Meet the entrepreneur who is empowering young girls, one dress at a time

Empowering young girls, one dress at a time

Our continuing series, A More Perfect Union, aims to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In this installment, we meet a man trying to instill self-confidence in young girls, one dress at a time. Sam Sisakhti's nonprofit started when he donated a box of dresses to those in need. That's when he realized what can be achieved with the help of one brand new piece of clothing.

Sam Sisakhti CBS News

For just a few hours, the Boys and Girls Club in Washington, D.C. is transformed into a personal shopping experience. Dozens of dresses for a select group of girls to choose from – all free of charge. Online retailer Sam Sisakhti is the benefactor. The dresses, a fulfillment of a promise he made to them in return for a promise of their own.

"I ask all the girls what their dream is and I tell them that in order to achieve a long-term goal you need short-term goals. And if they achieve it, I actually mail them more dresses," Sisakhti told CBS News' Dana Jacobson. "I wanted to give them a belief system and something to work towards and support."

Sisakhti says it's his own support system that helped him launch his company UsTrendy, one of the leading online retailers for young women. Three years ago, his company was taking off and he had too many sample dresses so he decided to donate them.

"I just went in there, dropped off a box of dresses and the appreciation was incredible on the girls' faces," Sisakhti said.

Those samples ran out quickly so he started buying from women's department stores. Sisakhti said he spent tens of thousands of dollars last year alone on dresses.

That investment turned into dresses for 4,000 girls in cities across the country. Sisakhti also decided that with every dress there was one additional component: mentorship. They discuss body image, bullying and self-love. He hopes together it will help them achieve their dreams. 

Sam Sisakhti at the Washington D.C. Boys and Girls Club CBS News

"When you hear, like, what their goals are and their dreams, everything from first woman president, to surgeon, to professional basketball player, it reminds me of myself – that childhood kind of like dream that you have like so many times along the way, people let go of it and so how do I foster it and nourish it," Sisakhti said.

Ryanna Robinson, who wants to be president one day, is working on love and a few other things. She says she will think of Sisakhti and his encouragement when she wears her dress.

"I can remember a strong feeling that Sam gave me of like when he let me get this dress….The pink feels silly but I don't feel silly, I feel happy," she said. "I feel fearless now!" 

Sisakhti is now able to take donations so he's not paying out of pocket as much. He said that last year, despite shelling out tens of thousands of dollars, it was his favorite year in business. He has his own goals for this year: reaching 10,000 girls.