rely on caregivers. There are days when my caregivers don’t want to show up. When they don’t show up, my life can’t move on. I can’t jump out of bed like I used to, and I can’t get my medications. I have to rely on the caregivers to come and help me. I try to explain to them that if they don’t show up, I can’t be the best person I want to be. They don’t understand they may have an impact when they show up late. That puts me in a different perspective and a different mood, a different mindset, especially if it makes me miss an appointment. I just try to take it day by day and hope that the reliable ones show up so I can be my best person. It can be a challenge, especially on days when my body’s just tired and exhausted, and there’s nothing I can do about it. This thing has control over my body, and that is something I learn each and every day. I just have to take it as is. I would say that is one of the biggest challenges for me right now.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
The mission of Girls Chronically Rock is to bring awareness to the fashion industry so we can feel confident in our own skin by creating adaptive and accessible clothing. But I also want to bring awareness to the disability community. Our voices want to be heard. We’re just like everybody else. We may need certain accommodations, but we’re here. We date, we like to go out and have fun, we do everything else you do. We just need certain accommodations, but we are here. We want our voices to be heard. There are some changes that need to be made, but I also like to remind people that if they have a dream or something they want to accomplish, just go for it before life just passes you by. We’re only getting older, but if you have a dream and a passion, I always say go for it, because I’m glad that I did what I did. People think I have a team behind me or I have employees, but I did this all by myself. This is all me. I just try to do what I can every day as long as my body allows me to.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
A quote I always use from Coco Chanel is, “I live and breathe fashion.” Also from Nike, I always say “Just do it.” Just stop talking about it, and just do it.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Check out my website, GirlsChronicallyRock.com. Support us, and buy a t-shirt for yourself or a loved one. You don’t have to have a disability to buy my merchandise. It’s just about spreading awareness. Whenever I get a customer who buys a t-shirt, I feel that they’re now chronically rocking. So spreading that awareness and being a part of the Girls Chronically Rock team is being a part of that mission and helping me continue to build this empire.
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