If there’s one thing that we all terribly missed during the pandemic-induced lockdowns, it was the ability to travel – so much so that even a trip to a grocery store induced excitement. And while some of us discovered our hidden talents of cooking, painting, or gardening, 24-year-old Siddhant Agarwal, based in Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh, came up with the ‘Project HOPE’ under Original.
How did it all start?
During the first phase of lockdown in the year 2020, Agarwal, who was working as an event manager at a Delhi-based digital marketing firm, found himself back home in Shahjahanpur, a small town in the northern part of Uttar Pradesh. After two months of working in different departments of the company, in the month of June, he was sent on unpaid leave with a promise to be re-hired when the company found enough funds.
This was the beginning of a tough phase for him as for the first time in his adult life, he had nothing to do for a long period of time. He started feeling purposeless and unproductive, which pushed him into an unavoidable loop of overthinking. This was when he had an anxiety attack for the first time in his life.
“One night, I woke up at around 2 am with a feeling that something was about to happen to me. All the feelings that I had been bottling up for a good month and a half — all of it just came crashing down and suddenly I fell short of breath. Confused, I ran towards my terrace to get some air and sat there from 2 am to 7 am. I called a friend, who told me that it sounded like an anxiety attack. It was for the first time I felt something like that, but I knew then that I had to do something to occupy my time,” said the founder.
After spending a month listening to music, consuming content and working on feeling better, Agarwal decided to do something “honest” and unconquered in the digital field. That is when he started having conversations with people around him by asking them a simple question — ‘what do you miss the most during the lockdown?’
The most common response was travel. Confined to the four walls of their homes, people wanted to travel and explore different places but couldn’t.
Thus, while having a conversation with his sister, he stumbled upon the idea of sending a T-shirt on a world tour. “Initially I thought that it was a stupid idea but the more I thought about it, the more it started to make sense,” he said. Finally, in September 2020, the T-shirt went to explore its first destination — Singapore.
Agarwal decided to send a plain black T-shirt on a world tour as a “beacon of hope”. When asked about why he chose to name his project ‘hope’, Agarwal said that while brainstorming with his sister, they stumbled upon the word ‘hope’ and it immediately struck a chord as “it sums up the entire idea behind the project”.
According to the founder, “she” [the travelling T-shirt] has been to various parts of the world, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York, Canada, and is currently in Nice. “She” has yet to travel to London, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Cape Town, Mumbai and finally New Delhi – the city where it all started from.
On being asked as to why he calls the T-shirt a “she”, he said, “I wanted the T-shirt to have a personality and an identity of its own. So, that way it’s not just an object going around a bunch of cities, it’s an entity that means something.”
Agarwal further added that he designed a logo that would go on the T-shirt and asked every creator that HOPE was visiting to wear it while filming their story. According to him, the design — two brackets facing each other — highlight two entirely opposite yet closely related feelings i.e. despair and hope or darkness and positivity, the two most prominent emotions that he was experiencing at a point in his life. Thus, those two brackets represent both those points in his life.
The message that he wants to send is “that better times are ahead of us, so just hang in there and stay hopeful and positive,” says Agarwal.
The traveling T-shirt
After making a list of all the places he wanted to visit, he reached out to various content creators, free-climbers, parkour artists, graffiti artists, skateboarders and vloggers based out of those areas. He would then send the T-shirt to the content creator and provide them with the address for the next destination. The content creators were asked to document unusual locations in their cities while wearing the T-shirt.
“It wasn’t easy to convince them initially as I had nothing to show them and couldn’t offer to pay them. But what I could offer them was creative freedom. And each one of them agreed to do this for free. And that’s when I realised that when you’re passionate about something, people agree to do things for you even for free,” said Agarwal.
At the end of the entire world tour, the founder said that he would like to put it to good use. He says, “I don’t want to keep it with myself. I would want to either auction it and use the money to make more content or send it with an expedition to the top of Mt. Everest and have it buried there.”
Drawing inspiration from works of people like Pranav Panpalia from OpraahFX, Aayushman Sinha from Represent and Ashwajeet Singh from Sleepy Owl Coffee, in future, the founder is planning to start a video content campaign under which he is going to make unscripted and non-fictional videos — that are going to be in-line with the trend but also different and more real.
“For instance, if I want to make a flood vlog featuring Dolma Aunty Momos, I won’t just go to her shop and shoot how she makes them. Instead, I would try and record an entire day of her life, followed by a personal interview with her,” he added. According to him, the idea behind the initiative is to narrate stories of regular people, to shine some light on stories that mostly go unheard.
Feature image credit: Siddhant Agarwal, founder of ‘Project HOPE’.