Dressember participants share how the movement is more than looking nice each day, but also a fight against human trafficking.

When the month of December rolls around, most people think of Christmastime, candy canes and peppermint mochas as opposed to human trafficking, dresses and neckties—but students participating in Dressember here on APU’s campus are changing that. 

Dressember is a nonprofit organization that advocates for people enslaved in human trafficking. Each year, participants take part in a month-long commitment to wearing either a dress or tie every day of December in order to raise awareness about human trafficking. Along with spreading awareness, participants also set a personal fundraising goal. At the end of the month, proceeds are donated to other organizations that Dressember partners with in order to fight human trafficking.

Since its creation in 2013, Dressember has raised over $13 million to help fight human trafficking globally and has had over 32,000 participants. This year, several APU students are a part of that bunch. Juniors Meg Sweeney, Nanette Steenstra and Jack Barrie sat down with me for an interview to discuss all things Dressember. 

Sweeney, who is participating in her third Dressember and is on the leadership team for APU’s Free the Captives club on campus, provided insight into the club’s mission in participating in Dressember. 

“Essentially the goal of wearing the dress or the tie is for people to ask you questions about it, which opens up a conversation about human trafficking and opens up doors for people to donate to Dressember, who donates to anti-human trafficking organizations all around the world [that] focus on prevention, aftercare for survivors and intervention in human trafficking situations,” she said.

Although Steenstra and Barrie are not in the Free the Captives club, they shared their own reasons for participating in Dressember this year.

Steestra, whose first Dressember was last year, said she originally didn’t want to participate in 2021. “This winter I was not gonna do it again, but then I got accepted to do an action team in the Netherlands which [involves] working in the Red-light industry… I feel like God has been pushing me towards trafficking missions,” she said.

Along with sharing how she got involved with Dressember, Steenstra also shared some ways Dressember has been challenging. She explained that her experience with Dressember felt insignificant when she first started and how she eventually came to a place of peace. “Something I struggled with—last year especially because it was my first time—was [feeling] like human trafficking is a really heavy issue and… people are enslaved, and I’m just here wearing a dress,” Steenstra said. 

“I really thought about it and prayed about it a lot and kinda came to the conclusion of ‘What else can I do?’ At this point in my life, this is what is accessible to me and this is all I can do and even though it seems small it actually does make a difference. It has to start somewhere,” she continued.

Barrie, who grew up surrounded by Dressember participants, decided this year was finally the time to join the movement. “Growing up, Dressember was a really big thing at my church. All the girls in my youth group would do it, my mom would do it, all my mom’s friends, my sister … Growing up I was always surrounded by it,” he said. 

Barrie’s roommate and several of his friends took part in Dressember last year and are again participating this year, which was largely a deciding factor in his decision to take the plunge this year. Along with the influence from his friends, Barrie also saw the opportunity to reach more people as an out-of-state student from Seattle.

“I wanna try it out because some of my friends are already doing it here and then when I go back home … all the people from back home who know about Dressember and have done it and have tried to get me to do it my whole life, they’re gonna see me doing it and they’re gonna wanna donate,” he said.

If you’re interested in getting involved with Dressember, either now or in the future, but are worried about the number of dresses you own, Sweeney assures us that a little goes a long way.

“I think my first year, I walked into Dressember with three or four dresses that I owned. I collected everything I had brought from home and brought it here, so I was borrowing a lot. People were really generous. That year I also knew somebody who wore a single dress all the month of December in order to raise even more awareness,” she said.

“You can own any number of dresses. I’ve thrifted a lot of my Dressember dresses in the past few years and kind of collected them so now I’ve probably got more like nine to eleven maybe? So I’ve expanded my dress collection, but you can essentially do it with even one dress or tie,” Sweeney continued.

If the thought of wearing a dress or tie for 31 days straight doesn’t float your boat, donating is another wonderful option. The Dressember team on campus along with its individual participants each have a fundraising goal. The team’s goal is $15,000 this year. 

While donating is one of the easiest ways to get involved with the cause, there are other ways you can support anti-human trafficking efforts as well.

One of the easiest ways is simply to pray for Dressember, its participants, victims of human trafficking and even instigators of human trafficking. 

Sustainable consumerism is also an important part of actively fighting against human trafficking, as noted by Steenstra. “I think a big thing is sustainable clothing and looking into where you’re buying your [products] from because so many things are made by trafficked children and literally slaves… They get trafficked to make things for super cheap,” she said.

Along with conscious consumerism, Sweeney also encourages folks to research and learn about human trafficking. “Researching what human trafficking is [and] where it exists [is important]. It exists here in Los Angeles but it also exists in almost every big city and every country around the world. And these are things that a lot of people don’t know or just don’t really get to talk about. And so, talking about it, asking questions, [and] researching are really easy and simple things that people can do,” she said.

“There’s a lot of other ways you can help: learning the signs of human trafficking and learning the national human trafficking hotline is one way that you can actually intervene in trafficking situations,” Sweeney continued. (Learn more about this here and here.)

If you would like to learn more about Dressember, you can read more on their website and follow their Instagram as well. Be sure to stay on the lookout for dresses, ties, and “ASK ME ABOUT MY DRESS” buttons on campus!