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Zehra Naqvi was a CEO, entrepreneur, and fashion designer all at the age of 13. Her initial small business turned empowerment revolution, GLO, launched as a means to need a demand in Hong Kong then grew along with Zehra who is now 19.
Zehra's sister, Sophia Naqvi, is a seventeen-year-old Hong Kong Pakistani American student, activist, and entrepreneur living in Hong Kong. At the tender age of twelve, she and her sister Zehra launched GLO, an online fashion store that brought trendy graphic tee-shirts typically only found in the US to Hong Kong. Since then, Sophia has not only grown GLO into a successful clothing company with thousands of customers worldwide but has also aided GLO in its transition to becoming a socially aware space with the creation of the Empowerment Campaigns and GLOHub.
When GLO was first established, I focused a lot more on the technical aspects of the company - contacting manufacturers, handling and creating a shipping schedule, building a website, and establishing our brand through social media. Meeting different manufacturers, contacting influencers, and learning how to organize code for the website was definitely no easy task for a seventh grader, but GLO was something that Zehra and I were deeply passionate about, so none of the initial heavy lifting I had to do felt burdensome. Starting a company at a young age was absolutely daunting, but it’s helped me grow in so many ways that other extracurriculars, such as a playing sport or joining a club, couldn’t. I learned about leadership, collaboration, communication, and most importantly, maturity, in ways that have contributed immensely to the person I am today.
Furthermore, working in the fashion industry at the young age of twelve allowed me to observe and better understand the role we play in the transmission of beauty standards and fortification of certain social inequalities prevalent in the industry, such as colorism and lack of representation. This understanding not only led to the establishment of the empowerment campaign in 2016 and GLOHub in 2018, but also allowed me to delve deeper into understanding systemic social inequalities through all of my other extracurricular activities and in numerous academic settings.
In my final year of Middle School and first year of High School, I became deeply invested in understanding social inequalities and beauty standards that were prevalent in my own communities. Although I grew up in a multicultural environment and city, I still felt the effects of colorism and discrimination, and began to realize that these effects had been affecting my own confidence and self-esteem. However, I never really questioned why these social issues existed, what I could do to bring awareness to them, or what I could do to solve them.
In my Freshman year of High School, however, I began to feel strongly about advocating for these issues, as I saw a lack of discussion or acknowledgement of them in my own High School or within groups of people my age in Hong Kong. The Empowerment Campaign was born in October of my Sophomore Year, after we decided that GLO was a unique platform that could be used to instigate conversation, acknowledgement, and change surrounding beauty standards and social issues that we felt had to be acknowledged. Using something as fundamental as the quintessential graphic tee to empower young women and men to question the prejudices they held or were facing was something we felt would be innovative, and had the possibility to grow into a larger movement. Two years later, I can confidently say that our hope for the empowerment campaign has been realized, with the release of two more empowerment campaigns and creation of GLOHub, an empowering space for young entrepreneurs and innovators to discuss their ideas for how we can collectively better our communities and the world.
I always hoped it would, but never imagined that in such a short time, it would’ve been able to grow to where it’s at now. I remember all the milestones - getting our first samples delivered, our hundredth order, reaching 10,000 followers on instagram, shooting for the first empowerment campaign. We initially just expected to get a few orders a month from customers in Hong Kong, but within a few months, we were shipping orders all over the world, from the US, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and France, to name a few places. Additionally, GLO didn’t start out as being the socially aware brand that it is today - initially, it was simply a brand that seeked to fill a niche in the market and to allow teens in Hong Kong to have the same access to trendy, high quality, affordable fashion as other young adults around the world did. I’m so proud of the fact that now, GLO is focused on empowering young people and working to give disenfranchised people a voice through GLOHub.
In my Sophomore Year of High School, I took AP World History as my first AP Class. I’m very much a humanities oriented person, and although it was known to be one of the hardest classes at my school, I was looking forward to the class as I knew that I was interested in the subject. Through the course, I learned why history is so relevant, and how it’s contributed to the way we live life today. Studying the rise and fall of empires, birth of new religions, and interstate conflicts gave me a renewed understanding of the way society today functioned. Specifically, studying colonialism allowed me to understand why issues such as colorism, racism, and certain eurocentric beauty standards were prevalent in Pakistan and Hong Kong, both post-colonial countries. This fascination of understanding social inequalities led me to do extensive research into the subject, including a two and a half week long internship at the Asia Art Archive that included working with the research team.
When I go to Pakistan I’m too “Western”. When I’m in Hong Kong, my home of 15 years, I’m Pakistani, brown, foreign. It was difficult navigating who I was when people constantly felt like it was their place to tell me who I was. My skin color dictated who I was, not my home or my ethnicity. It was confusing to realize that people didn’t want to understand my story and would rather label me than ask me who I am.
The only outlet I really felt like I could express myself through was fashion. Whether I’d take earrings and pin them onto the collar of my middle school uniform or carry a Pakistani clutch with white ripped jeans to a dinner with my friends, I blended my cultures together seamlessly. It wasn’t my intention to stand out but rather to blend my two cultures together seamlessly; in a way that reflected how I felt I was a result of Hong Kong, Pakistan, and my American education.
Being a person of color in this world often means people will label you before they even know you. Whether it’s your hair’s texture, skin color, body, or nose, people choose to make assumptions about your identity without asking. This is an issue. And it’s one of the parts that led to the creation of shopGLO’s empowerment campaign.
The empowerment campaign is more than just shirts; these are sayings that empower women and people of color. Their slogans carry weight and meaning that goes beyond just an article of clothing. The Empowerment Campaign isn’t a trend. It’s something that
Identity can be difficult with more of us born in countries that may exclude us or make us “the other”. But for me fashion was my comfort till I was able to confidently own my blending identity and correct those who tried to label me. Creativity and insight in your passions and how your identity has shaped you is key.
Being an entrepreneur and fashion designer blended together two of my best qualities seamlessly and when I was 13 I was totally unaware of it. From a young age, I observed how my world worked. What about the trends in my Middle School were unique from larger fashion trends? To an adult, it may have seemed trivial but I was essentially researching and analyzing how I behaved as a consumer and how, later, my demographic with GLO operated in what we wanted to purchase and what trends attracted our interest. Likewise, I kept note on how fashion changed and what was in demand in Hong Kong and how it was met. It was in seventh grade when the demand for graphic crop tops reached Hong Kong and no major retailer was supplying the demand for it. At the age of 13, I noticed the opportunity and after 7 years of fashion designing, trend tracking and analyzing teenage consumer trends, I put my interests to work.
As I grew older, the issues in the world that had been part of my life from a young age became extremely apparent. What did it mean to be Pakistani and Muslim in America or even in Hong Kong. How would I address the discrimination in a positive light? GLO grew as I did and the platform shifted to empowerment. I feel it’s so important to use your platform to incite conversation. Whether you share a Facebook post or create a clothing line, beginning conversation about these issues is key and I wanted to do this when I realized that GLO could be used to incite change back in 2016.
Our future is to continue to be a site for conversation and empowerment. With the launch of our sister site www.shopglohub.com we aim to empower and encourage young entrepreneurs to continue pursuing their passions and inciting conversation with their work. The business ideas and art of young people shouldn’t be dismissed but should be celebrated and that’s GLO’s aim.