One woman, one dress, one crusade
For almost a year, Sheena Matheiken has lived her life as a calendar girl for sustainable fashion.
A New Yorker who is originally from India, she is the creator of the Uniform Project, a fashion blog that has steadily gained followers worldwide. The blog features the pixie-like Matheiken wearing one of seven identical little black dresses every day of the year, transforming the simple garment into a year’s worth of eclectic looks by inventive accessorizing. She never repeats an ensemble. Think of it as an advent calendar for fashion followers, each day a new surprise. The dress can be worn frontward, backward, buttoned or unbuttoned. Wild stockings, colonial-looking collars, hats that vary from chic to the fantastically obscure, printed socks and covetable shoes change each day’s look to something unique.
Friday will mark the 365th day of the ambitious undertaking, which Matheiken created in collaboration with friend and former fashion designer Eliza Starbuck. With less than a week left, the Uniform Project (www.theuniformproject.com) continues in its mission to create a dialogue about sustainable fashion.
It’s a delicate balance for Matheiken; while showing that one simple dress can be all a woman needs, she also has to feature fresh pieces to continue piquing interest in her project. Although the accessories are different every day, she carefully selects used, repurposed, vintage, handmade and recycled goods to create each look, and then auctions them off, with proceeds going to the blog’s pet charity. Matheiken has been known to wear a belt as a necklace, use pants as a shrug or modify a skirt to create a dress. The result is nothing shy of astounding.
The blogger encourages consumers to “shop” in their own closets and reinvent a piece rather than throw it away. Additionally, the Uniform Project’s blog provides an open forum for discussions on green fashion, and when Matheiken has collaborated with designers (who sometimes donate accessories) they must fit the project’s sustainability approach.
Even with a serious subject like ecological consciousness, there’s humor to be found in the New Yorker’s everyday fashion trials. She leans toward what she calls “polarizing” items, the ones that can garner comments such as “HATE! HATE! HATE!” and “Want in every color” about the same accessory. One favorite was a hand-knitted “brunch necklace.”
“It was literally like brunch all knitted: an omelet, bacon and cutlery, and it was huge. If this isn’t humor in fashion, I don’t know what is … needless to say it was one of the most loved and hated pieces, and it actually was auctioned off for a lot of money,” Matheiken says.
Auction proceeds go to the Akanksha Foundation, a grassroots movement that promotes education in India. The money, as well as donations collected by the Uniform Project via solicitations on its website, is used to pay for uniforms and educational expenses for children living in India’s slums.
In January, Matheiken traveled to India to visit the organizers of the foundation, whom she had met at a conference in New York. She sat in on classrooms, met parents, visited Mumbai and Pune’s slums and gleefully collected hand-painted accessories crafted by students enthusiastically contributing to the project.
“Meeting the kids was the best part. These kids are so incredible to work with. You don’t see that thirst to actually learn here [in the U.S.]. These kids want to learn.... I now have this longstanding relationship with my home country,” Matheiken says.
It’s been a profound year in many ways for the blogger. The inventively attired Matheiken has raised more than $71,000 (and counting) for the schoolchildren in India, pranced in her LBD from her home country to London and back to New York and most recently quit her day job as a creative director at an ad agency. A possibility lingers for a book deal — the way the “Julie & Julia” blog on French cooking spawned a book and movie.
With less than a week before the close of the project, there’s an undeniable weariness in Matheiken’s voice during a telephone interview. The Brooklyn resident is already becoming nostalgic for the online community she created. “We got donations from Argentina, Australia, Italy, the U.K., Germany, Sweden, Canada, a lot from the U.S. obviously, from all over,” she says. The site has received close to 2 million visits and gets an average of 5,000 hits daily.
In her last week of photos, in her standard LBD — or what Matheiken has become to call her “second skin” — she appears to be as happy as on day one. If she could go back, Matheiken says she would absolutely do it all over again.
Now sans a traditional job and equipped with an extraordinary collection of stockings —Matheiken didn’t think anyone would want to bid on her worn tights — she is plotting her next venture. She hopes to continue merging fashion, sustainability and philanthropy, in some way. The blogger’s wardrobe post-Uniform Project has yet to be decided.
“I’m very curious what I’m going to wear on day 366,” she says, “because I have no idea.”