The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia
Life & Style
One dress, 365 different looks
By JANE SOUTHWARD
Monday 20 August 2009
One outfit for 365 days a year. Is this the ultimate exercise in sustainable fashion or an opportunity for creativity? Jane Southward reports.
Sheena Matheiken has never thought of herself as a trendsetter. Sure, she lives in the fashion mecca of New York and has a cool job as a creative director at a web-design company in Midtown.
But when it comes to being creative, it’s what happens each morning in her Brooklyn apartment that is drawing attention. Each day for the past 110 days, she has teamed accessories (think patterned tights, funky hats, glittering jewels, retro footwear) with a dress – and it has been the very same dress for those 110 days.
What’s more, Matheiken intends to wear that very same dress every day until May 1, 2010.
Before you splutter in your muesli, be assured that Sheena actually has seven identical dresses, one for each day of the week in 2009-10. Each was created by her friend, a little-known New York designer named Eliza Starbuck.
Together the pair concocted an unusual challenge – to reinvent the look each day using sustainable accessories … either vintage, handmade or hand-me-down goodies, as well as many options purchased on eBay.
“I don’t plan ahead what I will wear,” Matheiken tells essentialStyle from her New York office. “I wake up and throw things together and give myself about 30 minutes. Only on special occasions, such as a wedding I attended in May, do I have to really think about how to make it work.”
At least the idea takes out one of the daily grind’s most irritating challenges – what do I wear today?
The dark-coloured dress acts as a kind of blank canvas for interesting and arresting accessories and additions that range from the simple to the outrageous.
Matheiken has no experience in fashion but came up with the idea as a way of raising money for not-for-profit organisation the Akanksha Foundation, which helps educate poor children in India by paying for the compulsory uniforms and other educational expenses that can prevent children from going to school. Akanksha has vowed to spend the exact amount of money on every child in the slums as the Indian Government spends each year on a public-school child (roughly $360).
Matheiken was born and raised in India and moved to New York 10 years ago to complete her masters degree at Parsons School of Design. She remembers the ingenuity of students in India when it came to manipulating and brightening up their school uniforms.
Starbuck’s design for Matheiken has proved very versatile. The dress is a button-up, cotton shift that can be worn front and back or as an open tunic over pants, tights or shorts.
Matheiken posts a picture every day of how she is wearing the “uniform”. One hundred days into the project, she had raised about $10,000.
“This is about making it fun and finding a way to blend style and sustainability,” Matheiken says. “These two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. It’s all about getting creative.
“I knew it would spark a lot of interest but I didn’t expect it to pick up so fast. We’ve had more than 400,000 hits already and while it’s good that we’ve raised $US7400 ($8984), we want to raise more.
“We have been inundated with emails from people who want to donate accessories from their closets and design custom pieces for the uniforms. It’s been incredible.”
The website encourages people to comment on the day’s look, with the idea being that doing so will stimulate discussion and other options for living a sustainable life.
“The hats and plumes, the dickys and drapes, the shoes and slips, the belts and brooches – much of what you will see are byproducts of my cyber-stalking on eBay and Etsy, backed by visits to the many local vintage boutiques, thrift stores and flea markets of New York,” she says on her website.
“I am also collaborating with other designers and friends to create original pieces.”
The exercise has become an international phenomenon (kicked along by a story in The New York Times). Matheiken and Starbuck are now entertaining ideas on how to put the dress on the market to further their fund-raising efforts.
“We are trying to find the perfect organic cotton fabric and a producer in the US who can make the dress,” Matheiken says. “We chose cotton because it’s the most durable, natural, breathable fabric. We really wanted a natural fabric.”
So what’s next?
By September, the pair will start a blog they hope will become an international forum for people to discuss sustainable fashion trends and not-for-profit work in developing countries, as well as ideas for Matheiken’s morning ritual.
Like any advertising guru, Matheiken knows a picture is worth a thousand words and she wants to make sure her daily posting of what she is wearing keeps people talking – and thinking.
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