By Melissa Jane Kronfeld & Megan Legband
What started as a simple personal challenge to wear a dress every day during the month of December has become Dressember – a global movement dedicated to combating slavery. At its hem (or helm) is Blythe Hill who launched the unique project in 2009 as a pathway for people to get engaged in the fight against human trafficking. Through wearing a dress (or bowtie) every day in December, Blythe has raised over over $5 million in critical funding toward the fight to dismantle the trafficking industry.
Blythe who studied English at Cal State University Fullerton, began her career in journalism and trend forecasting before launching The Dressember Foundation, based in Los Angeles, where she serves as Chief Executive Officer. In addition to her passion to end slavery, Blythe loves puns, her pup, and a glass of Pinot!
Check out what happened when we caught up with Blythe to talk about the fight to #EndSlaveryNow!
What is one fact that every person should know about slavery?
The connection between foster care and trafficking in the United States is startling. In Los Angeles, one study showed that nine out of 10 female victims of sex trafficking are or were in the foster care system.
How did you first learn about modern slavery & what did you decide to do about it?
I first learned about human trafficking when I was about 19, and I was horrified. Because of my own experience of sexual abuse – and the years of therapy I went through to process the trauma – I had a tiny glimpse into the trauma and exploitation millions of women and girls wake up to every day. I felt a sense of personal urgency to do something about this issue, but an immediate sense of powerlessness. I didn’t feel qualified to engage in a significant way, as someone who is not a lawyer, a social worker, a cop, a psychologist, or any other conventionally qualified person. I thought about rerouting my career toward one of those pathways, but never felt peace about doing that.
For years, I sat in the tension of passion and powerlessness, until I decided to align Dressember (my personal style challenge of wearing a dress every day in December) with anti-trafficking. I had no idea whether it would be a hit or totally flop. I set what felt like a hugely ambitious goal of $25,000 for the campaign. When we hit my huge, ambitious goal on day three, I realized Dressember had a lot more potential than I initially thought.
What is the most critical obstacle preventing us from having a slave free world?
Misogyny. We live in a world where we excuse men for having strong physical urges. We have created a society and culture where it is fairly normal for a man to justify paying or forcing a woman to meet his sexual needs. This is fascinating because no culture encourages women to use other human beings to satisfy their impulses. The reason trafficking exists is because of the demand that fuels it. In labor trafficking, human beings are valued below the bottom line in order to make profit.
Poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and a sense of impunity fuel labor trafficking. We as consumers turn a blind eye in favor of buying more or newer products for the cheapest possible price without considering who is bearing the true cost of our purchase. In order to dismantle trafficking for the long haul, we have to completely change culture. It is not impossible, but will require many years of dedicated work and pressure on those who might push back because the current culture benefits them.
What is the most important lesson you have learned while fighting for freedom?
I am not a hero. I’m a soldier in this fight, fighting alongside thousands of others. No one person, organization, or brand can solve this problem. It will take everyone fighting together, in a collaborative effort.
Why do you believe the Millennial generation will be the one that can end slavery?
What sets this generation apart is a need to engage in work that matters, and to leave a significant legacy at the end of life. This desire naturally fuels social impact, as well as innovative approaches to addressing centuries-old issues. Millennials are also by and large anti-institution/anti-authority, which means they will carve their own paths to create that impact. In the next 10 years, we will see some of those innovative and impactful methods of dismantling not only trafficking but other social ills as well.
What does a slave free world look like to you?
At Dressember, we believe everyone is born with inherent dignity and the right to live a vibrant, autonomous life. Consequently, as slave free world means everyone is afforded that right. Also, since this issue disproportionately affects women, a slave free world is one that empowers and protects the rights and the dignity of all women. It’s a world where women are true equals in all societies and cultures.
What is one thing every reader can start doing right now to help end slavery?
Consider putting on a dress or tie for Dressember! Registration opens on October 1 every year. We are all about offering fun, easy ways to engage in this issue both locally and internationally. I also recommend reading up on the issue and researching what organizations are doing to combat this issue both locally and abroad. The Dressember blog is a great place to start.
Profiles In Abolition is an in-depth look at the influencers, innovators & thought leaders in the modern anti-slavery movement. An accompaniment to Millennial Magazine’s ongoing 10-part series exposing modern slavery – a project of the Nexus Global Youth Summit (catch up with Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four & Part Five) – Profiles In Abolition will examine a diverse & inspiring array of advocates whose critical voice must be heard.
Want to learn more from the world’s leading luminaries in the fight to #EndSlaveryNow? Sign up for the Nexus Anti-Slavery Speaker Series, a weekly conference call with the men and women on the front lines of the modern abolition movement! This call is open to the public and everyone is welcome to listen in! Click here to register for free. Then learn more about modern slavery by following Nexus on Twitter, Instagram & Millennial Magazine!