Published: 05th February 2021
This Delhi youth's T-shirt is on a world tour and will be worn by influencers across continents to spread hope during COVID
We track the journey of a black T-shirt that travelled 25,000 kilometres amid COVID-19 restrictions, starting from New Delhi. This is Project Hope by 24-year-old Siddhant Agarwal
One thing that most people are missing during the pandemic is travelling for leisure. With safety norms in place, travelling, even when it is possible, is just not like it used to be. But if people can't travel, can something else do it on their behalf? It was this idea that prompted New Delhi-based Event Manager Siddhant Agarwal to initiate Project Hope. Though he couldn't cross borders, Siddhant managed to send a black T-shirt, with a unique logo, on a world tour amid the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The travelling T-shirt has now travelled across five cities — Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Los Angeles and New York — and still has miles to go before it finds its way back home.
While this may sound really cool, the reason Project Hope started is rather cathartically sad and personal. "I work for a company that organises food festivals in Delhi NCR. During the initial lockdown, all the events were cancelled and we were asked to work from home. After a couple of months, the restrictions eased a bit but we were asked to go on unpaid leave. Without any prospects in Delhi, I stayed back home — Shahjahanpur, near Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh. It was a time when no events were happening and no one needed an event manager," recalls Siddhant. A self-confessed workaholic, Siddhant says the lockdown was the only period of his career when he was without any form of work. This affected him tremendously.
During the third week of June, a battered Siddhant experienced what he classifies as the worst moments of his life. "It was around 2 am in the morning and I remember that I suddenly couldn't breathe. I had no idea what was happening. I had been lying awake in my room, which I then left for the terrace as I wanted to get some air. But that didn't help either. Five hours later, I still felt like I couldn't breathe. I can't really explain the feeling. All I remember is that it was unpleasant and very negative," he explains. Around noon the same day, a friend of Siddhant's confirmed that what he was going through is called an anxiety attack. "I hadn't felt anything remotely close to that before," Siddhant adds.
The weeks following his anxiety attack were also tough on Siddhant. He went quiet and could barely eat. "Eventually, when I started feeling better, I felt that I have a responsibility to help others overcome similar situations. I don't consider myself to be an emotionally strong person and if I could come out of it, others could too," says Siddhant. Wondering about what he could do about it, Siddhant began asking the people around him what they were missing the most. "Almost everyone said they were missing travelling," he says. That clinched it for him.
Gabriel Seow, Singapore | Pic: Project Hope
Since he couldn't travel himself nor could he ask he ask anyone else to travel on his behalf, Siddhant decided to send a T-shirt on a world tour. "The idea just came to me. I was sitting in my room and staring at a black T-shirt and that's when it hit," he says. Siddhant spent a couple of weeks figuring out the logistics with a friend's father, who had an export business. "I needed to ensure whether it was even possible to send a T-shirt across the world amid the restrictions," says Siddhant. When he knew he could do it, Siddhant bought a free size black T-shirt and printed a logo on it. "I also knew that the T-shirt had to have an identity, a name," he adds. His sister, who is an Assistant Professor at Indraprastha University, Delhi, helped him name the T-shirt — Hope. "That's why the T-shirt is female. It is because my sister named it," says the 24-year-old.
Explaining the significance of the logo, Siddhant says, "The logo consists of two brackets facing each other and represents the month of June 2020. One bracket represents hope and good while the other bracket represents the bad and negative." All set, Siddhant now had to decide how he wanted to take it forward. He decided that he wanted to tell stories through videos and started to contact content creators in various parts of the world. "I wanted the T-shirt to go around the world and made an itinerary that made it possible. After choosing the cultural capitals of the world, which includes London, Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Cape Town and Mumbai, I sent the T-shirt to Singapore to the address of a vlogger named Gabriel Seow," says Siddhant. And Hope's journey began! Throughout its journey, the T-shirt is to travel to 13 cities in 10 countries, over five continents.
Nonaka Takashi, Tokyo | Pic: Project Hope
After the first stop in Singapore, the T-shirt moved to more vloggers in different cities — Lo Chiu Pang Jack in Hong Kong and Nonaka Takashi in Tokyo. "In the first few videos, the vloggers wore the T-shirt and filmed city tours. It was like the T-shirt was sightseeing through these cities when people couldn't," says Siddhant. The videos by the vlogger are available on Project Hope's Instagram page. Siddhant says he reached out to the content creators via various social media platforms. "I didn't know any of them from before and it was a bit difficult to convince the first few content creators. But the whole world went through a very similar experience with the pandemic and after a point, the lack of travel is relatable across the world," says Siddhant.
All the people that Siddhant chose for Project Hope are not full-time content creators. "They each have their day jobs and creating content is a passion project for them," states Siddhant, adding, "But they do have good gear and have experience filming." But after a while, Siddhant felt that Project Hope couldn't be limited to city tours and exploring the culture, it also had to be about some art, talent and adventure — or something a particular city is known for. "All cities essentially look the same, they are concrete jungles. People who haven't been to these cities might not essentially relate to the content," he explains.
That is why he decided to change it up a bit in the fourth city. "In Hollywood, Los Angeles, I got in touch with a free-climber named Chris Baltazar. Free-climbing is quite popular in LA and it is an adventure sport where a person climbs buildings without any safety gear," says Siddhant. After travelling for over 25,000 kilometres, the T-shirt is now in New York. "The New York video, by Stefano will feature skateboarding, a major cultural hallmark of New York City. When it moves to Canada next, the content creator there will perform winter sports like ice-climbing and snowboarding," says Siddhant about the T-shirt's next stop.
Chris Baltazar, Hollywood, Los Angeles | Pic: Project Hope
The T-shirt left New Delhi in September. "It takes a lot of time for the T-shirt to travel from one city to another and while cargo hasn't been stopped due to the restrictions, it has definitely been delayed," says Siddhant. And Siddhant even took COVID-19 safety and precautions. Incidentally, none of the content creators is wearing the same T-shirt. "It wouldn't be wise to ask people to wear the same T-shirt. While the T-shirt is travelling, it has along with it three stencils in the shape of the logo. The content creators are choosing a black T-shirt in their own size and then painting the logo on it using the stencil. This way, they don't have to wear the same T-shirt," says Siddhant. "It took around 25 days for the T-shirt to reach Singapore but it took seven to nine days to reach to the next destination thereon," says Siddhant.
In his two-minute-something video, Jack from Hong Kong sums up what the T-shirt embodies. He says, "The T-shirt spreads a message that we should always have hope in life despite the setbacks we face." Indeed, hope is something we can count on!
You can check out the videos from across the world on Project Hope's Instagram page, @originalnewdelhi.