At a time when travel restrictions became a household phrase—Siddhant Agarwal, founder of Original New Delhi took it upon himself to spread hope worldwide…via a travelling T-shirt. With a simple design doubling as a beacon of positivity, a black garment is all it took for contributors across four continents, 10 countries and 13 cities to share the joy, all woven together by Agarwal’s independent project, Project HOPE: The travelling T-shirt. By Bayar Jain
1. Tell us all about Project HOPE.
The idea hit me during a phase of desperation. At 02:00 am, sometime during the lockdown in June, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I went up to the rooftop and sat there for three hours trying to calm myself. I had no apparent reason for this feeling, and nor could I understand it. The next morning, I called up a friend and upon talking, I learnt that I had gone through an anxiety attack—something that had never happened to me earlier. I took a week off from my job, and—with the help of music, and some time with myself—I started to feel better. That’s when I felt like I had a responsibility of helping others who might have had similar experiences. I wanted to help people overcome a feeling which can even drain the last ounce of positivity in one’s life, and leave them short of breath.
I’ve always loved the idea of travelling, and how it takes us away from feelings we’re scared of. One day, it struck me that people aren’t feeling bad because they have nowhere to go. Instead, it’s because we have nowhere to hide from our feelings and demons. And it just clicked! I thought to myself, ‘humans can’t travel, but a t-shirt can!’ Thus, the project came to life.
For me, the project is a monolith of one of my strongest times. I felt that if I can overcome a situation so dark, anyone can. I wanted to take my project to all the places I wanted to travel myself. Personally, I think nothing grabs more eyeballs than video content. So, I narrowed it down to YouTube and Instagram as my platforms of choice. To keep the content fresh, I on-boarded an array of video content creators, skateboarders, free-climbers, parkour artists, graffiti artists, BMX riders, buskers, rap artists and some bloggers, pro bono. This project made me realise that people do great things for you when the task at hand is relatable to them, and when you talk to them with all the heart you’ve got.
2. Could you decode the design on the travelling T-shirt for us?
The design on the travelling T-shirt—two parentheses brackets facing each other—depicts darkness, as well as hope. I wanted the logo to look minimalist, instantly recognisable, and open-ended.
3. When you first planned to do this, what were the various reactions you received from people around you?
The reactions I got from people around were very positive. I believe that this was partly to do with the fact that the idea is relevant and relatable to everyone. While the pandemic brought us all down to our knees, we are still in this together. The more I talk to people about how they felt during the lockdown, the more universal the concept feels.
4. How did you narrow down on the 13 cities?
I want the T-shirt to travel to all the cultural capitals of the world. That way it gets maximum exposure. Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Cape Town, Mumbai, and Delhi felt like obvious choices because of the sheer cultural contrast [Toronto and Hollywood are the other places the T-shirt will visit]. I had some more cities that I wanted to include like Shanghai, Bangkok, Seoul, Moscow, Sydney, Rio, Las Vegas, Miami, Berlin, Prague, Rome, Milan, Istanbul and Dubai, but that asks for resources I do not have at the moment. It could be a good follow-up project though!
5. What are the logistics and measures involved in undertaking this project?
I had a gigantic task of confirming inter-connectivity between all the countries as it was quite uncertain during the worldwide lockdown. Humans, for sure, were not allowed to travel, but logistical giant DHL was more than happy to help me out. They arranged a contact-less pickup from my doorstep. Since it wouldn’t have been a wise decision to ask all the artists to wear the same t-shirt, I sent along some stencils of the design along with the concept so all the artists could spray paint it on a fresh one.
6. What were the various hurdles you had to overcome?
There were quite a number of hurdles that I had to take care of. The biggest was getting vloggers on board. In the beginning, I only had an idea without reference. Luckily, this idea’s relatability knows no borders, and people happily came on board.
The next challenge was to keep the content fresh. As the project progressed, this proved to be a blessing as it forced me to look beyond the usual ‘vlogging’ format. I embraced the challenge by onboarding a free-climber, a skateboarder, a parkour artist, a graffiti artist, a busker, a freestyle rapper and a BMX rider.
The third challenge is probably the toughest one yet: the need to reach more people. But like all the previous challenges, I am continuously working on this too.
7. Being an independent project, how did you fund Project HOPE?
Project HOPE: The travelling t-shirt is entirely self-funded. A large chunk of my day job’s earnings goes into logistical expenses alone. Another share goes into an outreach programme, which I am working on simultaneously.
8. Going forward, where do you picture the T-shirt travelling to after its return to New Delhi?
I would love to send the T-shirt on another world tour, but I would like it even more if I can auction it and use that money to promote art and culture in our country. This could revolve around various topics like books, alcohol, coffee, gaming, new cultures and events, new-age art forms, and urban sports. It would also be nice to use the money to start a talk show called Monochrome, which will shed light on how things functioned in the past and contrast it with today’s times, while also covering topics like music, relationships, nightlife, the evolution of the LGBTQ community, and language.