You may know her as Sarah from the new TV series Pivoting, as Hannah from Designated Survivor, as Tori from the Divergent movies, as Zhen from Mission: Impossible III or maybe as Mai from Live Free or Die Hard. But we know her as the founder of Qeep Up, an activewear brand made from 100% recycled materials.
Maggie Q never intended on getting into the fashion industry. But when the environmental activist and movie star realized she had the connections—and money—to make a difference, she couldn’t not do something.
“I saw myself as a bridge between nonprofit groups who needed resources and well-off people who had those resources,” Maggie says. “It was a bit like Robin Hood—I wasn’t stealing, of course, but I was able to convince affluent people in the entertainment world to give me their time and money. I had the passion, they didn’t have the information, so I became the conduit.”
Born and raised in Hawaii, Maggie has always had an appreciation for the natural world. But it wasn’t until she left the island when she was 18 and moved to Asia that she discovered just how devastating the impacts of consumerism could be on the environment.
“I was able to live, move and work in markets that truly affected the health of our land and oceans,” she says. “I became privy to what the bigger problems were and that’s really what set everything on fire.”
In 2008, Maggie was named PETA Asia-Pacific’s “Person of the Year;” in 2009 she became an ambassador for Animals Asia’s Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre; and in 2010 she teamed up with WildAid to protect threatened animals. She now also partners with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs on sustainable consumption and production.
While clearly destined to be an eco-warrior for Mother Earth, her acting career came about more as a “necessity,” she says. “It wasn’t this sexy thing where I had dreams of being a Hollywood star. At the time, it was really just a way to pay the bills. But I’ve come to love the industry (especially actors—they are so unique!) and it gave me the access I needed to fuel my activism and start my businesses.”
Qeep Up—named for the Q in her name but also to acknowledge how women are “very special creatures” who are constantly juggling multiple things—launched in 2019 with the goal of taking post-consumer waste, turning it into something people use and donating the proceeds to causes that benefit the planet. “I never wanted a clothing company; I never wanted to design clothing. But I thought, ‘I can literally take things that are polluting our oceans and turn them into commodities.’”
And those commodities are quite stylish—mesh-paneled body suits, cheetah print bombers, “Bond Girl” one piece bathing suits and “Ocean Tie-Dye” garments, the sales of which generate funds for the Blue Sphere Foundation, which is dedicated to protection our oceans.
“It really comes full circle,” Maggie says. “My main piece of advice for women when it comes to starting a business or managing your money is to look at the bigger picture. If you have a bird’s eye view of what you want to accomplish, you can create a roadmap to get there.”
But to reach those goals, you might need to take some risks, Maggie adds, and you shouldn’t take shortcuts—you want your brand to be as transparent as possible, which is especially important when sustainability is involved.
“Founding a sustainable brand takes a lot of time, research and money. When I took the Qeep Up model to investors, they said, ‘Maggie, can’t you do this any cheaper?’ When I took my ideas to the mill I work with they said, ‘Maggie, the kind of fabric you want doesn’t exist.’ But I got the money, I created the fabric and I left no stone unturned.”
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Emily Silber is Millie’s executive editor.