Fashion & Shopping

What Do Fashion & Rheumatoid Arthritis Have In Common?

September 27, 2021

The CreakyJoints Canada 2022 Tumbler and Tipsy fashion show by Michael Kuluva went live at New York Fashion Week earlier this month, featuring models who live with a chronic condition and are members of the CreakyJoints and Global Healthy Living Foundation community, a global digital community for millions of arthritis patients. They wore clothing by Michael Kuluva, a professional figure skater turned fashion designer, who was just 28 when he got his rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. His Tumbler and Tipsy label includes unique, easy to pull on items for those with mobility issues. A lot of pieces don’t have buttons, they have elastic closures or simple zippers with pulleys. We chatted with both Michael and one of the models, Eileen Davidson, to learn more. —Noa Nichol

Hi Michael! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.

I am a fashion designer living with RA. I was diagnosed around 10 years ago with this chronic disease however I haven’t let it hold me back from any of my dreams. With the help of organizations such as CreakyJoints and Global Healthy Living Foundation, I am able to have a voice in the community, which also helps others struggling with this debilitating invisible disease. This New York Fashion Week season marks my 10th year showing at the NYFW shows and I am so excited that this 2022 presentation is one of my absolute favourite collections that I have designed thus far!

When and why did you launch Tumbler and Tipsy? What sets the label apart?

I started the Tumbler and Tipsy label on a flight home from New York Fashion Week in February 2009. I was working for another label as the assistant to the head designer and owner of the label and I felt my ideas were being taken from me, used and then sold for thousands upon thousands of dollars. I decided after watching those NY Fashion Week shows that 2009 fashion season that I could do it myself, so after reading a poem on the flight back to Los Angeles, which included, “Too Many Tumbler’s of Whiskey, Might Make You A Lil Bit Tipsy,” I formed the brand Tumbler and Tipsy. It’s a pop culture fashion brand that is fun, unique and never repetitive. We strive to make the T&T brand stand on its own and renew itself each season with new exciting colorful collections that bring an uplifting aesthetic. The brand has been selling into select boutiques worldwide for over a decade, which has kept it from being oversaturated in the market and also has helped maintain the demand. Our customers and fans of the label love to be unique and have their own personal style.

Tell us about The CreakyJoints Canada 2022 Tumbler and Tipsy fashion show at New York Fashion Week; what was it all about?

This 2022 New York Fashion Week season was unlike any others as some shows were in person and others were still digital. With the raging COVID variants present in NYC and the success of our 2021 New York Fashion Week presentation last season, we decided to do another virtual fashion show to keep everyone safe, which turned out to be so much fun! I really wanted CreakyJoints patients, advocates and models from around the world to come together for this 2022 fashion week presentation, however with this COVID pandemic we had to be very creative, which made me think outside the box for this current collection. I created the 2022 collection with colours in mind that would be vibrant and also complementary to each other not just visually but with an underlying meaning, which was arthritis and migraine awareness. The royal blue and royal purple hues chosen for this 2022 collection are the colours that represent arthritis and migraine awareness. They look amazing together plus represent something bigger than we could have ever imagined. We then sent the collection all over the world to our models who are patients, patient advocates, celebrities and runway models. Each person filmed themselves wearing our new collection and then sent the footage back to us, where we were then able to edit it all into a fashion week video presentation.

All of the models in the show live with a chronic condition and are members of the CreakyJoints and Global Healthy Living Foundation community, a global digital community for millions of arthritis patients; can you tell us more about these folks?

Most of the models for the 2022 collection do live with a chronic condition and some are members of the CreakyJoints and Global Healthy Living Foundation community, which was amazing. A lot of the community gets together on social media to chat, reply or post so to bring everyone together for a video for fashion week that just wasn’t all about fashion, but bringing awareness as well, was just fantastic. Everyone in the video looked amazing in their Tumbler and Tipsy one-of-a-kind pieces and it really showed the diversity of our arthritis and migraine community from around the world coming together for a sole purpose.

For those who don’t know, what is rheumatoid arthritis, and how does it affect people?

RA is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes pain, stiffness, swelling and loss of function in the joints throughout the body, but typically the small joints of the hands and feet. RA can strike at any age and, if left untreated, can cause joint damage and even permanent joint destruction or harm to the body’s organs. RA is an autoimmune disease that is treated typically by a specialist called a rheumatologist.

If you haven’t told us already, how do Tumbler and Tipsy designs assist people with rheumatoid arthritis, and also call awareness to the disease?

This season on top of having the colours being a huge influence for awareness, I also wanted the collection to reflect what has been happening in everyday fashion. Since the pandemic started, we are not going into offices, out to huge parties and not wearing our ball gowns as much, so when designing this new collection, I wanted it to be a collection people would feel comfortable in for this upcoming year. A lot of easy-to-wear garments were produced, which meant I took out the zipper or button option or, if I did keep it the option, it was very limited. Over 90 per cent of the collection DID NOT include zippers or buttons or any closures. You could just easily put on your Tumbler and Tipsy garment and there wasn’t a lot of fuss getting it on or off your body, which helps anyone that has arthritis. I also collaborated with Eileen Davidson, another arthritis patient advocate who I have admired for years, on a series of limited-edition shirts for this 2022 collection. We used powerful phrases such as, “Fighting Rheumatoid Arthritis,” to show we are warriors of this disease and we will not let RA or any type of arthritis get us down. We are thriving as a community and I know that these powerful shirts really do give strength to some who think they might not have it in them. To have these shirts available on the mainstream fashion scene has really pushed the barriers we used to have in front of us as disabled and not heard. We are now bringing arthritis and migraine awareness to the forefront, even in fashion!

How can Canadians further help in supporting those with rheumatoid arthritis?

By watching our 2022 New York Fashion Week presentation you can help in supporting those with arthritis plus spreading the word that there are no limits in life for anyone, including the disabled. We are hoping to bring Canadians further in their thinking of what it is to be living with a chronic illness and disease, which is not always visible. Arthritis patients and migraine patients are around us everyday and sometimes we don’t even know it. Having the knowledge and awareness that these diseases do occur in all ages as well in all races is important plus having compassion for people struggling with these invisible diseases is vital.

Hi Eileen! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.How long have you been living with rheumatoid arthritis, and how does it impact your daily life?

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 29, in 2015, but I started showing signs of it around age 24. My diagnosis took a while because it was thought I had carpal tunnel from my job as an esthetician but after the birth of my son when I was almost 27 the pain I felt in my hands spread to my feet, knees, hips, shoulders, neck and I was struck with immense tiredness I couldn’t shake off, I became extremely forgetful and foggy. I constantly felt like I had the flu and my depression was raging, I was always sick with an infection and dealing with painful cystic acne. Due to a family history of rheumatoid arthritis I requested a blood test for the chronic illness from my family physician. A few weeks later I was being diagnosed by a rheumatologist with RA. At first I thought I had another autoimmune disease because I never expected arthritis to be so much more than joint pain and impact my daily life so drastically. I also never expected I could get arthritis before I even had any grey hairs or wrinkles. Six years later I have found a biologic that works for me, but RA is still a progressive disease and comes with comorbidities like anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis. Each day I fight against the symptoms of this disease.

You were one of this year’s featured models in the CreakyJoints Canada presentation of the 2022 Tumbler and Tipsy by Michael Kuluva collection timed to close New York Fashion Week. How did this exciting opportunity come about, and what was it like for you?!

Rheumatoid arthritis awareness has become my passion since my diagnosis and becoming a patient advocate in 2017. As someone who comes from a very creative family I love when I can combine my creativity, self expression and advocacy in one. It is a very cathartic experience doing so. Years ago I used to create metal band shirts but that became a bit difficult to manage when I was diagnosed with RA but I put up a status about my old hobby which caught Michael’s attention, which we were connected through CreakyJoints, a platform I am a regular writer for and he’s an advocate they support. Soon after he messaged me and asked me to collaborate with him on some RA awareness shirts that also inspire others with strength. It wasn’t long after I came up with the term Fiercely Fighting Rheumatoid Arthritis because you really do have to fight this disease for it to not be completely debilitating. Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic autoimmune disease which causes my healthy cells to attack each other. Everyday I am fighting through fatigue, pain, tests, medications, anxiety, depression, sleepless nights and forgetfulness. I wanted to create a term and symbol for others living with RA to keep fighting so they can live their best lives despite rheumatoid arthritis.

What is special, to you, about Tumbler and Tipsy designs/fashions?

Tumbler and Tipsy designs are special to me as someone living with rheumatoid arthritis because they are inclusive of those living with chronic pain and joint conditions and they use their platform to create awareness for arthritis.

How else are you involved with the CreakyJoints Canada patient council?

I am a regular writer for CreakyJoints about life with RA, I have written over 50 personal essays with them. Along with being a writer for CreakyJoints, I am on the Arthritis Research Canada arthritis patient advisory board, I am a patient engagement research ambassador with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and on the Doctors of BC Chronic Pain Advisory committee. I have a blog about my patient advocacy called Chronic Eileen.

What do you want people to know about rheumatoid arthritis?

I want people to understand the seriousness of arthritis and also awareness of the symptoms. RA and other types of arthritis are the number one cause of long term disability in working age adults in both Canada and the US, the disease is best treated early so I want people with chronic pain to advocate for themselves to get the diagnosis and treatment they need.


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