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Sheena Matheiken’s The Uniform Project

Sheena Matheiken and the Uniform Project graduate in [sustainable] style after 365 days of wearing, styling and accesorising the same simple Little Black Dress…

Written by Helen Davis

Illustration by Maryanne Oliver

School’s almost out for summer. Soon blazers and ties will be ditched, with delight, for butterfly-bright bathers; and mortar boards tossed in glee at graduations everywhere. Uniforms may seem the antithesis of lazy, hazy holidays and fantastic futures, but in cyberspace there’s one – albeit self-imposed – uniform showing us there’s a wealth of creativity to be found in the economical and ethical capsule wardrobe.  Will the Uniform Project please stand up!

May 1st 2010 saw the Uniform Project graduate with flying colours. An “exercise in sustainability”, in 2009, one Sheena Matheiken had pledged to wear one Little Black Dress, everyday for one year, for the Akanksha Foundation – a not-for-profit organisation educating kids in Indian slums.  Sheena and designer friend Eliza Starbuck, created a LBD which could be worn front, back, undone, for every season and all occasions. And for anyone wondering, “When did she wash the blighter?” she had seven all the same; adapting and accessorising with trinkets and treasures found on eBay, Etsy, or donated by ethical designers, like London’s own, Goodone – oh, and Sheena’s mother! 

Throughout its daily blog posts, the UP showed us how to put individual style into sustainable dress. From Day 1, “Albeit the rain and the swine”, in “classic black form”, through homage to Michael Jackson chic on Day 57, an Indian Independence Day sari ensemble, even an ‘evil sea sprite’ costume on Halloween – “Sprite seaweed and ocean foliage made entirely from UP accessory donors’ packaging material” – the UP proved there was more creativity to be had in one LBD than the whole Haus of Gaga. Well almost. 

In fact the LBD became the perfect backdrop for designers to display their wares.  Day 191 saw Sheena sporting a cape by Raffaele Ascione, “handcrafted from a satin overthrow blanket his grandmother used to own.” A Central Saint Martins student keen to raise funds to support his MA, Ascione’s designs have been donned by Lady Gaga herself, and in donating pieces to the UP he’s gained a web-wide audience eager to lap up his ethical ingenuity.  

Illustration by Maryanne Oliver

With some 5,500 Twitter followers and even more Facebook fans the UP has created an on-line social network to be reckoned with. At a recent New York symposium, Sheena said some of the UP’s ideas, like LBD Fridays, where supporters, worldwide, wore their own LBD ‘uniforms’ in aid of the project, had come directly from the UP community. Philanthropy, she said, should be ‘fun’, “… it’s about engaging on an intimate level and creating awareness in a way that allows people to really be a part of the change you are instigating.” 

At the ‘end of term’ party the UP celebrated kitting out over 260 Indian children for school.  And in the true spirit of sustainable style its Head Girl, Sheena, graduated in a “ reclaimed, recycled, renovated and refashioned” LBD; signalling the future’s not just bright for the kids it has helped into education, but also for the UP itself. 

When Chanel declared the LBD  “the new uniform of modern women”, back in the 1920s, its simplicity symbolised freedom. Freedom from status anxiety and constrictive fashion – another uniform of sorts, only one we didn’t always knowingly sign up to. Perhaps because the perfect LBD is glorified as style’s holy grail the simplicity of its message is often lost amongst all-consuming fast fashion fads. But it’s this very simplicity which has made the UP so successful.  Thus the Uniform Project has proved to be a much needed less-on to us all, to “Aspire. Achieve. Be the change.” (Akanksha Foundation motto).  


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One Response to “Sheena Matheiken’s The Uniform Project”

  1. GenieGalore says:

    I’ve been following the Uniform Project all year, and LOVE IT! And a little trinket to add to the story, I was so excited to find out that the dress designer, Eliza Starbuck, is offering the dress to the rest of us, and thank goodness! I was heartbroken when I didn’t get it in the UP Limited Edition. They have it at

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