By: Evan J. Cutts
Sam Sisakhti is Founder and CEO of UsTrendy, one of the largest online independent fashion websites. What began as a career shift, by way of Las Vegas, turned into a transformative opportunity.
“At the time, I had left an unfulfilling job to help my friend, a fashion designer, start a business for his clothing line in Las Vegas. That’s when I had the idea that I could start my own business to help fashion designers sell their products,” said Sisakhti.
“I was actually turned down by 150 investors before I received venture-capital from Tim Draper, who worked with Tesla and Skype,” he continued.
UsTrendy launched in 2008 and now works with over 20,000 fashion designers from 100 countries. These numbers confirm that perseverance pays off. Sisakhti’s venture led to the creation of his non-profit Believe In Yourself in January 2017.
“I’d get a lot of samples from the designers and, in the beginning, just give them to celebrities. Until I had the realization that there are people who need these more,” Sisakhti reflected. “I began working with Boys & Girls Clubs all over the country to donate dresses to the young girls through Believe In Yourself.”
Believe In Yourself offers more than designer clothes, however. Part of Sisakhti’s mission is to empower young girls to feel safe and comfortable in their bodies. In each city he visits, Sisakhti invites influential women, including business owners, motivational speakers, and educators, to teach the girls about cyber-bullying, healthy body image, and self-confidence.
“During some of the UsTrendy online contests, in which we invited people to model the clothes, I noticed that a lot of people resorted to bullying and body-shaming the contestants. I wanted Believe In Yourself to change that behavior, starting with younger kids.”
“There are unique differences between running a non-profit and a for-profit organization. I’ve been very fortunate to have such receptive communities to work with.”
On his latest visit to Boston, Sisakhti partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of Roxbury and Dr. Rachel Rodgers, Professor of Applied Psychology and body image expert at Northeastern University to put on an event for the girls.
And his timing couldn’t have been better. Many of the girls were to attend a Quinceañera the weekend following Sisakhti’s visit.
After they selected their dresses and tried them on, the function room became a cellphone fashion shoot. Amid the many camera flashes, the shimmer of their excitement and style was unmistakable.
When the girls finished, they gathered with Dr. Rodgers where they discussed the pressure on women to live up to impossible beauty standards and the tools for counteracting the pressure through maintaining a positive body image.
Some discussion points included complimenting each other and being mindful of social media. Dr. Rodgers explained that many fashion blogs set unrealistic expectations for what someone should look like and that many times those photos are altered through the use of Photoshop. At the close of the event, it was evident that the girls felt an extra spark in their step.
“View [your] body in perspective. Appreciate your body for all that it can do. We come in different shapes. But we are more than our bodies,” Dr. Rodgers added. “We are people in our entirety.”
Sisakhti explained that this is just the beginning for Believe In Yourself. In the next year, he plans to donate 10,000 dresses and lay the groundwork for Believe In Yourself Youth Centers.
“I want to set up centers where girls are able to drop in and pick out a dress they’d like for special occasions,” he shared. “I’d also like to have mentors and speakers available on a weekly basis to help the girls reach their goals.”
“My advice to the younger generation: join nonprofits in your community; learn the ropes; and if you have the ability, start one yourself. The hardest part is the jump.”