Zen Nomad

The Journey of Sonja den Elzen

By Sarah Jean Harrison

It’s about the journey. I know. I know. Like you, I usually roll my eyes internally when this platitude is trotted out. But here I am saying it and knowing that in the case of Zen Nomad, the eco-yoga apparel brand by Sonja den Elzen, it’s absolutely true.

Sonja made waves in the Canadian fashion industry with Jy Stijils, a rave-inspired line that developed an international following. Working out of Toronto, the line expanded into Europe and Asia. By all standards Jy Stijils was a roaring success. Except that Sonja was exhausted from the long hours and unceasing demand for growth.

As the aughts wound down and rave culture began to shift, Sonja looked up from her breakneck schedule and saw an industry wreaking havoc on people and the planet. She wasn’t the only one being ground down by the fashion industry. Factory workers and ecological resources were showing the strain as well.

In 2002, Jy Stjils was shuttered and, after a few years rest, Sonja opened Thieves, an eco-fashion brand featuring multi-functional pieces with a boutique on West Queen West in Toronto. Again, her line flourished but she did not. Fashion, while at times glamorous, is an all-consuming and demanding industry.

Zen Nomad Delphine Tank

After 18+ years in fashion, Sonja found herself utterly worn out, in Tulum, Mexico and living on the beach and teaching yoga. “Getting up in morning next to ocean really does give you a sense of perspective”, says Sonja. “Slowly it came to me that I wanted peace, in my mind, my body and my soul”.  Coming home from Mexico, Sonja approached fashion with a new perspective. It was time to make fashion that reflected her new path as a yogini focused on living intentionally and sustainably.

Zen Nomad was born in 2013. Made locally in small batches from eco-friendly bamboo rayon and organic cottons, Sonja’s designs reflect her new, soulful way of living. Minimalist, adaptable and sustainable, these pieces transition beautifully between life on and off the matt.

Today Sonja has ditched Queen Street in favour of a property in Muskoka where she has a studio and small boutique. A certified yoga instructor and Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncturist, in 2018 she launched the Cedar Healing Arts. 

Listening to Sonja’s journey from conventional fashion to eco-designer and healing arts practitioner, I feel unexpectedly grateful for her journey. After so much learning and discovery, here she is willing to give the rest of us stressed out urbanites an opportunity to find peace in our minds, bodies and souls.

See what I mean about the journey? It really is everything.

Upcoming Retreat: March 1-3, 2019 Qi Gong, Taijiquan and meditation with Sonja den Elzen and Claire Turner Reid. 

Publisher’s Note: Sarah Jean Harrison is a sustainability communications specialist at Peace Flag House, working with sustainable fashion and lifestyle brands. Her work has appeared in The Canadian Organic Farmer, Spin Off Magazine, FORWARD Fashion and Eco Warrior Princess.