She did it. Sheena Matheiken, the woman who stole our hearts with her creativity, impeccable styling, and unique fundraiser The Uniform Project, has survived 365 days of wearing the same little black dress. We caught up with the LBD fashionista as she wrapped up her yearlong project to find out why she did it, what’s next, and perhaps most importantly — what she’ll be wearing.
You were raised in India, where you had to wear a uniform everyday. How did you feel about uniforms then, and why did you want to return to that with The Uniform Project?
Personally, I really liked wearing uniforms. Being an awkward teenager, it was an easy way to blend in. I was always fascinated by how kids would make very subtle variations to their uniforms to show individual flair. You could sense a lot of personality through the little things people would do to their hair, the way boys rolled up their pants cuffs, or however the girls chose to accessorize. I wanted to revisit that a little bit, but with more creative license.
What about sustainable fashion made you become so taken with it?
I was already in the habit of shopping exclusively vintage and thrifted. For me, it was formalizing that exercise and making a conscious decision not to buy new things. I remember a lot of my friends saying, “Do you really want to say, ‘It’s an exercise in sustainable fashion?’ You know you’re going to get criticized, right?” Yeah, but I just wanted to see what happened. I don’t know much about sustainable fashion, so maybe I’ll learn through this.
What goes through your head each morning when you’re faced with wearing the same dress yet again? Do you ever get frustrated?
Up until two weeks ago, I had a pretty hectic full-time job, so in the morning I literally had thirty minutes to just throw something on and leave for work. I really don’t plan ahead. I try on purpose to keep it spontaneous because I think the more serendipitous it is, the better the outfits usually come out. Besides, if I really did plan ahead, I would drive myself crazy.
The proceeds from the Uniform Project are going to the progressive Indian school Akanksha. What was your trip there like?
[The kids] were really excited to meet me. They already knew about the project and had accessories — hand-painted shoes and bangles — stuff they’d made specifically for me. The teaching methods are so progressive. We sat in on, I believe it was a sixth grade current affairs class, and they were talking about [the Climate Change Conference], discussing how Google pulled out of China, and what democracy actually means. It was real teaching — not just spoon-fed facts.
I’d never seen so much hunger to learn, because these kids know what a privilege it is for them to get an education. Then we went to the slums and met the parents, who talked to us about what Akanksha had done for their families. We asked the parents, “What do you want your son to be?” [A mother] said, “Well, of course I want my son to be a doctor, but if he doesn’t, it really doesn’t matter to me because the love and the attention that these teachers have given him — I know that he will turn out to be an amazing human being.”
Do you have any advice on making a closet more sustainable?
It’s really about feeling comfortable with who you are and knowing you don’t have to be a textbook follower of trends. Revisit those things in the back of your closet that you haven’t given any thought for a long time. You’d be surprised. I’ve shoved things in the back of my closet, and thought, “I really hate this thing,” and months later, you actually pick it up and put it on in a different way, and it feels like a new piece of clothing. It’s about bringing back that sense of creative play into dressing. I think most people forget that. I would [also] recommend paying more attention to where and how things are made those. As much as designers have a responsibility to start picking their materials more carefully, and figuring out how to manufacture more ethically, I think consumers have an equal responsibility to restrain the demand for fast fashion. It has to come from everybody.
What’s in store once the Project ends?
We’re trying to figure out how to make a sustainable business out of it. Sustainable in the terms of actually being able to sustain ourselves! We have a few ideas. We definitely want to continue on the same sort of model and along these converging planes of sustainability, philanthropy, design, and fashion. We’re brainstorming right now. It’s too early to tell.
What are you going to wear the first day the project is over?
I really don’t know. I’ll think of it May 1. This is the most asked question of the year and I still don’t have an answer! I’m stumped.