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On Trafficking, and Why I'm Participating in Dressember

Dressember Challenge, Trafficking Facts
One of this year's Dressember Dresses produced in collaboration with Elegantees.

If your Instagram feed is filled with social enterprises and fair trade bloggers like mine is, you've likely heard about Dressember.

Founded in 2013 by Blythe Hill (I followed her personal style blog when I was in college), the Dressember Foundation is a fundraising nonprofit that benefits anti-trafficking agencies.

But it's markedly different from most fundraising agencies in that it centers around an unusual challenge: wear a dress every day in December. 


Like marathons and charity walks, the idea is that you pledge to follow the guidelines of the challenge and, in return, friends and family donate to the cause on your behalf. 

Now, I like a sundress when the weather is warm, but I shove all my dresses to the dark corners of my closet as soon as it gets nippy outside. I could layer leggings and sweaters and long sleeve shirts over, under, and around my dresses, but it takes a lot of pre-planning to end up with something that resembles an actual outfit, so I lean heavily on jeans in the fall and winter. 

In my case, then, the Dressember Challenge is appropriately named. I didn't get involved for the last couple of years in part because I was still trying to learn how to dress for real winters and I thought I would die of hypothermia if I had to throw dresses into the mix. This year, I'm ready to take it on, and beyond that, I strongly support the work of International Justice Mission, one of the charities Dressember benefits.

According to IJM...

  • There are over 45 million people enslaved today.
  • Children as young as 4 are exploited.
  • People are exploited in both labor and sex industries, with some crossover.
  • Key Industries: internet sexual exploitation, brick kilns, brothels, mines and quarries, tree-cutting facilities, and fishing boats.

Additional Data:

  • Children are heavily exploited in the chocolate industry. Nestle even admitted to it.
  • High demand for steel by the auto industry has increased labor trafficking in Brazil and destroyed parts of the Amazon Rainforest.
  • Trafficking is hard to track because many cases go unreported, but every country, even the US, is affected by it.
  • Trafficking is a 32 billion dollar a year industry. 
  • Approximately 20% of reported trafficking cases relate to labor trafficking (with labor trafficking primarily affecting men) and 80% relate to sex trafficking (with sex trafficking primarily affecting women).
  • The New York Times reported that wage slavery is rampant in the nail salon industry.

I often feel uneasy talking about trafficking because it's been highly politicized and tied into other ideologies, like American Evangelicalism, which can make it hard to get real answers and determine best practices outside of these hyper-biased frameworks. If you're not familiar with typical Christian trafficking rhetoric, it's often tied to "traditional" (read patriarchal) ideas about male and female roles and sexual purity culture, juxtaposing the feminine ideal of chastity with the jarring violation of women's bodies in the sex trafficking industry. In my mind, this rhetoric only further objectifies women, because in both cases, women are merely bodies who do or do not have sex, bodies that need to be protected by "savior" men, bodies that have value only in their relationship to men's needs. 

A more ethical approach to the trafficking conversation would speak to a broader ideal of women's equality and freedom that doesn't seek to shame them for the sex they are or aren't having, and in what context they're having it. 

Women don't need to be "rescued" from trafficking because trafficking makes them impure. They need to be brought out of trafficking because they are humans, and slavery is an egregious human rights violation. 


I was initially on edge about getting involved with Dressember because I didn't want to perpetuate this idea that trafficking must be linked to femininity. Trafficking has nothing to do with being pretty and wearing dresses. It has to do with power and money and moral degradation and systemic failures that cause a sort of societal hemorrhaging. But I decided that the best way forward is to use this unifying and relatively simple challenge to have a conversation about words while also supporting the good work of anti-trafficking agencies.

Because no matter what I think about the language of the movement, it's just a fact that if we consume things, our lives touch on slavery and those enslaved. We eat slave-produced chocolate, wear slave-produced clothing, drive cars made with slave-produced steel, and likely engage with people - at nail salons, food banks, airports, social service agencies, schools, and stores - who are enslaved by the labor and sex trafficking industries. 

So, all that to say that I'm excited about the sartorial and personal challenge of the Dressember Challenge and hope you will find ways to have hard conversations about trafficking this month, whether you choose to participate or not. 

I'll be posting outfits on Instagram as often as possible, so follow along there

Additional Reading from StyleWise:

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