Harnessing a Passion for Fashion

July 10, 2023

Certain moments in our lives often feel apocryphal. You can pinpoint the exact moment when you found that career path, or made a choice that would change your life forever. For George Washington University student and Albrecht Fellow Anna Shah, that moment could very well be the first time she walked into a thrift store.

Anna grew up in the Chicagoland area, and her first exposure to thrifting was at Crossroads, a thrift store that prioritizes, “current, on-trend clothing and accessories.” This store rejected the idea that thrifting was only for older clothing that wouldn’t be seen as fashionable, and hooked Anna from day one.

“First of all, it’s cheap,” said Anna. “Second of all, it has such fashionable and cool clothes. And it was so good for the environment. It totally changed my life. I brought all of my friends to it and people were stunned because it was an affordable way for us to shop that aligned with our values.”

Upon arriving in Washington D.C. to attend college, Anna found a lack of thrift stores in the area. Despite the city being home to numerous universities, there wasn’t anywhere nearby to thrift. While learning about impact investing and sustainable fashion, she met other like-minded GW students who saw the lack of thrift stores as an opportunity and decided to found one of their own.

Power of the Purse, or POP! was formed soon after. They secured initial funding through the GW Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship for an initial pop-up in September of 2021. Days before the pop-up, Anna and her co-founders were scared no one would come.

More than 1,000 people attended, confirming the demand for thrifting in the DC area. It also re-affirmed that this idea was more than a mere college experimentation, there was something there.

Around the same time, Anna applied to become an Albrecht Fellow. The program was appealing from the beginning, highlighting the importance of a personal mission, something Anna hoped to instill in her nascent business. The program delivered in more ways than one, exposing her to some very successful businesses, that each imparted something she could take back and apply to POP!

“At Stanley Black and Decker I learned about leadership principles, specifically creating clarity, inspiring engagement, and how to create a vision for your company,” Anna said. “At Spotify I learned about ongoing feedback. They talked a lot about beta testing, which was really relevant to me because for any entrepreneur you have to do customer discovery. At Abt Associates they talked about how they were very mission driven and they focus a lot on climate equity and climate justice.”

All of these principles applied to the nascent business Anna had started. She was even able to connect with an Under Armour employee one-on-one to discuss growing with a company that started small before becoming a renowned global brand.

But Anna’s biggest takeaway as an Albrecht Fellow wasn’t necessarily a business principle or a strategy she could apply to POP! Instead, it was something less tangible, but no less important, especially in a world where startups rise and fall every day. Confidence.

“I always knew that I wanted to do something fashion related, thought I didn’t really have the confidence to pursue it,” said Anna. “The program gave me the confidence and empowered me to follow the mission and the impact that I wanted to make in the world in relation to sustainable fashion.”

That confidence is already paying dividends. Anna and the Pop! Team competed in G.W.’s New Venture competition, earning an additional $25,000 in funding, and was named a top six finalist in the Hult Prize Foundation Boston Summit social entrepreneurship competition. POP! regularly drops new clothing collections on its website, and the co-founders are exploring ways to increase its reach.

Anna was also invited to speak at WTCI’s annual Maryland International Business Leadership Awards. She spoke about her passion for sustainability, assured everyone in the room that their outfits were excellent, and introduced Maryland Governor Wes Moore.

As Anna balances the demands of POP!, explores future opportunities through internships, and focuses on graduating, it's clear that her future is limitless.

Do you know an exceptional college student like Anna who is looking to expand their skills, knowledge, and connections? Applications are currently open for the 2023 Albrecht Fellowship for College Students.

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