The Travelling T-shirt is building bridges and inspiring Hope across the world

From Delhi to Tokyo to Cape Town, read how Siddhant Agarwal’s dream of hope is being fulfilled by the ubiquitous black T-shirt.
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In September 2020, a single black T-shirt began a journey from India to Singapore. It carried a simple message: HOPE. The extraordinary story behind this seemingly ordinary garment began on a terrace in Bareilly at 2 am in June 2020, when India was under lockdown. Siddhant Agarwal, the creative force behind Project Hope (@originalnewdelhi), woke up feeling like he couldn’t breathe. The former events' executive had returned to his parents’ home after the Delhi-based company he was working for put him on extended leave without pay. With the lockdown, public events and functions had come to a complete halt. 

Siddhant says he went through a low phase where he was withdrawn. “It was the first time in my life that I had no job. I had been organising events since I was in Class 10,” he says.

Project Hope has seen the T-shirt travel from (l-r) Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Los Angeles. It will continue on to New York, London, Europe and South Africa.

An anxiety attack, which lasted three hours, was the final straw. Siddhant decided he needed to do something. “I locked myself away for a few weeks. I barely ate, I hardly spoke to anyone, and my parents began to get worried. I just listened to music and watched movies, and thought about what I could do next. It struck me that this was something no one should ever feel. I took it upon myself to do something to help others. If I could overcome the situation, I could probably help others too,” says Siddhant.

Building connections

He decided to do something around travel. With COVID-19 restrictions limiting the ability to explore new places, Siddhant decided to make a list of all the places that he wanted to visit. Whether it was the bustling markets of Hong Kong or the pristine peaks of the Rockies, he planned to send a message of hope that would connect people across the globe. “If I couldn't do it in person, the T-shirt would.

The content creators in each of the cities that the T-shirt is travelling to wear it and film unusual locations in their city that makes it unique. “From a bird’s eye view, all cities look the same. We wanted to get to the heart of each city."

Siddhant decided to use video to document the journey of the T-shirt. “I decided to focus on YouTube and Instagram. I reached out to video content creators, free-climbers, parkour artists, graffiti artists, skateboarders, and vloggers. Everyone I have reached out to is doing this for free. I realised that people agree to do things for you when they relate to the task and realise that you are passionate about it too.”

The T-shirt has already travelled to Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and is on its way to New York. At the time of writing this article, the T-shirt has already travelled 18,000 km. Each contributor wears the T-shirt and creates a vlog about his or her city offering a unique perspective. “Some people were wary about wearing the exact same T-shirt, so I included a stencil of the logo so they could just spray paint the logo onto their own T-shirt. The Hope T-shirt is then mailed to the next recipient, whose address I share,” says Siddhant. Many of them do it at their own expense. Else, Siddhant pays for the shipping. 

The freedom to create

Siddhant says that when he reached out to the participants, it was clear that he would not be able to pay them for their input. “The only thing which I could have offered them was creative freedom. They could do whatever they like. That’s why I wanted to include a very diverse group of people. While Singapore, Tokyo, and Hong Kong had vloggers, Hollywood featured a free-climber, and New York will feature skateboarders, and may also have beatboxers and breakdancers. The T-shirt then travels to Alberta, where three Alpine climbers and a videographer will take it to the Rockies where it will be filmed on the icy peaks," says Siddhant.

Next on the agenda is London, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Cape Town, Mumbai, and Delhi. “These felt like obvious choices because of the sheer cultural contrast. 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!”

Siddhant says he would love to send the T-shirt on another world tour. “He is also happy to auction it to raise money for promoting culture.” 

”The design — two square brackets facing each other— highlight darkness and hope. “It reflects exactly what I was facing during that phase of desperation and anxiety. At one point there was anxiety, and then, there was positivity. So basically, those two brackets represent both those points in my life,” says Siddhant. 

“I want as many people as possible to connect with it. And it's all really open-ended. A lot of interpretations can be made and a lot of people from different backgrounds can connect with it and relate to it because, at the end of the day, everyone I know has gone through something like this. And that's why I really hope that this project reaches more people.”

Edited by Anju Narayanan