The 'Warrior' way: DJ-turned-designer Kate Matthews on the road to recovery

Kate Matthews’ father still can’t understand why his peace-loving, balance-seeking, laughter-inducing daughter would name her company Recovery Gangster.

There is seemingly nothing at all "gangster" about the 34-year-old Vancouver DJ and entrepreneur. 

article continues below

Nonetheless, Matthews is a proud, self-proclaimed bad ass. Her embrace of profanity and a fighting spirit are powerful outlets for the deep inner resources she had to mine when her leg was shattered in a car accident last March.

And other people are digging her message, too.

“Yeah, there is a raw edge but there’s also the softness,” she says of her new Warrior Babe sweatshirt line. “There’s a vulnerability in the strength.”

Matthews has been able to turn the life-altering impact of her injury into a growing social media and retailing phenomenon. Warrior Babe sweatshirts are being shipped around the world, tapping into customers’ desire to create a tribe of people who have found strength in adversity.

“The recovery game is real,” she writes on her website. “Approximately every 12 seconds on Instagram, the hashtag #recovery is used. Every 30 seconds, #edrecovery is used. Every seven seconds, #depression posts are uploaded. The same goes for #injuryrecovery #PTSD #sobriety #sexualabuse and #trauma. Tens of millions of people are recovering from something. The world is on a healing journey.”


WARRIOR BABE • Jaime • “Like many others, from my teens to my early twenties I struggled with poor body image and negative self talk which stemmed to an eating disorder spanning 6 years. During this time in my life I attempted to get help from many avenues without success. I eventually came to terms with the fact that I would have to make it on my own, and I did. Psychologist Carl Jung speaks of ‘The Wounded Healer’. The concept states that the individual is compelled to heal others, as he or she themselves is or was ‘wounded’. Meaning; they have themselves experienced something in the past that has led them to their current path. From my experience, I was led to study a health science degree and am now a clinical nutritionist specialising in mental health, in particular anxiety, depression and eating disorders. Thankfully, I emerged from the depths of bulimia a much stronger person. I believe that bulimia is much like any other addiction. The battle to keep a strong mentality and to protect yourself from outside influences is a long one, but it does get easier. I used to use food as a coping mechanism to deal with stress. For me, it didn’t start as a weight issue. I think thats what many people find difficult to understand. Every eating disorder is so different, which is also what makes them so hard to treat. I want those who are battling with body image issues, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, or any other mental health condition, to know that they are not alone. It is now my goal to teach and inspire through my work as a health practitioner. I am currently writing a book which focuses on healing your body and mind post eating disorder recovery, and long term would love to create an organisation for eating disorder support in my hometown, Perth, Western Australia.” @nutritionistabroad

A post shared by Recovery Gangster • Kate 🦋 (@recoverygangster) on

As a DJ, Matthews travelled the world to places such as the Maldives, Bali and Singapore, and she’s always been on an exploration of her inner life. Her journey, however, became much more traumatic when she suffered a tibial plateau fracture in the 2017 car accident.

She and her fiancé had just spent two weeks volunteering with Dentistry for All in Guatemala. They landed at YVR late on a Sunday night and grabbed a taxi home. The collision was at the intersection of Granville Street and King Edward Avenue. 

“My leg took the whole force of the accident, right into my knee joint,” Matthews said. “It just shattered.”

Matthews doesn’t know which came first: the pain or her brain’s recognition that something was seriously wrong when she bent down to feel her lower leg and it didn’t feel the way it was supposed to.

Kate Matthews x-ray
Kate Matthews' tibial plateau fracture was pretty catastrophic but she was also able to use it as a hashtag to find other people around the world who are overcoming its aftermath.

When the pain did hit a nanosecond later, it hit with a vengeance. Conscious the entire time, Matthews was screaming in agony. Her fiancé, who was mildly injured, did his best to help her cope by coaching her through the deep breathing exercises she’d mastered in yoga classes.

“Breathing deeply helped until I could get drugs into my system,” she says, noting that the paramedics arrived quickly on the scene.

It was a catastrophic injury that required months in recovery and rehabilitation, as well as counselling for the psychological impact. She still is not yet able to work as a DJ because she can’t stand up for more than an hour or two.

The thing about not being able to walk, though, is it gives you more time to think.

Late last summer, she went on a three-day camping trip with a friend. She was still on crutches so the outing had its challenges but, cut off from her phone and the outside world, she came home refreshed and enlivened. Extremely adept and at home on social media, she realized, “I needed to create an umbrella for people in recovery.”

She thought back to her own recovery to give words and form to her experiences.

“After my injury, what I needed to do was live my best life — gangster,” she told the Courier. There is a yoga-inspired clothing line called Spiritual Gangster and, for her, the word gangster resonated with “strength, resilience and being bad ass.”

She also realized her recovery journey was not just about her leg. “The injury has been a catalyst for other stuff I needed to heal,” such as body image and anxiety.

“The mind is a tricky place,” she says. “Your thoughts create your reality.”

The quest of Recovery Gangster is to create thoughts that lead to strength and healing. “If you want something you have to feel that way before it happens.”

Although it is female-focused, Matthews is also striving for gender neutrality. “It’s not just for women. It’s got the female energy.”

She sourced the sweatshirts from a Vancouver-based company called Promosapien and then took to Instagram to share the message.

On International Women’s Day (March 8), she’s been invited to be one of four “empowering women” speakers at the Steve Nash Fitness Centre’s downtown Vancouver location. She’ll share her story before instructor Nicole Laronde’s “Who Run the World Spin” class.

Energized by the feedback to her Warrior Babe message, Matthews is pondering what happens next. Being a DJ is “such a big part of my heart and life” and she’s working with a kinesiologist to regain her standing strength. But she’s also liking where her recovery gangster life is taking her.

“I want people to feel connected and inspired,” she says. “I just want them to look in the mirror and say, ‘Yeah, I’m a warrior babe.’”


The Warrior Babe mantra:

“Stop saying yes to sh*t you hate.

Honour the space between ‘no longer’ and ‘not yet.’

Let your weird light shine bright so the other weirdos know where to find you.

Channel all your f***ing energy on what you are becoming.”

Read Related Topics


NOTE: To post a comment you must have an account with at least one of the following services: Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ You may then login using your account credentials for that service. If you do not already have an account you may register a new profile with Disqus by first clicking the "Post as" button and then the link: "Don't have one? Register a new profile".

The Vancouver Courier welcomes your opinions and comments. We do not allow personal attacks, offensive language or unsubstantiated allegations. We reserve the right to edit comments for length, style, legality and taste and reproduce them in print, electronic or otherwise. For further information, please contact the editor or publisher, or see our Terms and Conditions.

comments powered by Disqus

Popular Vancouver Courier

Sign Up For Our e-Newsletter!

Popular Living