The Story of the Empowerment Campaign
If GLO started as a brand releasing collections of graphic tshirts with colourful donuts, whimsical pineapples, and heart-throb boy band references on them, how did it shift entirely to releasing campaigns centered around real world issues such as racism, sexism, and empowerment?
The Empowerment Campaign was a product of frustration at social inequalities faced by disenfranchised groups and a desire to not only bring awareness to these issues, but to also empower members of these groups to fight for justice. About a month before we launched the campaign, the Paris attacks had occurred, occupying news headlines worldwide. Naturally, hearing of a terrorist attack is alarming - especially when it’s one on such a horrifically large scale. It was, at the least, sickening. At my high school, we collectively mourned at a school gathering to show our solidarity with the victims of the attack. Yet 15 minutes before this school gathering, I received an email from our school community leader asking me if I could recite a prayer in Arabic. I was extremely confused. Why did I have to recite a prayer in Arabic? What made the situation so dire that I had to read a poem? That’s when I realized that many teachers at this school saw me as a visible Muslim in the community, one who could go up in front of the whole school and represent my faith. Since the terrorist attack had been committed by terrorists who claimed to be Muslim, I was called upon at a time like this. I appreciated that the school wanted to make an active statement that Islam was a peaceful religion;however, I felt like a prop being used by the administration. I felt like something my school’s administration could plaster all over to show off their tolerance and understanding, despite racist jokes being rampant within the conversations of students at the school. Nevertheless, I spoke anyways: I stood in front of my whole school and recited a prayer in Arabic. It was simply unfortunate for me to realize that administration felt it was necessary to remind students that not all Muslims are terrorists by forcing me up on stage as a token Muslim.
From this frustration stemmed my research in the Pushing Boundaries project I had to complete for my Junior year English class. We could choose anything we wanted and, ideally, something that hadn’t been the subject of much prior study I knew I wanted to study something pertaining to my identity because it had been those few previous weeks in my life that I felt the implications of being a Muslim Pakistani woman so strongly. After watching multiple TED Talks on identity, skin color and religion, I eventually came across the term “Colorism.” I had never heard the word before, but the definition was something I was all too familiar with. Colorism is discrimination against individuals with a darker skin tone -- typically within an ethnic or racial group.
I was 6 when I first felt the effects of colorism, though I didn’t know the word to describe it.
My grandmother had flown into Hong Kong to be with my mother as she gave birth to her third child, my little brother Mehdee. We’d just gone on holiday to Thailand and as a result me (6 years old) and my sister (4 years old) had gotten very tan;our fair skin had become sunkissed and a dark caramel color. I opened the door, excited to see my grandmother. She looked at me then hurried over to my very pregnant mother and began scolding her. “You ruined your daughters! Look at their skin.” My grandmother wasn't a bad person, but colorism was so deeply rooted in Pakistani culture that she legitimately associated light skin with beauty, and dark skin with ugliness.
It was from that moment on that I experienced how rampant colorism was. Every TV ad in Pakistan consisted of a dark woman complaining that she was ugly, and then, all of a sudden, she’d apply a whitening cream from Fair and Lovely and she’d be considered beautiful. However, beauty was not all that the woman gained - she gained respect, admiration, wealth, and, most critically, status. It got to the point where there was an advertisement for light bulbs, and a woman complained of how dark she was looking till she purchased these new light bulbs and had light skin -- and was satisfied. Even in the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, where we have a layover before flying into Lahore, every 3 advertisements are for whitening cream. I began to notice it even in my home town, Hong Kong, when women would carry umbrellas during the summer to avoid getting darker. Then sheet masks with whitening properties popped up in my favorite Asian drugstore, Sasa. I felt like it was everywhere, but, still, I didn’t have a name for what I was witnessing at all.
It was in April 2016 that I realized all of this was colorism.
Within a month in a half, I’d completed my research and created a compelling presentation arguing the damaging effects of colorism, particularly since it doesn't get the exposure other social issues in minority groups get, such as gender inequality. Though I received a good grade in the project, I didn’t want to just stop there. I decided to take this research further by applying it to GLO.
When I’d started GLO I was 13 and adamant on being a fashion designer and businesswoman. It was when I grew to know more about the world around me that I saw the opportunity to use GLO as a platform to express my concerns of what I was witnessing around the world. Learning that colorism was an actual issue, and not something I’d been imagining since I was 6, was so rewarding and truly motivating.
It was from that point forward I decided I’d use the platform I’d built over the last 4 years to make a statement.
And that’s how the empowerment campaign began.