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Online retailer launches foundation and dress giveaway to help girls in need

Sam Sisakhti believes in independent fashion.

He didn't believe in the lack of support smaller designers were getting from the fashion industry.

In 2008, after a fashion designer friend expressed concern about his ability to make it as a designer, Sisakhti founded UsTrendy, an online marketplace that unites up and coming fashion designers with shoppers.

"I felt there was a lack of opportunities out there for independent fashion designers to grow their lines," said Sisakhti. "UsTrendy serves as a platform where fashion designers around the world can sell their clothing and grow their brands."

The new generation of shoppers, he said, are less focused on brand names which allows independent brands to grow. Designers on UsTrendy are able to list their items for sale online and reach thousands of shoppers directly.

In the past decade, UsTrendy has become one of the largest independent fashion websites in the world with a large social media following to match. But while Sisakhti has enjoyed the success of his company, another disturbing trend left him unsettled.

"Over the past few years, I have grown increasingly concerned with the cyber bullying and body shaming that I have seen online," he said.

He realized young girls are often under great social pressure to be hip and cool, in part, by wearing clothing that is stylish.

"Many girls are unable to afford these fashions and can often feel ashamed socially," he said.

So Sisakhti decided to fight it in the best way he knew how...with fashion.

He created a foundation, the Believe in Yourself Project, to provide girls in need with dresses for upcoming dances while also promoting a positive body image through speakers and mentors.

On April 25, the event debuts in Atlanta in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta.

A selection of girls, ages 12 to 17, will have the chance to be fitted for lace, sequin and special occasion dresses made by independent designers. The styles are appropriate for juniors and young women to wear to formals and school dances.

Events in other cities, such as Washington, D.C., have had a good response, said Sisakhti who has been touched by the reactions of some of the participants.

"It has been amazing to hear girls say they now have confidence to attend their first dance," he said.

The plan, he said, is to provide girls with not just one dress, but dresses anytime they need an outfit for a special occasion.

Believe in Yourself also addresses body positivity by bringing in speakers to talk to the girls who attend the dress giveaways. The are also offered mentoring opportunities and the foundation follows up with their progress.

The Atlanta event will feature first lady of Atlanta Sarah-Elizabeth Langford and Kelly Smith Beaty, Founder of Girl Power Agency, as speakers.

"I hope to grow Believe in Yourself into a national foundation with roots in every state across the country, to provide dresses to as many needy girls as possible, helping them to feel empowered," Siskahti said.

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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.