BANGOR, Maine — Christmas came a little early Wednesday for more than a dozen area teenage and preteen girls who got to take their pick from a selection of designer dresses.
As founder and CEO of UsTrendy.com, Sam Sisakhti gets samples from many of the 20,000 designers who sell their clothing on his company’s website.
And through his work, Sisakhti learned that many girls and young women have body image problems or believe that their clothing has to be “in style” for them to be accepted socially. A problem for some is that they don’t have the means to buy a new dress for a special occasion.
About a year ago, Sisakhti decided to do something about the problem and founded the Believe in Yourself Project, which not only provides free dresses for girls in need but also aims to help girls and women feel better about themselves and their bodies, empowering them to take on active roles in their schools and communities.
“I just thought it was important as a retailer that we change the notion that you don’t have to be a size zero to be beautiful,” he said. “Women of all sizes can be beautiful. Men of all sizes can be beautiful.
“I think it’s really important that at a young age people love themselves and believe in themselves,” he said. “That’s why I call the project the Believe in Yourself Project.”
Sisakhti showed up in Bangor on the eve of Thanksgiving with about 25 dresses in a range of colors, styles, fabrics and sizes.
“We’ve given away thousands of dresses so far all across the country,” he said, adding that Wednesday marked the first time he has brought dresses to Maine.
“So this is kind of our first entrance. We thought we would give away some dresses for the holiday, something to be thankful for, and we are really excited about the turnout here,” he said.
For some of the girls who came out to the Bangor Housing Authority’s community center on Wednesday, getting to pick out a new designer dress was a Cinderella moment — only the fairy godmother in this case was the Boston-based internet fashion entrepreneur.
Among them was Faith Cheeks, 13, an eighth-grader at James F. Doughty School.
“There’s a school dance coming up for eighth-graders, and I wanted to look nice for the dance,” Cheeks said.
Jasmine Johnson, 14, a freshman at Bangor High School who is enrolled in the school’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, said she was looking for something to wear for an upcoming JROTC social event, though not the Military Ball, which calls for ankle-length dresses.
Johnson ended up with a black dress with lace and champagne-colored accents on the bodice.
Deidre Diecidue, 14, also a Bangor High freshman, came to the community center with her mother and grandmother.
Her choice was a smart above-the-knee-length dress in cobalt, a color that made her blue eyes pop when she held it up against her face.
“I chose this because of the color,” Diecidue said, adding that the dress would be perfect for an upcoming winter formal.
Her mother, Sarah Diecidue, approved of the selection. She said she wanted to take a formal family photo with all three of her daughters wearing new dresses.
The invitation to choose a dress was extended to middle and high school-age girls who either belong to the Boys and Girls Club of Bangor or who live in Bangor Housing Authority properties.
Sisakhti left the dresses that went unclaimed on Wednesday at the community center, where they will be given to girls who need them.
He plans to return in February with more dresses for a father-daughter Valentine’s Day dance being held that month.