Tell me the story of how Dressember started. Dressember started as an accident and out of boredom in my life and feeling stagnant. I came up with a personal style challenge to bring some creativity to my life. My friend Shannon wore the same dress every day for a week just to see if anyone would notice and no one did, so I decided to wear a dress every day for a month, but different dresses. I wore a different dress every day. It happened to be November when I came up with this idea and you know I love puns, so since December was the next full month, I came up with the name Dressember. I did it and never planned to do it again, but the next year my friends wanted to it, and then the next year their friends wanted to do it. And I knew at this point, they weren't just humoring me.
It's interesting that your friend wore the same dress every day for a week and no one noticed, but yet we are so inundated with these messages telling us we have to have more stuff and the newest styles. Can you talk about that? I've worn the same dress the last three or four Dressembers, and it's amazing to me how nobody notices until I mention it to them. And even people following on Instagram until I do the diptych of the 7 photos. I think part of it is materialism and just wanting something new. We are so surrounded with images of pretty people with products that maybe we are chasing some of that.
How did you transition Dressember from a style challenge to a movement of women combatting slavery? As it grew on its own as just a style challenge, I started dreaming about what more it could be. I've been passionate about anti-trafficking for a while and frustrated that I didn't have a clear way into the fight. I saw what Movember was doing and just decided to go for it. At first I was a little worried that the women who were participating in it as just a style challenge that there would be a little backlash, but it honestly was overwhelmingly positive especially from the original participants. Adding that layer to Dressember added a lot of heart to it and made it something that even women who aren't crazy about dresses wanted to get involved. And I think it's blown up because it's such an easy fun way to engage in such a heavy topic.
How much have you raised over the last two years? And how many participants have you had? We have raised over $630,000 in two years. We had 1300 participants our first year and 2600 last year. This year we are hoping to double everything to 5000 participants and over 1 million raised.
What advice would you give men and women who have a call in their heart but don't know what to do about it? I think just start where you are and use what you have. If there's something you're already doing, find a way to connect the dots. It's human nature to compartmentalize, and it doesn't make sense to make those connections sometimes, but make it a practice. And then take the risk! I remember the first year feeling like this could totally fail. We could fall way short of our goal and it could be a public embarrassment. And I still think that, could it lose steam or is it going to grow or fizzle out? But at this point I have to come back to the fact that no matter what happens, we've been able to do something really cool.
I love that you wear the same dress every day. As you know that began a huge journey for me too. It was in Dressember last year that I wore the same dress everyday, and I was hit with this reality that whoa, I'm working so hard to combat slavery and yet, the purchases I'm making in my personal life every day are contributing to slavery. It was through the the exercise of wearing my Dressember dress everyday that finally understood that reality. It opened my eyes to the fact that we are bombarded with so many marketing messages, and we see these fashion bloggers and we're constantly told that we need "new new new" and "more more more" and it's creating this world of people suffering in supply chains for our need to have more. So I love that you are focusing more on who you are as a person as opposed to getting your identity from all this new stuff we have to have. Can you talk about that decision to wear the same dress everyday? The second year I did Dressember I wore the same seven dresses. I had friends who said "I want to do this", but they didn't have 31 dresses to wear. But you don't have to have 31 dresses. Do you have five dresses or seven dresses? You can do this! So I did it with the same seven. And then I started wearing the same dress everyday. I liked the creative challenge of re-styling the same few dresses all month. That mixed with the irony of the fact that a challenge like this could actually go push people into consumerism and into buying dresses that contribute to slavery, so that cemented the decision for me to wear the same dress everyday. This is two-fold, it's the extra creativity that birthed the challenge to begin with and it's the subtle response to the idea that you need more to give back. Go back to the idea of using what you have. You are not lacking anything to engage in this fight. That's what it's all about.
What does living a more conscious lifestyle mean to you? It all starts with awareness. And being aware of the likelihood that some of the products you buy, well first off, being aware that people make those, asking who makes these, how are they made, how are the people treated? How can we pay 10 bucks for a sweatshirt? The only way that's possible is if people are exploited. I've made a few conscious decisions to not support the obvious massive fast fashion retailers. A lot of those products can be more expensive because people are being paid a fair wage, so I go to places like Buffalo Exchange or Crossroads and do a lot of thrifting!