Helping young women believe in themselves

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Sam Sisakhti knew five days into his first job in finance that the field wasn’t right for him. Freshly graduated from Brandeis University, and now without a clear vision of his future, he went to Vegas to clear his mind and think about where he could go and what he could do next.

This turned out to be a decision which would steer him in a direction towards prosperity and, ultimately, a benevolent mission to help young women feel beautiful not only on the outside, but on the inside as well.

It was in Vegas that Sisakhti met a friend who was a fashion designer. Realizing how difficult it was for upstart fashion designers to break into the industry, and seeing a potential niche he could fill, he started Us Trendy in March of 2008.

After being turned down by 152 venture capitalists for funding of the initiative, Sisakhti finally got a bite from billionaire investor Tim Draper, most known for his large-scale purchases of Bitcoin and backing of Elon Musk’s electric car company, Tesla.

The site became an online marketplace for designers of all levels - “You could be working out of a basement or in a big fashion studio,” Sisakhti said - to upload and share ideas and sell their products. As of today, Us Trendy has around 286,000 likes on Facebook and features fashion from more than 15,000 designers in over 100 countries. Sisakhti said it is the largest and most successful site of its kind.

While the success of the company was certainly a cause for celebration, Sisakhti unfortunately noticed an all-too-common trend occurring on “who wore it best” contests posted on the Us Trendy social media accounts, where users would post pictures of themselves wearing products bought from the site.

“People were bullying the customers in the comments or saying really negative stuff,” he said. “I thought this is really disgusting. When I was a kid, bullying would happen but it would stop when you weren't at school. I started thinking about how this was a huge problem. If it's affecting them at home, they have no safe haven. It was something I wanted to tackle - if I could do anything to help, I definitely wanted to.

And so Sisakhti founded the Believe in Yourself Project in January of 2017. Now an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Believe in Yourself operates with a mission to provide high-quality, fashionable designer dresses to young women and juniors in need for school functions.

The donated dresses were initially samples Sisakhti received from his designers from Us Trendy, but the popularity of the program has expanded so much that he has been funding the charitable endeavor out of pocket. He hopes that the establishment of the foundation as an official nonprofit will lead to serious donors who will continue to grow the mission.

He has already hosted donating events with various partners in D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, New Jersey, New Hampshire, throughout Massachusetts (he is based out of Brookline, Mass.) and plans to go to New York, San Diego, New Orleans and San Francisco.

However, the next event coming up is scheduled right here in Rhode Island, Thursday, at 6:45 p.m. at the South Side Boys and Girls Club (1 Louisa St. in Providence). Sisakhti hopes to continue to expand the program into other Rhode Island locations, including Warwick and Cranston. “This is just the first visit,” he said.

Between 12 and 50 young women, depending on the need, receive free dresses at each event, Sisakhti said, and they each have the potential to receive one or two more with the advent of a new program where they are asked to state a goal for themselves - it could be academic, athletic or something else entirely. If they accomplish the goal, they get more dresses.

“I want them to show forward progression and follow their progress and let them know that there's another person out there watching and interested in them pursuing a goal of theirs,” Sisakhti said.

Even more, Sisakhti has added a mentoring element to the foundation - bringing in women guest speakers to empower the young girls and educate them about societal issues pertinent to their lives, such as cyber bullying, body shaming and unhealthy beauty expectations. He also hopes to populate the website - BelieveInYourself.org - with related written content from empowering authors, and to host live-chats on such topics with mentors and guest speakers.

“Coming in at one time with a mentor is great, but it’s about reiterating that positive message over and over again,” he said.

Sisakhti isn’t slowing down his ambitions either. He hopes one day to be able to expand the program to include young men as well, and he hopes to donate a total of 10,000 dresses this year.

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