Meet 16-year-old Ava Soh, an entrepreneur and fashion designer from Singapore. Her business campaign was most notably backed by Ukrainian President Zelenskyy when he wore her design during a virtual speech to delegates at the Shangri-La Dialogue.
“[Soh] wrote me a letter asking to support her initiative called ‘Spray Paint Ukraine,’” President Zelenskyy said at Asia’s premier defense summit. “[She] presented me with a shirt for me to wear it, thus helping everyone to discover her initiative.”
“Spray Paint Ukraine” is a non-fungible token design that features a woman spray painting the colors of the Ukrainian flag. The image, inspired largely by the style of England-based street artist Banksy, represents a powerful message that is deeply rooted in the overall philosophy of Soh’s business, Daughters of the Revolution.
“Daughters of the Revolution was my brand when I started my first jewelry collection, ‘The Love Letter collection,’ and it’s basically what unites all of us women: we’re all daughters,” Soh said. “We might not be mothers, but we’re all daughters.”
This connection became the foundation of DOTR, which aims to “empower the next generation of 21st-century heroines through self-love.” When asked about her decision to center her art around female empowerment, Soh recalls her early understanding of gender inequality.
“I remember hearing about it from a young age — that some women and girls around the world are practically owned by a man and all the things they could do were dependent on what a brother or uncle dictated,” Soh said. “It was something that was shocking to me and…it’s a problem I wanted to solve, naturally. And I wanted to do it in a way that I liked, which was through fashion.”
Soh started planning her initiative back in March when she attended an online conference with fellow Singaporeans and Ukrainian ambassador Kateryna Zelenko. During the call, they discussed ways to help Ukraine, and specifically what sort of support the country needed. Having dabbled in cryptocurrency and NFTs, Soh was drawn to the idea of creating a design that would benefit Ukraine and produce tangible results.
Staying true to her business’s message, Soh wanted her initiative to address the intersectionality of women’s issues and the current crisis in Ukraine.
“The design was an idea that I came up with, and it’s about a girl who’s building her flag,” Soh said. “I wanted it to be a very empowering message — that women are part of the building of their nation too. And it was really relevant to the current situation in Ukraine for me because there are a lot of displaced women and children, and sometimes they’re being trafficked. Those were the people that I specifically wanted to represent and to help.”
As with most business endeavors, running DOTR x Ukraine did not come without its challenges. In addition to the supply chain disruption caused by the pandemic, Soh also encountered difficulties with marketing.
“One thing that was difficult, especially for this campaign, was that I couldn’t put out ads,” Soh said. “For example, on Facebook, it’s considered too political and my business manager — my ad account — is actually banned because it involves Ukraine.”
President Zelenskyy’s endorsement has been paramount to the international success of her fundraising campaign. After seeing her design on a live stream of the Ukrainian leader’s address, Soh recalls being inundated with orders and media requests.
“I was very shocked. I started crying,” Soh said. “It’s crazy how big of an impact [President Zelenskyy] has had.”
Building off of this success, Soh hopes to release more designs as part of the DOTR x Ukraine collection. As stated on her website, 100% of the proceeds will be donated directly to the Ukrainian Embassy in Singapore.
And while Soh will continue to fundraise for Ukraine, she notes that the campaign goes beyond its financial success.
“I’m very appreciative [of the support], but more than that, I feel like it’s not just about the funds but also about the message, and it’s at the core of what art should be,” Soh said. “Art should be talking about what needs to be talked about. It has the power to evoke so many emotions and questions. Of course, there’s the part that’s fundraising, but there’s also the part that is highlighting the emotional impact art can have on you.”
Soh’s accomplishments are a testament to her determination and creativity. At only 16, Soh has outlined a plan to enact change not only in her community but also around the globe. Even thousands of miles away, it is easy for me to acknowledge the immense potential Soh has.
“I’m really hoping to support many more causes in the future,” Soh said. “One of my dreams is to work with Malala Yousafzai…It’s one of those dreams that you just don’t know if it will come true. One of the things President Zelenskyy has taught me is that you never know. Essentially, I’m just hoping to continue to reinvent fashion in the 21st century and show the power of art to spread important messages.”