Last September, Oakland’s E14 Gallery buzzed with the back-to-school frenzy that surrounds Labor Day weekend. The unlikely venue, located on a rustic, brick-lined street in Old Oakland, had its doors wide open, giving passersby a view of the dozens of enthusiastic high-school girls sorting through clothes amid festive decorations and upbeat music.
The group behind the event was FLYGURLZCLUB, a platform created in 2017 by Vallejo-native Stephanie Torres with the intention of providing under-resourced girls and young women with opportunities to empower themselves through fashion. Their event last Labor Day was the grassroots organization's official launch. They introduced the platform with a back-to-school donation drive that invited female students from Fremont High School and United for Success to stock up on donated apparel, pamper themselves for free and, most importantly, have fun.
The wholly volunteer- and women-run clothing drive included DJ sets from local artists Arumi and Genevieve Diaz, plus nail techs and makeup artists giving girls sparkly manicures and bejeweled makeovers. FLYGURLZCLUB, which is throwing a party and fundraiser for their next drive at Taylor/Monroe on Feb. 16, offers a space for young women to share their skills with one another and lend a mentor-like hand to the teen participants.
For founder Torres, the idea for FLYGURLZCLUB came while cleaning out her closet. She was suddenly struck with the idea that she didn’t necessarily need to donate her clothes to Goodwill or sell them to a consignment shop. Rather, she could use her old clothes to give back directly to her own community—a desire that stems from Torres’ own background.
"I experienced firsthand what it was like never being able to buy nice clothes when I was younger," says Torres, who works as a PR and social media coordinator by day. "I’ve always shopped for cheap clothes—my grandma taught me how to budget—so I knew girls in middle school and high school would appreciate it."