Founders Kim Knight and Shanelle McKenzie have created a healing ground for women of color through The Villij, and it all started while the two were on the clock.
As the pair begin to bond over their Caribbean background, one similarity that arose between the co-workers was the lack of conversations centered on mental wellness within their households.
As they continued to strengthen their friendship, they recognized the beauty of creating an authentic space that invites honest conversations about well-being. Therefore, they decided to build a wider community to reflect it.
The Villij kicked into gear with its first event, Trap Soul Yoga in 2017. The founders recall the event was a beautiful space for women to connect and meditate through yoga. Surprisingly, nearly 60 percent of the women had never experienced yoga. This reality only signaled further to the founders how important it is to be present in the wellness space, especially as and for women of color, who are oftentimes excluded.
“A lot of people kind of wonder why are we focusing just on women of color. One of the things that Shanelle l and I bonded on was the fact that we were in a specific time in our life when we were going to different yoga studios and meditation studios. One of the things that we came across was how exclusive these mainstream wellness places were,” Knight told AfroTech.
She continued: “We had never had yoga teachers, meditation guides that were people of color, let alone women of color. So, we were always one of the very few folks of color in these rooms and that was the pivotal moment for us where we’re like, we want to reimagine what wellness spaces can look like for women of color. And we started with yoga because that was a practice session Shanelle and I both used. We used it as a tool to help with mental health — to help with the stress that we were going through. We’re like, ‘Okay, we feel this way, maybe other women of color felt this way.’”
Following the success of their initial Trap Soul Yoga event, they kept their momentum going, holding various sessions in person across cities in Canada and online.
By 2020, the wellness platform reached a brief dilemma as they were searching for ways to persevere their community during the pandemic. They soon pivoted into a subscription-based digital wellness platform that provides access to the three pillars of wellness: physical, mental, and emotional.
Users of The Villij will have access to experiences that include healing circles, journaling, meditation, and mental health workshops — some of which are led by registered psychotherapists or yoga teachers.
“We still wanted to have access to the tools that we needed for our well-being. So, what we decided to do was build our digital platform, which is called Inner Villij,” Knight said. “Essentially, it is a membership platform where we can deliver digital wellness experiences that looks like online yoga classes, meditation classes, and even mental health classes. We’ve grown and now have a team of educators. So, we have a team of yoga teachers, and a team of registered psychotherapists as well that deliver mental health workshops. It’s just been a journey to see us transition and change the spaces that we’re in. We’ve stayed dedicated to women of color and we’ve been able to maintain the intentionality that we first started with.”
Over the years, the founders have continued to integrate various resources that will better position their community in their wellness journey.
Their latest reflection of this can be found in their newly launched wellness cards, created over a 13-month period by a team of women of color that included therapists and graphic designers. The wellness cards were designed to guide women of color through their harder-to-articulate life experiences.
“When we started Trap Soul Yoga, we actually started doing conversations right after and we realized that our community didn’t always have the language to speak about their wellbeing journey. They wanted to have more on honest conversations about the things that they were experiencing at home. So, we were like, okay, this is a natural progression and the card game really led us to create a meaningful conversation that was guided. The beauty behind it is that we created a beautiful kind of open conversation around mental health and wellbeing with our therapists on our team as well,” McKenzie explained.
The cards are now available for pre-order and you can expect them at your front door beginning in November.