Anisha scans the piles of clothes in her wardrobe for 15 minutes every morning to pick an outfit for the day. If she has to attend a do, she, of course, changes — a minimum of 30 minutes to shortlist a few dresses and another 20 to try them on. At 17, she has more clothes than what her mother has collected in all her 40 years.
Elsewhere in Mumbai, 26-year-old media professional Arpi Shah shops for clothes once in two months, spending Rs 10,000 or so on each spree. “My friends shop more frequently, almost every week,” says Shah.
Sounds familiar? Most women in newly consumerist India today have far more clothes than they need.
Contrast this with Sheena Matheiken, 30, creative director at Digitas Inc, a New York-based digital marketing agency, who has chosen to wear one dress — a little black number designed by her friend and New York designer Eliza Starbuck — for a whole year. It’s not the same dress, of course, but seven copies of the same, one for each day of the week.
This is the Uniform Project, a year-long effort to raise funds that will go to Akansha Foundation, a Mumbai NGO, and be used for the education of poor children. So, every day since May 1 this year, Matheiken has been wearing the dress, accessorising it differently each day. She uploads pictures daily at theuniformproject.com, asking people to donate money and/or accessories like caps, shoes or stoles.
It’s all very noble, but what put the thought in her head? Matheiken, who was born in Ireland, grew up in Kerala and moved to New York a decade ago to study design, says she remembers being fascinated by how much individuality every student brought to the school uniform. “We wore the same uniform, but everyone wore it in a special way.”
Explains Starbuck about Matheiken’s idea to merge fashion and charity: “Sheena was setting out to make the case that money and clothes made little difference in style, and that fashion can be fun and still sustainable.”
Back home, Anisha can’t imagine wearing the same uniform day after day. “It’s boring,” she says.
Yet, Matheiken’s project has attracted more than 300,000 Web visitors in four months who have donated, apart from accessories, as much as $13,105. Now that’s no small change.