When Zoe Gabriel, 17, described Singaporean fast fashion label Charles & Keith as a luxury brand in a viral TikTok video, she invited a swarm of hateful remarks.
In the video posted in January with the caption “my first luxury bag”, the Filipina teenager can be seen unboxing a gift from her father.
“Who's going to tell her,” one user commented sarcastically.
Many other disparaging comments, which have since been deleted, eventually pushed Zoe to post an emotional response.
“To you, an $80 bag may not be a luxury, but for me and my family, it is a lot,” she said in the video. “Your comment spoke volumes on how ignorant you seem because of your wealth … I'm so grateful that my dad was able to get me one. He worked so hard for that money. I can't believe I got hate over a bag that I was so excited to have.”
Representatives from Charles & Keith took note and sent Gabriel some more products. Just days after she posted the first video, which has now garnered more than 22 million views, they invited Zoe and her dad for lunch and a tour at the brand's headquarters in Singapore.
On March 4, the brand unveiled a new campaign for International Women's Day starring Zoe as its new community ambassador.
Charles & Keith said it was inspired by the teenager's humility and courage in standing up to online bullies, which also became the major theme of its campaign.
In its image, shared on social media, Zoe can be seen holding a purple Alia handbag. “Women are like flowers ... like fields of poppy and lakes of lotus, diverse and bold in our differences" reads a note accompanying the post.
Speaking to The National, Zoe, who lives in Singapore, says she has learnt “so many lessons” from the bullying, but her biggest takeaway is that “there is power in knowing who you are”.
“I believe that if you are aware of, are rooted in, and are proud of your identity, everything else will fall into place,” she says.
“I was really dumbstruck about it at first,” she adds, about being asked to become a Charles & Keith ambassador. “I knew it would be a big responsibility, and I wanted to make sure I could give it my all.”
'Luxury is relative'
Zoe's videos also sparked online conversations about privilege and luxury.
Singaporean activist Roy Ngerng joined the discussion on Twitter at the time the original video was posted, sharing his own story about growing up and not being able to eat at McDonald's or KFC as a child because they were expensive.
“Even going to the cinema was also a treat because we were poor,” he said.
Another Twitter user, Gerry Cacanindin, echoed Ngerng's comments at the time, arguing that the meaning of luxury varies from person to person.
“Sleep to the overworked is luxury. Free time to a single parent is luxury,” he said.
Last week, Zoe attended her first influencer event organised by Charles & Keith.
“I’m just so grateful for the platform and for the opportunity to use my voice,” she says. “With everything I have now, I’ll try to always use it for good.”