I support > The Uniform Project

18Jul09

* An Indian By Design Exclusive*

1 dress. 365 days. I found The Uniform Project via the wonderful Sub Studio blog. What began as a sustainable fashion project turned into an ingenious fund raising campaign – the billboard being the creator herself. Sheena Matheiken uses her quirky sense of style to wear the same tunic again and again, and will do so for a year. Proceeds of the Uniform Project will go to fund school uniforms and educational necessities for children living in slums in India. The exercise is fun and challenging as well. Each ensemble has a name, visitors can rate its fashion quotient, and there’s also the curiosity of what more could she possibly think of! We all want to do good, and often that stays in our mind, because it seems like to do good, we need to quit our jobs and wear cotton kurtas and live in a village. But Sheena and her uniform designer Eliza have shown that we could do a lot, right where we are, just by using our ingenuity. I support, wholeheartedly.

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Sheena says: “Starting May 2009, I have pledged to wear one dress for one year as an exercise in sustainable fashion. Here’s how it works: There are 7 identical dresses, one for each day of the week. Every day, I will reinvent the dress with layers, accessories and all kinds of accouterments, the majority of which will be vintage, hand-made, or hand-me-down goodies. Think of it as wearing a daily uniform with enough creative license to make it look like I just crawled out of the Marquis de Sade’s boudoir.”

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Sheena says: “The Uniform Project is also a year-long fundraiser for the Akanksha Foundation, a grassroots movement that is revolutionizing education in India. At the end of the year, all contributions will go toward Akanksha’s School Project to fund uniforms and other educational expenses for children living in Indian slums.

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Sheena says:”I was raised and schooled in India where uniforms were a mandate in most public schools. Despite the imposed conformity, kids always found a way to bend the rules and flaunt a little personality. Boys rolled up their sleeves, wore over-sized swatches, and hiked up their pants to show off their high-tops. Girls obsessed over bangles, bindis and bad hairdos. Peaking through the sea of uniforms were the idiosyncrasies of teen style and individual flare. I now want to put the same rules to test again, only this time I’m trading in the catholic school fervor for an eBay addiction and relocating the school walls to this wonderful place called the internet.”

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Sheena says: “How do you design a dress that can be worn all year around? The mastermind behind the uniform dress is my friend and designer, Eliza Starbuck. We took inspiration from one of my staple dresses, improving upon the shape and fit to add on some seasonal versatility. The dress is designed so it can be worn both ways, front and back, and also as an open tunic. It’s made from a durable, breathable cotton, good for New York summers and good for layering in cooler seasons. With deep hidden pockets to appease my deep aversion for carrying purses.

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Sheena says: “The hats and plumes, the dickeys and drapes, the shoes and slips, the belts and brooches – much of what you will see are byproducts of my cyber-slacking on eBay and Etsy, backed by visits to the many local vintage boutiques, thrift stores and flea markets of New York. I am also collaborating with other designers and friends to create original pieces.

In conversation with Sheena:

Indian By Design: What do you do for a living?
Sheena: I work as a creative director at an interactive ad agency in NYC.

Indian By Design: How did you think this up?
Sheena: The notion of wearing the same dress for a year isn’t necessarily a new concept, many artists have done this before. The works of Andrea Zittel and Alex Martin are some recent examples. The idea sparked for me early last year when I took a 6 month sabbatical from my full time job in order to decompress, travel and focus on some personal projects. Aside from giving myself a fun creative challenge, I wanted it to be something of consequence and also a platform that people could engage and participate in. That’s how the idea of making this a fundraiser came about. A friend of mine in Mumbai introduced me to Akanksha, and I had the opportunity to meet the founder of Akanksha at a fundraiser event here in new york, early this year. When I learnt about the incredible work they are doing, I was convinced I wanted to dedicate this project towards raising funds for the Akanksha schools. Akanksha vows to spend the same amount the Indian government spends on one’s public school education (roughly $360) on each child living in the slums who cannot afford an education. Each day as I post a daily, I also contribute a dollar to the fund jar so at the end of the project I will have just enough to sponsor one child. I encourage others to contribute whatever they can afford – hard cash to the cause, or pre-owned or handmade accessory donations towards the daily ensembles.

Indian By Design: Are you planning to take this to places other than the internet?
Sheena: We have some ideas and upcoming events we are working on, but the primary focus and channel of this project will always be online.

Indian By Design: What kind of reactions do you get from people?
Sheena: Overwhelmingly positive. My family and friends have been incredible supportive and the project almost entirely took off online with no PR, thanks for all our twitter and facebook followers and the many bloggers who have repeatedly featured us on their sites. Within the first 6 weeks since the site launch we have already raised over $6000 for Akanksha, and we have been inundated with emails from people who want to donate accessories from their closets or handmade custom items for the uniform dress. I have been wearing many donated accessories as part of my ensembles, and they are credited on the daily descriptions. We have had over 300,000 visits to the site thus far and now receive a climbing average of 8,000 to 10,000 hits a day.

> Proceeds of The Uniform Project go to Akanksha Foundation. Sheena and Eliza will soon feature more photos of the dress and the dressmaking process on her upcoming Uniform Blog. If you are looking to purge some of your old accessories or if you would like to design a piece or concept an ensemble for The Uniform Project, follow the Donate Accessories link. If you’d like to donate to Akanksha Foundation, follow this link.

Via Sub Studio.*

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9 Responses to “I support > The Uniform Project”

  1. You inspire me to continue wearing my life uniform.
    MAJOR LOVE.

  2. I read about andrea zittel 2 years ago … i love the idea of uniform … soooo good to see someone practising this!
    I like the vintage/hand me down accessories too!

  3. 3 Astha

    This is absolutely neat. Wish you all the success.

  4. I like your idea!

  5. brilliant idea! fingers crossed.

  6. 6 Adit

    good for you…but unfortunately it will never catch up, as India is now in the mode of conspicious consumption.

  7. your ingenuity will take over you… Neat.

  8. 8 Knita

    This is such a great idea. I fully support “The Uniform Project”. Kudos to Seema!


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