Interview with Sheena Matheiken, founder of the Uniform Project

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365 days, one dress worn 365 different ways—mission impossible? Not according to Sheena Matheiken, who pulled the challenge off with flair in The Uniform Project. From May 2009 to May 2010, Sheena pledged to wear the same little black dress every day as an exercise in sustainable fashion. In the process, she and her supporters raised more than $100,000 for underprivileged children in India! (We like her style.) Like a Boss caught up with Sheena as she reflects on the project’s success:

Media seems to have played a large role in your raising more than $100,000 for the Akanksha Foundation. How did you go about spreading the word about The Uniform Project? Did your advertising experience play a role?

Sheena: The project had very modest beginnings. I set up a Twitter and Facebook account for U.P and posted the dailies everyday. At the onset, the followers were strictly friends and family, but soon independent bloggers started writing about it. The Twitter and Facebook followers started increasing exponentially and very soon we were being covered in hundreds of blogs internationally. The buzz finally got to traditional media and we were soon covered in BBC, CNN, Guardian, New York Times, etc.

Ironically, the big media coverage didn’t necessarily increase our traffic or boost fundraising, but what it did do was draw the attention of serious business. Soon after the NYTimes Sunday Magazine piece was published, I got a call from eBay. eBay’s green team is an internal initiative for encouraging greener practices amongst their seller community and they really wanted to help. We couldn’t have asked for a better partnership. eBay helped us raise almost a third of the money by doubling holiday funds raised and by running a few collaborative campaigns through the course of the project.

At the end of the day, U.P was truly a child of social media. Most of our traffic and funds came from regular people who found an affinity to the spirit of the project, and joined us to create an active and engaged online community.

Along with being a fundraiser, the Uniform Project was also an exercise in sustainable fashion and creativity. Where did you get your daily inspirations from and what did you learn about sustainability?

Sheena: I didn’t think much about the outfits I wore, unless of course, it was something topical or thematic. It was important to relinquish control and let go of the image I had of myself. I soon channelled the ‘Uniform Project’ girl, which was not always the private Sheena. But most importantly, it was crucial that I never spent more than 30 minutes getting ready in the morning, as that’s almost everyone’s routine when you have to get up and go everyday. It was important to show that working with what you had needn’t always be uninspired or frumpy, and that having constraints can actually unleash your creativity. My goal was to advocate individuality in style by taking a stand against the cookie cutter trends of disposable fashion.

Any advice for young girls who want to affect social change?

Sheena: Get involved in something that genuinely excites you. Don’t do it because you feel it’s expected of you. If it’s coming from a place of obligation or guilt, you will never enjoy it, nor will you have the fortitude to keep going when the going get tough. It’s very important that you have fun with whatever you do. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Any effort is worth trying. Don’t focus too much on the results.

What’s your take on sustainable fashion and consumer culture? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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