FAIR Talks | Dressember
Blythe Hill, the founder of Dressember, was an English major who loved puns and decided to wear a dress every day of December in 2010 to raise money to fight human trafficking. She told the International Justice Mission (IJM) she was going to raise $25,000 for the cause but hit the goal on December 4th. Blythe raised $165,000 that first year, and 8 years later Dressember is an official grant-making foundation with 8,000 participants who raised 2.4 million in 2018.
“We lead with positivity and hope,” says Marissa, the foundation’s Director of Partnerships.
Forced labor, child soldiers and sex trafficking are such heavy issues, but Dressember offers a light way to face them and really make a difference. All the participants, called advocates, must do is make the commitment and Dressember coaches them on how to make the social media page and invite their networks to donate.
Terry, the winner of Dressember’s dress design challenge last year says, “a dress really does start a conversation!” And now the organization has opened the fashion challenge up to ties or wearing stripes every day, anything that will get people to ask you about what you’re wearing.
Dressember currently has 15 organizational partners who receive their grants for specific freedom projects that fit into their three pillars of prevention, rescue, and aftercare. Fourteen of the organizations are anti-trafficking groups and one is a foster care organization. Aging out of the foster care system often leads to a vulnerability to being trafficked. To apply for a grant, an organization must be at least 5 years old, an official 501c3 and have a specific project in mind. For example, A21 built a freedom center in Bulgaria with the funds they received from Dressember. The foundation operates on an 80/20 model, meaning 80% of the funds raised are used for the projects and 20% for overhead.
The foundation has recently expanded to other areas outside of the Dressember campaign. They have a 5K in April that boasts the tagline, “you can do anything in a dress,” as the participants complete the run in a dress. Four years ago, they also started their own line of dresses made by trafficking survivors in Nepal. Their website, dressember.org/directory, lists ethical clothing brands to help participants find other companies worthy of their dollar.
Human trafficking crimes are tragically under-reported, even though humans are the highest traded commodity.
“Once drugs are sold, they’re gone,” says Marissa, “but people can be sold over and over again. There isn’t a certain amount of money that will end human trafficking, but we can decrease demand.”
Marissa suggests consuming less, going to clothing swaps, thrift shopping and buying from ethical companies.
Dressember currently has many repeat advocates and are always looking for new people to join the conversation. They accept and train new advocates every October and value each one, whether they raise $100 or $20,000 like a young Texas teenager did last year. All you do is pick your fashion statement and show up to your life each day, ready for a conversation.