How a Dress Can Change the World
This month, Spire has the opportunity to partner with Dressember, an organization aiming to end human trafficking through the simple act of of wearing a dress or tie all of December. 2018 marks the social movement’s sixth year in spreading awareness and creating real change to eradicate modern day slavery. You can learn more about their cause at dressember.org or follow them @dressember on Instagram.
So, Dressember, can you give us a brief history of how the movement started?
Absolutely! Dressember was started somewhat by accident. In 2009, our founder, Blythe Hill was a college student who felt pretty stifled by the college routine. As a way to foster some creativity, she decided to take on the creative challenge of wearing a dress every day in December (thus the name Dressember was birthed). She had no intention to repeat this challenge until a handful of her friends wanted to join the following year. Before Blythe knew it, Dressember had caught on as exponentially more participants joined in year after year. Blythe was encouraged by a friend to take Dressember to the next level by adding in a social impact. Around the same time, Blythe was learning about the reality of modern slavery (aka human trafficking), and couldn’t shake the urge she felt to play a part in the fight, especially considering experiences of abuse in her childhood that made this issue a personal one for her. In the past she felt paralyzed to do much. She wasn’t a lawyer, or a police officer, or a doctor — but she was creative — and she had a community rallying behind her. So with a knack for puns, fashion and a heart to join the fight to end slavery, Blythe turned a simple style challenge into an official 501c(3) in 2013. Since then, Dressember has raised over $5 million dollars for anti-trafficking organizations around the world. Dressember partners with 12 organizations around the world to create life-saving grants that push the needle forward in the fight to end human trafficking.
That’s incredible! Would you say the movement today matched the inspiration?
We often say that this movement “has legs of its own.” We do our best to cultivate it and offer as many resources as possible, but truly the campaign always reaches unexpected success each year because of the advocates who take part, pour passion into it, and invite others to join them. Since this challenge is so much about individual creativity, it allows people to make the campaign their own. I would say much of our growth has been because of the creativity of advocates.
For some of our audience that may not know the severity of human trafficking, do you mind sharing some facts and figures? How do you communicate that these numbers represent a real person, and not just another statistic?
When many people hear the term “human trafficking”, they don’t realize that it is actually modern day slavery. Many people would say that slavery doesn’t exist anymore; however, there are more slaves in the world today than ever before in human history. Reports differ on the average number, but they range from 20-45 million slaves in the world today — and the reality is that the number could be MUCH HIGHER, as this crime goes heavily undocumented. Another typical assumption is that trafficking happens in other countries, but certainly not in the United States! The 2016 United Nations Global Report on Trafficking in Persons showed that no country is immune to human trafficking. Cases of trafficking have been reported in over 127 countries, including the United States. While the numbers are important in framing the issue, we fight for the dignity of the individual. Our grant partner A21 puts it beautifully when they say “we fight for the ONE.” Because you’re right, these numbers represent real people who are being treated as a commodity rather than a human being worthy of dignity. We are privileged to partner with organizations who hold our values of providing dignity to these individuals, and we share these powerful stories throughout the month of December to remind us that we fight for the individual.
If I wanted to participate in Dressember today, what steps do I take? Can I participate if I am a male?
I’m so glad you asked! It is definitely not too late to sign up (we’ve even had people sign up in the month of January and take on the challenge). If you head to dressember-2018.funraise.org/, you can make a free campaign page. You can choose to fundraise by yourself or with a team! Once you have your campaign page, you rock your dress or tie every day during the month of December and you use your style choices as a conversation starter to raise funds and awareness to end human trafficking. We give you daily posting ideas, resources, and stories to empower you to become an everyday advocate in the fight for freedom. And trust us, it is the most fun you will have tackling a really hard issue.
Oh, and men can TOTALLY participate too! We’ve had men join by wearing ties, bow-ties, dresses or kilts. The reality is that men are typically the ones creating the demand for sex trafficking so it is vital for them to be a part of the solution!
You repeat this idea of the dress as your “flag” and “uniform” for the movement. Do you mind elaborating?
Every great movement has a flag or a symbol. For us, it is the dress. A dress might conjure up images for you of weakness or vulnerability. Traditionally a dress has been linked to ideas of fragility. We seek to reclaim this into a symbol of strength and resilience. Every year, we receive messages from advocates telling us that they started out the challenge hating dresses and by the end, the dress actually became something that gave them courage to speak up. We coined the hashtag #youcandoanythinginadress and if you check that out on Instagram, you’ll see Dressember advocates doing wild and wacky things in dresses!
What role does creativity play in Dressember?
Dressember was born out of a need for a creative outlet. As I mentioned above, our growth has been born out of the creativity of others. Human trafficking is a widespread, multi-billion dollar industry. It is going to take a lot of innovation, collaboration, and yes, creativity to bring this illegal industry down.
What is one of the most creative stories you have heard of someone who participated?
It’s hard to pick just one. I just might have to tell you two. Last year, a few advocates started #LetterforDressember, a 31 day lettering challenge to go alongside the Dressember challenge. This opened up a whole new level of creativity for our advocates, where they were able to bring art into the challenge. Another advocate Pua Coffman challenged her community that if they donated a certain amount, she would wear a costume of their choosing. Pua got a lot of positive responses from this incentive, and went ALL OUT, dressing up as Rey from Star Wars, Wonder Woman, Belle, and even reenacted The Walking Dead.
Although you are not a strictly Christian organization, how has faith impacted your movement?
When you view all people as children of God, it is hard not to be compelled to stand up when those same people are being robbed of their dignity. For many of our advocates, faith plays a huge role in both encouraging them to use their voice in this way and motivating them to go out on a limb and do something different. While we aren’t faith-based, we have strong convictions that align with Christian values and we are grateful for our advocates who are living out their faith in creative ways through Dressember.
What has been the most unexpected result about your efforts?
The most unexpected part for us personally has been seeing the actual impact that our grants have created. This past summer, we were able to go and visit one of our grant partners in South Asia to see the work that Dressember was able to fund. For this partner in particular, we had the opportunity to fund their entire operations in that specific city. Meeting with survivors and seeing the programs that were in place, we were overwhelmed to think that this was made possible because people from around the world decided to wear a dress for a month. It doesn’t seem possible, but it is. These grants are actively funding the rescue, the aftercare, the training of community members, the services, the creation of technology to end slavery. We get to play a part in that, and we get to do it through a simple, consistent action.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years? Where do you see Dressember going?
We are actively working to expand our impact and partnerships. This year, we focused on adding in more domestic partners. The idea behind this is that through Dressember, we can have an impact locally and internationally, as this is an issue that happens right in our backyard. In addition to our style challenge, we create a Dressember Dress Collection each year in partnership with Elegantees. Through that partnership, we are able to be a part of creating dignified employment for 16 individuals who have overcome human trafficking in Nepal. There is currently a waitlist of over 500 women waiting for an opportunity to work at this sewing center. When we went to visit the sewing center this past July, they shared with us that they have a goal to get 200 women into the sewing center in the next few years. For us, we would like to see the dress collection be something that creates enough demand to get those women off the waitlist and into these dignified jobs. More than anything, we hope that Dressember is a style challenge that is no longer necessary in the future. Our goal is to be a part of bringing an end to modern slavery, and I feel that we are at a time in history -- with the technology and the intelligence that we have available — where this could actually be abolished in our lifetime.
Thanks Dressember for sharing your story!
If you’d like to join Spire in ending human trafficking through Dressember, check out our fundraising page. Together, a dress can change the world.