For sisters Zehra and Sophia Naqvi, creating their own clothing brand was a natural step after years of dreaming, drawing and being inspired by the colours and patterns in the world around them. They launched Glo in 2014 after noticing that their friends wanted to wear trendy slogan T-shirts, but couldn’t afford the cost of shipping from the US.
Two years later, thanks to the power of Instagram, eye-catching garments, and pure determination, Glo is a successful and growing brand with customers all over Hong Kong and in the US. The sisters draw inspiration from catwalks, style blogs, and social media, and decide which will be worth distilling into their own collection. Staying fresh is a challenge, says Sophia, 15. “When we started it was all about graphic T-shirts and slogans, then it went back to 90s, with Doc Martens and tattoo chokers. But now it’s whatever Kylie Jenner wears that’s in. We have to make sure we get on it as fast as possible so it doesn’t go stale.”
The sisters manage the whole process, from design to distribution, which usually takes about six weeks. Living in Hong Kong with access to the mainland manufacturing hubs gives them an advantage over US brands. “It was a long process getting started as we didn’t understand how to do things,” says Zehra, 17. “Sophia found a manufacturer who had an office in Hong Kong and had factories in China. We visited and looked at the shirts they’d produced for other companies.”
Now, working with manufacturers is mostly Sophia’s responsibility. “I go online and check their MOQ – minimum order quantity – and see if they fit with what we want,” she explains. “If they’re suitable, I’ll email them with our requirements and ask them about how long it will take to get samples, how much it costs, and whether we’ll be refunded on the samples.”
Glo designs dip into pop culture, with references to Harry Potter and 5 Seconds of Summer. But other influences have been incorporated as the young designers gain confidence in their brand. Zehra’s love of Islamic tessellation – mosaic patterns – is given a minimalist slant in a simple, laser-cut tank, while Sophia’s “more girly” style attracts her to florals and crocheted designs.
The pair can’t state enough how important social media has been for Glo’s development. “Instagram is incredible for connecting with people and following trends,” says Zehra. “We’ve had customers with lots of followers buy things from us. They’ll set up outfits to show how they’d style it.”
Glo clothes are free-spirited and fun, while the businesswomen behind the brand are smart, serious, decisive, and well-informed. From ensuring the factories they work with have safety certificates, and sourcing sustainable fabrics, to learning photography and recruiting friends as models, the sisters do everything they can to make the business a success.
“Everyone seems to think it’s impossible for two girls to run an online shop by themselves but we manage pretty well,” says Zehra, who hopes to study business when she heads to university in the US in 2017 so Glo can continue. “This is not something I want to die out when I move away to study. It’s something we’ve both wanted to do for such a long time.” Summing up her unshakeable drive and focus, she says, “I really liked One Direction for a long time, but that interest just died out. It can’t be just a phase when you start something like this. You need to have passion and really, really want it.”
As sisters living under the same roof and both going to Hong Kong International School, the usual sibling dynamics apply. But instead of squabbling and rivalry, the two encourage each other and complement each other’s skills. “A great thing about working with Sophia is that she’s very realistic,” says Zehra. “We keep each other informed about what people actually want, instead of clothes we’d just make for ourselves.”
“We stay real with each other,” adds Sophia. “It’s hard to reject a friend’s idea, but I can just tell Zehra if I think there’s a better way to do it. Of course we have disagreements, but we can work through them with a good partnership. We stay professional when talking about Glo.”
It’s clear the sisters thrive on responsibility and staying organised, allocating an hour each night to Glo, with more time at the weekend for photoshoots. Instead of distracting the pair from school studies, running a business helps them stay motivated and manage their time. Both are heavily involved with their school’s ambassador board and raising money for children in Pakistan, and Sophia added the role of executive director for TedX Youth to an already busy schedule.
“I’ve always been studious but Glo has helped with my schoolwork because it’s taught me about time management. Having a schedule with clear set goals is critical for doing well in any aspect of life,” Sophia says.
“When it’s time for me to do Glo, it’s not work. It’s just something I love to do – even if it’s just emailing people or going through Instagram comments. It’s not a hassle,” says Zehra.
The Glo founders are excited, yet secretive about the next few months for their brand, which will include what they describe as an “empowerment campaign” that is set to launch later this year. Zehra says, “It’s always been our dream to encourage other young women and women of colour that they can do something like this. We’ll be working on it all summer and we’re very excited about it.”