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Handmade Craftivism: Dressember Fights Human Trafficking

Kathryn here, Marly’s blog content director. Every once in a while I pop in with a post about a topic that’s close to my own heart. And at this time of year, that topic is Dressember. Last year, I joined the Namaste and Crochet Dressember team. Through our online craftivism, we raised $11,000 to fight human trafficking. We also raised awareness about the issue. Moreover, we shared a lot about how slow fashion (including knitting and crochet your own clothes), is an antidote to the fast fashion industry, which is a huge culprit of human slavery in the modern world. Namaste and Crochet is participating in Dressember again, so I’m back to tell you about it and encourage you to check it out.

What is Dressember?

Dressember is an event that challenges people to wear a dress and/or tie every single day of the month of December. Moreover, they ask that you post about it online. In other words, this is a style challenge. But it’s so much more than that. And thanks to Namaste and Crochet, there’s even a craftivism aspect to it. She has participated in this event for years. On her team, instead of a dress or tie, you can also opt to wear something handmade. As aforementioned, handmade clothing is one way that each of us can fight human slavery. So, that’s why I support her team, although all Dressember teams are doing great work. I love the craftivism aspect of her efforts. And as you’ll read in her story below, there are deep personal reasons why she came to care about this topic.

Dressember is an Anti Human Trafficking Campaign

Every year, Dressember raises millions of dollars to fight human trafficking. Not only do you get to enjoy dressing up every day, but you get to do so for a good cause. As you share your posts, you help raise money to combat this egregious violation against human rights. Moreover, you raise awareness about this critical issue that many people don’t know about. Even if you opt not to participate, following the cause on social media and sharing the information that others post can help raise funds and awareness.

What is Human Trafficking?

The United States Department of Justice explains that “Human Trafficking is a crime that involves exploiting a person for labor, services, or commercial sex.” The exploiters might use force, fraud, or coercion. While sex trafficking has gained a lot of attention in the news in recent years, it’s important to understand that slave labor is a big part of human trafficking. Yes, it happens. Today. In 2021. In America (and elsewhere).

The Dressember website reports that 40+ million people are impacted by human trafficking around the world today. Approximately 25% of those people are children. It’s a $150 billion a year industry.

What Does Dressember Do?

Dressember raises awareness so that people come to know that this is a major issue. The more awareness, the more chance of fighting the problem at every level. Moreover, the organization raises money and contributes it to well-researched organizations that fight human trafficking. Since launching in 2013, they’ve raised over $10 million for the cause. Check out their 2019/2020 impact report to learn more. I honestly learned so much about the issue through participating last year. It left a deep impression upon me and impacts the choices I make in purchases to this day.

Reasons to Participate in Dressember Craftivism

Fight human trafficking with Dressember Craftivism

You can participate in Dressember easily by joining the Namaste and Crochet fundraising team. Learn all about it here. There are also more details at the end of this post about how you can participate. If you’re new to craftivism, it’s just all about using crochet/ knitting/ crafting to raise awareness in the community. It can be as big or small, as political or apolitical as you want.

Dressember is a great cause. That’s the main reason that people want to participate, of course. In addition to that primary reason, here are some bonus reasons that you might want to participate in Dressember:

  • It’ll give you an opportunity to wear your own handmade items all month long. (See below about that aspect!) Get those things out of storage. Get the WIPs finished. Make something brand new.
  • You’ll be able to share your knit and crochet wearables with others in a meaningful way. Whether you highlight your own knit and crochet patterns or just showcase what you can do with hooks / needles, it’s fun to share this work with your online community. Craftivism celebrates the craft as much as the cause.
  • If you do the “wear a dress or tie” part in addition to the handmade part then you might have fun getting a little glammed up. Dressing up can feel good. It can brighten your own day.
  • You’ll get to be part of a great community. Several actually – the handmade community, the craftivism community, and the Dressember community. Maybe you’ll make some new online friends that inspire you.
  • It’s a chance to be a craftivist. You’re truly doing something meaningful by participating in Dressember. It’s powerful to use your skills for craftivism.
  • You’ll be supporting slow fashion and sustainability. This is a crucial aspect of fighting human trafficking, because the fast fashion industry is one of the sources of victimization. Craftivism makes sense if you care about sustainability, the environment, and/or slave labor in the fashion industry.

Namaste and Crochet Brings Craft to Dressember

Namaste and Crochet Dress for Dressember

Dominique Calvillo brings the handmade knit and crochet twist to Dressember by encouraging that component of the challenge on her team. She is asking as many people as possible in the knit and crochet community to join in with Dressember. Join her team here.

To participate, you can wear a dress, a tie, and/or a handmade item. If you can wear something you’ve made yourself every day of the month, then you can spread the word not only about this big issue of human trafficking but also about the power of the craft community. Wear something handmade every day, post about it, spread the word.

Again, in addition to spreading the word about – and raising funds for – fighting human trafficking, you’ll spread awareness about the value of craft, the Slow Yarn movement, and sustainable fashion. Fast fashion contributes waste to the world and exploits workers. Slow, sustainable, handmade fashion is the antidote. When you showcase your handmade garments, you let others know that they, too, can make this change.

Craft as Therapy: Who is Namaste and Crochet? 

I got to know more about Dominique and her brand Namaste and Crochet when I interviewed her for the February 2018 issue of Happily Hooked digital magazine. The magazine has allowed me to have a column, Crochet Heals, for over seven years now, through which I interview people about how crochet helps and heals them. Dominique’s story was so incredibly powerful, and I was thrilled to be able to share it with others. 

Namaste and Crochet Dresses for Dressember Craftivism

And I’d like to share a little bit with you, so here’s an excerpt from that article:

Dominique Calvillo learned to crochet from her grandmother at the age of 6, and she has been crocheting ever since. She took crochet with her as a helpful skill when she was invited to India with International Princess Project, an organization that helps female victims of human trafficking reintegrate into their lives and transition back to traditional work. She had sold her own crochet work to help fund her trip, and once she was there she found that many women knew the craft. Later, in Thailand, she taught crochet to women in similar situations.

After several years of doing this work, Dominique found herself suffering from the trauma of all that she had witnessed. It manifested in severe anxiety, and one of the only places where she found solace was in her own crochet work. She began selling some of her work and now has a Los Angeles based crochet clothing and home décor collection called Namaste and Crochet. She shares on her website:

“As I share Namaste and Crochet, more than people seeing the products, I hope that they see the power of meditation and art therapy. Amidst the daily hustles of life along with constant stimulus and distraction. It’s easy to forget to take a moment to center the mind and spirit. It’s no wonder that depression and anxiety run so rampant in our society.”

Dominique hopes that as the business grows it will be able to benefit the lives of women affected by human trafficking.

How did anxiety impact you when you came back from Cambodia / Thailand?

From an interview on Dressember: “A heaviness and deep depression overtook my heart as I continued my month working and being confronted with the ugliest parts of humanity. During that trip, I witnessed slavery within the coffee industry, the brutal child begging system, and was a part of the rescue of a three-year-old Thai girl who was being sold for sexual acts by her mother. I came home with crippling anxiety about war.”

Anxiety and depression had gripped my mind so tightly after that month in southeast Asia that I was living in an alternate reality. My anxiety was specifically about war and I was convinced that humanity was about to blow itself up. I couldn’t talk about politics (worst timing as the election was in full swing), I couldn’t watch movies with violence, and some days I couldn’t handle daily tasks like driving in traffic or being in crowded public places. I don’t think anyone quite understood the depth at which I was struggling, so I felt quite alone in the process and tried to act like my usual carefree self.

What inspired you to use crochet to help you through this time? How did you do so? In what ways was it helpful?

From Dominique’s website: “Most days I spent 2-8 hours meditating with my crochet, lost in the beauty of the stitches instead of dwelling on fearful thoughts.”

Crochet absolutely helped me out of those terrible thought processes. I can be a little obsessive, so to have a new positive obsession was so helpful. I began to focus on patterns and new shapes for my dresses. It gave me hope. There were days I didn’t want to be alive anymore, but those turned into days when I needed to finish a project. I still turn to crochet for therapy and even if my struggle is not with crippling anxiety, I still learn patience and truths about humanity as I sit and meditate with my art.

Benefits of Knitting and Crochet for Individuals and Communities

handmade craftivism

Both knitting and crochet have many different health benefits. They help decrease the symptoms of depression, anxiety, trauma and other mental health conditions. People use crochet to practice mindfulness, stop ruminations of the mind, reduce stress, and meditate or pray. 

Moreover, whether or not they physically craft with other people, knitting and crochet bring people together in community. People share their makes and patterns online, connecting across many aspects of diversity. And thanks to craftivism, people also use knitting and crochet to raise awareness about the causes that they care about.

Participate in Dressember

All of these benefits for both individuals and communities mean that it makes perfect sense that Dominique is asking the knit and crochet community to come together to participate in Dressember. By participating, you reap the benefits of individual crafting, coming together with others as a community, and raising awareness about an important cause. 

The Namaste and Crochet Dressember craftivism team

You can join the Namaste and Crochet Dressember team right here. Joining is free, then you can use the platform to quickly create a Dressember page for yourself right alongside the other knit and crochet team members. Together, you’ll raise money for the cause just by sharing your Dressember posts on your own social media. As a team, Namaste and Crochet hopes to raise $11000 for the cause again this year, but you can set your own personal goal as low or high as you want to contribute to that. Every dollar helps.

Or you can donate to her team or any other Dressember team. If you’re wondering where the money goes, Dressember raises funds to support things like therapy for trauma survivors, awareness training for services providers in the system to learn how to spot human trafficking, and long-term economic empowerment for survivors.

You can also help when you just simply follow along and spread the word through social media likes, shares, comments, and so forth. Craftivism can be at any level of participation that feels right for you. Namaste and Crochet can be found on Facebook and Instagram. I’ll be sharing occasional posts on the Marly Bird Instagram page but you’ll find them more regularly on my own account @createmefree. Look for hashtags #namasteinadress #youcandoanythinginadress and #dressember / #dressember2021.

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Marly Bird

The One and Only, Marly

Marly is a knitwear and crochet designer (and yarn addict) that is here to help you learn how to knit and crochet in a way that's fun and approachable.

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