Our newest 'Leading Ladies' feature is a special one! You may have noticed that we recently launched an exclusive collaboration style with the non-profit organization 'Dressember', and 'Jane the Virgin' star Yael Grobglas. The TAMGA x Dressember dress gives back 20% from every dress sold to Dressember's work of ending global human trafficking. This cause is close to our hearts and we are so excited to feature Dressember's CEO Blythe as a TAMGA's Leading Lady. Scroll below and get to know Blythe as she chats with us about Dressember, motherhood, and coping with the challenges that 2020 has brought with COVID-19.
Blythe, tell us a little bit about yourself!
I currently live in the Seattle area with my husband Jordan, our 16 month old son Behr, and our whippet mix, Friday. We recently moved to the area from Los Angeles (my husband just started a grad program in painting at UW), and we actually rent a little house about a mile from my childhood home (I moved to SoCal in high school). I'm enjoying rediscovering the area, as it's changed a lot in the years since I lived here! At the same time, there's a lovely feeling of familiarity, and it's been interesting to have long dormant memories surface through familiar smells, bugs, plants, etc.
What does a typical day working at Dressember look like for you?
It depends on the time of year! Right now we are in campaign season, so I spend my time developing resources for our advocates, promoting Dressember on outlets to reach new potential supporters, and hopping on zoom or IG Live to share interviews with our partners to our greater community.
The work you have done with Dressember is very impressive, can you talk to us about the reason you connected wearing a dress to fighting human trafficking?
I started wearing a dress every day in December of 2009, without any fundraising or campaign element attached to it - it was purely for fun, and honestly, it wasn't something I planned to do annually. In 2010, some of my friends wanted me to do it again so that they could join in. In 2011, some of my friends' friends wanted to join in, and at that point - when people I didn't know personally wanted to join in - I realized there might be potential for this silly style challenge to be something more. In 2013, I aligned Dressember the style challenge with an issue I'd been passionate about for years, and wondered whether we could raise a few thousand dollars, or whether it'd totally flop. We ended up raising over six times my goal, $165,000 USD, and at that point I realized it was a much better idea than I'd imagined. So, it wasn't that I chose to start a dress-wearing campaign with anti-trafficking, but it is interesting to have conversations with people about what dresses symbolize to them, and how that can be leveraged (or in some cases, reclaimed as a previously oppressive symbol) in this fight for the dignity of women around the world.
What is the most rewarding/milestone experience you've have had while being CEO of Dressember?
There have been a lot of incredible milestones - raising a cumulative $1MM USD, then raising that much in a single campaign, then a cumulative $10MM USD, giving a TED talk, working with some celebrities I've admired -but honestly what means more to me than those milestones are the opportunities I've had to see the impact of our work first hand in Bulgaria, India, Nepal, Guatemala, and other places. Meeting with the staff working on the ground to support these individuals encourages and reinvigorates me in this journey, and meeting survivors -seeing their strength, their joy, and hearing of the transformation and restoration this work affords them - is the highest honor of all.
Being the founder of an organization can be tough - especially mixed in with a global pandemic! Can you speak to some of the challenges Dressember has faced during the pandemic and how you have navigated these difficult times?
Like most companies, we've adjusted to an entirely remote working environment, and I've grown accustomed to seeing my team exclusively through a screen. We've of course had to adjust our event strategy and the ways we encourage our advocates to share Dressember has shifted to be entirely virtual strategies. We've also increased our virtual connection points - hosting zoom happy hours, webinars, IG Lives, etc.
How has COVID-19 effected the space of human trafficking and have you seen a rise in cases?
All the ways our team has adapted have been mild inconveniences compared to the impact of COVID-19 on survivors of trafficking and those at risk of trafficking. Traffickers prey on vulnerable people, and this crisis has made already vulnerable communities exceptionally vulnerable. The National Human Trafficking Hotline shared with us that there was a dramatic surge in calls at the onset of COVID - the number of calls from intersecting businesses (hotels/motels, airports, truck stops, etc) more than doubled, the number of calls about crisis trafficking situations increased by 40%, the number of requests for emergency shelter due to trafficking situations nearly doubled, and there was a 70% increase in likely sex trafficking situations involving porn and remote, online interactive sex acts. And these numbers only reflect the reported cases - it's the tip of the iceberg when you consider the host of individuals who aren't in the position to report (as is often the case with exploited children, immigrants, or those under control of their traffickers through threats, abuse, or other means). Additionally, with people spending so much time online, both the demand for online sex services and a trafficker's access to children online have increased. It's a critical time to monitor your child's use of social media, who they interact with, and explain internet safety to them.
What would you say to someone who wants to help or get involved in the fight against human trafficking?
It can be so overwhelming when you first learn about this issue-- it's a thriving criminal enterprise that preys on the world's most vulnerable people. Before you reroute your life and career, consider the possibility that you might be able to have a significant impact right where you are. We often downplay our own influence and network, but the truth is that you have a unique amount of relational influence with the people you're close to, work with, related to. Dressember is the single best on-ramp to engagement in this cause. We give even the busiest person an easy, fun way to engage in the fight, start conversations, spread awareness and reliable data, and be part of a community of people across the world raising money to dismantle this industry from every angle. Through participation in Dressember, you'll meet others passionate about this issue, discover key players and organizations, learn innovative strategies based on new data, and find your voice and path as an advocate. Visit www.dressember.org/fundraise or dressember.ca/fundraise for our Canadian advocates!
You’ve recently had a baby boy, congratulations! How do you navigate motherhood while working such a demanding job which covers highly sensitive topics?
Thank you! Motherhood has been the hardest, best, most meaningful thing I've ever undertaken. I'm grateful to have a partner who is truly equal, and has carried the bulk of childcare duties for the past year+. Now that my husband has started school, he still leads care with Behr half of the day, and we've found outside care for him the other half of the day. I'm learning the art of flexibility - learning to roll with each moment, each interruption, with grace and presence, and then being able to quickly transition back to whatever I was focused on. I think COVID is teaching all of us to be interruptable, but especially those of us with kids at home. The truth of my situation, though, is that I hold a tremendous amount of privilege. I have an equal partner who supports my work, and my work provides enough for our family to live on. Additionally, I've worked with my board of directors to create a company with female-centered policies and benefits. We offer paid maternity leave, PT transition time for women returning to work after leave, and a dependent care FSA that allows employees to set aside money from their paycheck pre-tax that will go toward any dependents they might have, young or old. I recognize that for far too many women, work flexibility, familial support, and paid maternity leave are simply not their experience. In the United States, these are still, shockingly, luxuries only available to those in privilege, while many others face extreme hardship in their absence.
You have been open in discussing mental health issues on your Instagram - what made you feel the calling to express your own experience about mental health in the public eye?
I consider myself, generally, a relatively private person; however, there are a couple of issues I feel compelled to speak openly about - my experience of sexual abuse as a child, and my ongoing relationship with my mental health and depression. I started sharing my sexual abuse story to explain why I'm passionate about ending the mass sexual exploitation of women and girls, and that showed me that so many others have similar experiences to mine and carry their abuse with oppressive shame. Hearing someone else speak openly about their own abuse allows others who've experienced abuse to release some of the guilt, shame, and sense of responsibility they've carried -I've seen it time and time again. Through speaking about my abuse, I've seen what happens in our own lives and in the lives of those listening when we shine a light on shame - it loses its power over us. For this reason, I became emboldened to share about my mental health journey and my long road with dysthymia - chronic, low-grade depression. In the same way as with sexual abuse, I knew many people suffer in silence, ashamed at their lack of control over their mental health. I wanted (and continue to want) to be part of reducing the stigma of mental health, and the power it can have over our lives. I want people to know that even people who seem to "have it all together" - people we might even envy for their jobs, platforms, or accomplishments - struggle with mental health. I hope my vulnerability helps anyone who feels especially alone, or wonders if their life is worthwhile - the truth is every life matters and you can channel your pain in ways that help others.
You just moved to Seattle, what was it like moving during such a crazy time? How has the moved changed your day to day operations at Dressember?
It was honestly a good time for a big adventure! We had been sheltering at home for about 3 months and so it made the upheaval of it all a bit less daunting. Since the Dressember team had already been working remotely and independently for 3 months, it also made the transition to working remotely, two states away from my team, a bit easier for me. So, in a lot of ways, my day to day doesn't look any different now than it would have had I not left LA.
What are some of your favourite ways to spend time when you’re not working?
Like most people right now, I spend most of my time at home, baking, reading (currently: The Girl You Left Behind and A Path Appears), crafting (I'm on a paint by number kick) or, of course, playing with my son Behr. I'm also using our relocation as a chance to discover Seattle-based efforts to curtail human trafficking, and acquainting myself with a lot of great people and organizations working up here.
I am sure it can become easy to get bogged down by all the work there is to do around human trafficking, what are some of the self-care methods you practice to keep your energy positive and productive?
TAMGA recently partnered up with Dressember on an exclusive dress collaboration, how will the donations from the the sale of each dress be used to further the fight against human trafficking?
A portion of every dress sale will go toward Dressember's work internationally to intervene on behalf of victims of trafficking, provide comprehensive aftercare for survivors, and prevent individuals and communities most at-risk from falling prey to trafficking. Every year, our impact grows, and we are able to continue weaving together a net to protect and restore more people as a result. Thank you for being part of this impact!
Thank you Blythe for the opportunity to be interviewed and partner alongside Dressember to release the limited edition TAMGA x Dressember dress. Be sure to check back soon and meet TAMGA's next leading lady.