This past December women around the globe joined in the fight against human trafficking and injustice. They made dreams of freedom for enslaved children and families come true – simply by wearing dresses.
Dressember was coined to represent 31 days of a dress-only wardrobe as a conversation starter for social justice. Yet, the movement hardly began with such a global and revolutionary scope. Rather, in 2009, Blythe Hill and a friend were inspired to wear a dress every day for a month – solely for the sake of having fun in a feminine way. Met with enthusiasm, they kept up the challenge each year uniting participants from around the world by Instagram hashtags. In 2012, #dressember2012 had more than 2,500 hits, inspiring Blythe to look into ways Dressember could mean so much more.
So in 2013 Dressember aligned itself with the vision of International Justice Mission (IJM) to rescue victims of slavery, sex trafficking, and other forms of violent oppression. The U.S.-based human rights agency recognizes that up to 27 million men and women are held as slaves and nearly 2 million children are forced into the global sex trade. Along with its 16 field offices in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, IJM works to free the oppressed, hold perpetrators accountable, provide survivor aftercare and transform judicial structures. Participants of Dressember helped to raise awareness about the state of human trafficking in the world and subsequently, IJM’s efforts for freedom and change. They also had the opportunity to be sponsored, allowing friends and family to give directly to IJM through the Dressember FreedomMaker Campaign.
We had the opportunity to catch up with Blythe to hear in her own words the heart of this campaign and how 2013’s partnership with IJM turned out. The results are nothing short of amazing. Who knew the power of a dress?
Darling Magazine: What drew out the passion in you to start this inspiring movement?
Blythe: Dressember began as a personal style challenge in 2009, when I thought it would be a fun change of pace to try wearing a dress a day for a month. I never expected it to catch on the way it did– every year it grew significantly bigger. By its third year, I was dreaming about how to align it with a cause and impact change on a global level. The more I learned about International Justice Mission, the more compelled I felt to align with them; they have worked for over fifteen years to provide rescue to victims of human trafficking, slavery, and violent oppression around the world. As someone who has experienced sexual abuse, it breaks my heart to hear about the estimated 29 million people trapped in slavery, exploited for their bodies. It delights me that I’ve been able to align something that I began on a fun whim with something that matters deeply to me and can potentially impact many.
DM: How and why did you choose to use a dress as a symbol for this campaign?
Blythe: The movement began with a dress, and then later became a campaign. I am someone who feels incredibly feminine and free when I wear a dress; I know that this isn’t the case for all women. In no way am I saying that this is the only way to be feminine, nor is it the “right” way. Dressember is less about defining femininity and more about solidarity in dressing for a cause. My favorite stories are from women who hate wearing dresses but choose to participate in Dressember because of what it’s doing and what it represents. Often, the most powerful revelations come when we accept the vulnerability that comes when we step outside our comfort zone.
Dressember is less about defining femininity and more about solidarity in dressing for a cause.
DM: How much was raised for IJM through Dressember in 2013?
Blythe: I added up the totals from the US, Canada, UK, and Australia Dressember campaigns and unified the currency in USD. The final total is: $165,996.06! 1,233 registered participants in 32 countries across six continents. This total averages out to $135 raised per participant! To say I’m floored is an understatement! I’m amazed what God has done and is doing through this campaign, and am so honored at the chance to support IJM’s efforts.
DM: What is ahead for the movement in 2014?
Blythe: I’m starting to dream/plan for an even bigger Dressember 2014; a few plans for the next 12 months include:
- creating a more advanced website
- building a team to help with social media, communications, admin duties
- visiting one of IJM’s aftercare facilities
- attending the Justice Conference in LA in February
- attending the IJM benefit in Orange County in March
- creating a speaking schedule for Fall ’14 (high schools, colleges, churches) to continue to spread the Dressember for IJM mission
DM: What is the epitome of the art of being a woman to you, personally?
Blythe: Being a woman is wonderfully complex and beautiful in its diversity of expression. At its core, I think femininity is the courage to step fully into who we are, rejoicing in our similarities and our differences. Femininity is bravery in vulnerability and solidarity in diversity.
Keep up with Dressember by following @Dressember4IJM on Twitter.
Image via Sarah Shreves