Survival In Style: How Fashion Helped a Young Woman Find Joy in the Midst of Pain

Apr 15, 2014 | Updated Oct 24, 2014

Life can be so unfair. Nayanda Richards found that out at the tender age of 15. That was the year her big brother was murdered, and soon after, her mother died of kidney failure. On top of all this trauma, Nayanda was diagnosed with Autoimmune hepatitis, which led to a liver transplant and constant trips to the hospital. Today, Nayanda is faced with many challenges due to her illness. She takes medicine daily and tries her best to manage her life to avoid all forms of stress. She does whatever is necessary to keep as healthy as possible so that her body does not reject her new liver. Nayanda is a strong, beautiful young woman who in addition to suffering great loss has to live with the daily fact that, at any moment, her disease could flare up, causing her body to attack itself and possibly leading to death.

I learned of Nayanda's traumatic story when my friend and leading anti-violence activist Erica Ford nominated her for a day of GLAM4GOOD pampering. Ford is the founder of Life Camp, an organization whose mission is to nurture the culture of peace in New York City. "Nayanda and her family have been part of our organization for over ten years," Ford told me. "Nayanda's mother and father were very dedicated volunteers at Life Camp. After the wrongful murder of her brother and death of her mother, it was from a broken heart that our organization played a tremendous role in helping Nayanda and her family to heal and move on from the trauma of loss." Ford believed a much deserved day of fashion and beauty pampering from GLAM4GOOD would help Nayandas spirit. "I nominated Nayanda," Ford said "because, as a young girl who has faced so much trauma in her life, I knew that a day of joy, beauty and fashion would be good for her as she continues to heal and live a life of happiness."

What struck me about Nayanda during the special day of pampering my GLAM4GOOD team created for her was how enthusiastic, big-hearted and energetic she was! From the moment Nayanda walked through the door she lit up the room. This was a young lady that clearly loved fashion and was ready and excited for her day of GLAM4GOOD. In the time we spent together, I asked her how she keeps positive after all she has been through and what she would tell other kids who are suffering the loss of a loved one or are dealing with a life-threatening illness. Her answer startled me. It was so thoughtful, powerful and mature:

Each and every day, I am trying to get through. I'm learning to find the positive in every negative. I want kids that are going through traumatic experiences or who have suffered loss to know that everyone heals differently. It is okay to hurt, to feel sad, to cry, but you have to remember not to let that pain overcome you. You are allowed that moment to cry, reminisce, scream, whatever else helps, but never give up. As my brother used to say, "everything happens for a reason." Stay strong because it may just be your story that one day saves someone else's life.

Our styling session was filled with laughter as we tried on a rack full of dresses. Nayanda looked great in everything but picked a gorgeous pale pink BCBG peplum gown. She loved the dress because it was strapless and showed off the tattoo of her Mother's name over her heart. Next up, hair, makeup and manicures! "My favorite thing about fashion is it doesn't only affect your outside, but your inside, too." Nayanda said. "I wish all women could be granted GLAM4GOOD. This isn't just a physical makeover, but a mental and spiritual one as well."

One of the reasons I created GLAM4GOOD was so I could harness the positive aspects of fashion and beauty to celebrate courage and perseverance in the face of great difficulty, tragedy and pain. Nayanda was right, GLAM4GOOD is more than just a makeover -- often it's about honoring and acknowledging everyday heroism and bravery.

Soon Nayanda was ready for her big reveal. My team and I planned a special party so she could show off her beautiful new look and celebrate her bright future with her family and friends. Nayanda walked into the room looking incredibly glamorous, beaming with pride. Her loved ones cheered, many moved to tears. As Nayanda hugged her father, Erica Ford, her mentor and nominator, told me she believed that this experience had given Nayanda "happiness and a space where she could find joy in the midst of pain." The truth is, Nayanda was already stunning... a gorgeous, resilient survivor. And GLAM4GOOD had the honor of highlighting the beauty that was already there.

I am proud to present this video of Nayanda's personal story and her GLAM4GOOD experience. This is the first time Nayanda has ever spoken publicly about what she has gone through or her continuing battle against autoimmune disease. She told me her time with me and my team, as well as the constant support from her mentor and nominator Erica Ford, has empowered her to speak out to help other young women going through difficult times. She hopes that this post will inspire people to keep facing their challenges and pushing forward despite their obstacles. "Maybe if they see how much I've gone through and endured, it will help them" she says, "because sometimes I can't even believe how far I've come myself."

Check out photos from Nayanda's day of GLAM4GOOD in the slideshow below:

Survival In Style: How Fashion Helped a Young Woman Find Joy in the Midst of Pain