1 Dress. 365 Days.
How it all began
Uniform Project™ started in 2009 when a young woman realized she was drowning in the uninspired doldrums of an advertising career. Creatively and ethically drained by the corporate world, she came up with an unusual creative challenge; to wear the same dress for an entire year–but, and this is where the real challenge came in, she’d have to make it look unique every single day. She also vowed to make the challenge more meaningful by turning it into a fundraiser to send less fortunate kids to school.
Thus, in May 2009, with fashion as her medium, and education her cause, U.P Founder Sheena Matheiken launched the Uniform Project, pledging to wear one little black dress for 365 days as an exercise in sustainability and a fundraiser to support the Akanksha Foundation— a non-profit organization providing education to underprivileged children living in Indian slums. And for the next year, Sheena reinvented her uniform by accessorizing with vintage, handmade, reused, or donated pieces.
Almost immediately, Sheena and U.P were hit with a deluge of media attention. The project was featured in major publications ranging from the New York Times, The Guardian, CNN, BBC, Times London, LA Times, MSNBC, NPR, PBS, Vogue, Elle, Glamour, Marie Claire to hundreds of fashion, culture and design blogs, as well as TV shows around the world. By the end of the yearlong challenge, the U.P site received over 2 million hits and raised over $100,000 in donations for the Akanksha Foundation and Sheena was named one of Elle Magazine’s Women of the Year for 2009.
The U.P now has an international following of supporters, a few of whom have joined with Sheena to form a global platform converging philanthropy, fashion, sustainability, and social commerce. U.P is now in its second year, expanding its simple idea into an ongoing mission, exemplifying the spirit of reuse, individual styling and creative fundraising.
The Little Black Dress
Sheena’s LBD was a button down reversible A-line, designed to be worn front to back or as an open tunic. As the project gained popularity, so did the demand for the dress. Well aware of the paradox of going into manufacturing as a result of a project that was essentially a statement against overconsumption, the U.P crew thought long and hard about how to address this new dilemma. In March 2009, 365 limited edition dresses were released, allowing the project’s most loyal fans a chance to ‘own’ their favorite day from Sheena’s calendar of looks with the purchase of a dress. $30 from each dress was automatically added to the fundraiser as well. The dresses sold out in less than a week raising an additional 10k in funds for Akanksha.
U.P’s LBD grew beyond simply being a dress, becoming more of a symbol of social change for the community of supporters around the world. And the increased demand to share in this movement prompted U.P to produce their own proprietary fabric in an organic cotton and silk blend. Currently, a limited number of Classic LBDs are available at the U.P store with new design features like the detachable button-on collar and cuffable sleeves.
U.P also offers the LBD pattern for all DIY’ers out there, encouraging the sewer community to put their own twist on the classic LBD.
The “Donate Accessories” link on the Year 1 dailies was originally introduced somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But during the course of Sheena’s challenge, U.P was bombarded with donations from all over the globe – from people’s personal wardrobes, from vintage stores and from independent ethical designers.
At the end of the 365 day challenge, U.P auctioned off all these donated accessories through a wonderful partnership with the eBay Green Team >, with all proceeds going to the fundraiser. The auction raised an additional 5k in funds for Akanksha.