The 1-Dress Sustainability Solution

BY Arts Desk  July 2, 2009 at 5:10 PM EST

How will the future of fashion — one predicated on continual consumption — survive in a world of limited resources? Can fashion — the cultural apex of illimitable desire — ever be sustainable?

Sheena Matheiken, for The Uniform Project, July 2, 2009

Sheena Matheiken is attempting to answer those questions — one outfit at a time — on her Web site, the Uniform Project. Updated every day with a photo of her carefully crafted original outfit, she shows the world how versatile one dress (yes, the same dress every day) can be. “It’s an experiment to show you can wear one dress 365 ways without having to consume indecorously,” Matheiken explained, “I try to do that by accessorizing every day using vintage and found items and thrift store items and also donated items from people who are contributing stuff through the Web site.”

For Sheena, fashion doesn’t evolve out of a cultural vacuum. The title “Uniform Project” is a tribute to her childhood in India, where most public schools require pupils to wear uniforms. “I personally loved wearing uniforms as a kid because, not unlike most teenagers, I was socially awkward and self-conscious, so it was a nice way to sort of blend in,” she told Art Beat, “but the flipside was that we all sort of found ways of flaunting our personality through the uniforms, by rolling up our sleeves and wearing funky jewelry, little things like that.” The Uniform Project is also a fundraiser for the Akanksha Foundation, a non-profit based in Mumbai that arranges schooling for India’s slum children. Sheena has raised more than $3,000 in two months.

Her adult uniform is a little black dress (she actually has 7 carbon copies, one for each day of the week), which was designed specifically for this project. Thanks to the ingenuity of friend and designer Eliza Starbuck it can be worn both front and backwards, or open as a tunic. The durable cotton is functional for summer, but lends itself to layering in the colder months. Sheena admits, “It’s sort of becoming part of my skin now.”

Each day her second-skin gets a new graft. In the past week she’s donned an outfit inspired by her mother’s birthday (complete with birthday bouquet), and a red and white ensemble in honor of Canada Day. When Michael Jackson passed away, Sheena honored him with a tribute outfit last Friday. After watching YouTube videos of him all night, she decided on a simple, stark homage: black dress, black fedora tilted over her face, and the iconic single white glove. “I didn’t have anything at my disposal so I threw something together in a very minimal form — which I think kind of worked in the end, given the sobering context.” Even with one dress, she’s got an outfit for every occasion.

You can get a glimpse of her one-woman runway in our video slide show below.

UPDATE: On July 3, Matheiken dedicated her outfit to Art Beat! Click here to check it out!