Looking Good is Pricy; FLYGURLZCLUB Helps Oakland Teens Dress the Part

FLYGURLZCLUB founder Stephanie Torres (center) with nail artist Nakira Glasgow (left) and donor Brittani B. Well (right). (Courtesy of Stephanie Torres/FLYGURLZCLUB)

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. 

Nail artist Nakira Glasgow offered free manicures to high school girls at FLYGURLZCLUB's back-to-school event.
Nail artist Nakira Glasgow offered free manicures to high school girls at FLYGURLZCLUB's back-to-school event. (Amina El Kabbany)

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."

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Considering the immense pressure that young girls feel to look or dress a certain way, especially in our age of ubiquitous social media, Torres hopes FLYGURLZCLUB can help level the playing field. In that way, the clothing drive has potential to foster real-life connections and build self-esteem in a generation of girls under more pressure to have a social media presence than ever before. It's not just about looks, either: for millennials and Gen Z-ers, how one presents on social media can make one more employable or marketable as an artist, and maintaining that polished image is expensive. 

Stylists, nail techs and DJs other creatives volunteered for FLYGURLZCLUB's clothing giveaway for under-resourced girls.
Stylists, nail techs and DJs other creatives volunteered for FLYGURLZCLUB's clothing giveaway for under-resourced girls. (Amina El Kabbany)

Torres recounted how, after securing E14 as the venue space, she was shocked at the outpouring of support she received from other femmes online and in person. Local makeup artists, nail techs, DJs and stylists volunteered their efforts, building a creative hub of women supporting other women.

"I think that’s the power of social media and the beauty of it. At times it can be a superficial thing, but there are people who want to connect," Torres says. "The goal was just to showcase that women can work together—especially here in the Bay Area. Women of different backgrounds and different industries can produce a project like this with the common goal of helping younger girls."

At the drive itself, that willingness for connection felt clear. Volunteers were open and friendly, helping high school students sort through the piles and piles of ripped jeans, fluffy coats and neon tops. Stylists were open and friendly, giving the girls tips on which belt went better with which top, and helped girls feel comfortable in clothes they otherwise wouldn’t have known how to wear. Resources and warmth were in abundance, and every person in attendance seemed dedicated to encouraging an uplifting and inclusive environment.

FLYGURLZCLUB's mission is to help high school girls from low-income backgrounds look and feel confident.
FLYGURLZCLUB's mission is to help high school girls from low-income backgrounds look and feel confident. (Amina El Kabbany )

Torres recounts a particularly poignant anecdote from the event: "A student came up to the director of E14 Gallery and told her it was her birthday. She was like, 'You don’t even know. This is the best day of my life.' The director told me she wanted to tear up because she saw how this girl felt, and how much of an impact FLYGURLZCLUB made."

This year, FLYGURLZCLUB is planning on creating infrastructure, recruiting volunteers and putting on more events for young students to feel welcomed and inspired. Their "Galantine" Fundraiser Gala, a dedication to celebrating self-love and supporting their upcoming projects, is right around the corner. And this Labor Day, Torres intends to throw another back-to-school drive—this time including young boys and partnering with barber shops to give them free haircuts. 

"Boys deserve it too," Torres says.

2019 holds a lot of promise for FLYGURLZCLUB. And Torres and her network of femme power seem ready to take it on.

"We’re super excited," she said. "It’s all happening so fast."

FLYGURLZCLUB's Galantine party and fundraiser gala takes place on Feb. 16 at Taylor/Monroe Salon. Details here

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