many human trafficking victims are children
Interviews,  Mental Health

Dressember: Fight Human Trafficking Through A Community Style Challenge and The Power of Crochet, Slow Fashion, and Sustainability

human trafficking statistics

Dressember is a movement to fight human trafficking. Each December, teams come together to raise money for the cause. They do so by committing to wearing a dress or tie every day of the month, sharing it on social media along with information about human trafficking, sex trafficking, and slave labor, and asking people to donate. I’ve decided to join the Namaste and Crochet team this year, which has an additional component: raising awareness about the power of crochet and knitting as slow fashion, sustainable, ethical antidotes to fast fashion which is one major contributor to slave labor around the world.

My personal fundraising goal is $1000. Ready to donate? Every dollar helps. Click here.

The Handcrafted / Slow Fashion Element of Dressember

dressember ways to wear a dress or tie

Namaste and Crochet has worked for a long time with survivors of human trafficking. She shared her story about that with me in an interview for my Crochet Heals column in Happily Hooked magazine. I’ll share that interview in full before. But first I wanted to say that she’s bringing this really important handmade element to Dressember and that’s why I’ve joined her team. She’ll be wearing handmade items all month long and posting them. Learn more from this post I wrote for Marly Bird.

For my part, I’m going to do most of my sharing and fundraising through Instagram. Each day I’ll share the dress I’m wearing, something handmade (usually crocheted by me) that I’m wearing now or have worn in the past, information about human trafficking, and information from my niche about how crochet heals individuals and communities. Hopefully you’ll feel inspired not just to donate a little bit to the cause but also to share the posts so that other people can learn about these things as well.

Human trafficking affects millions of people worldwide, one quarter of which are children. If I can do my part by wearing a dress and sharing some information, I’m happy to do so. (Learn “why a dress” here.) And if I can do that while sharing information about how crochet heals people, which is my niche area of expertise, then that’s even better.

Can you donate to Dressember? Maybe just $5 right now? Click here.

Crochet Heals: An Interview with Namaste and Crochet

This interview was originally published in Happily Hooked magazine, where I’ve had a column for almost seven years about how crochet helps heal people. They’re a digital magazine with lots of rich crochet information, so check them out if you haven’t yet.

crochet dressember pattern

Buy this crochet pattern from Namaste and Crochet; 33% of proceeds go to Dressember

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. She shares more about her experiences with the healing power of crochet in this interview.

What can you share about learning to crochet from your grandmother?

Learning to crochet with grandma was a blast. She was a very animated woman who liked to make light of every situation, which made learning such an intricate skill a much easier process. She welcomed me into her crochet club famously named “The Happy Hookers.”  They were all older women in the Catholic bible study who were amused by my fascination with crochet. They would feed me little snacks and answer my incessant questions about how I could turn my basic stitches into the intricate lace patterns that they were making. I’m not sure how out of 30 grandchildren I was the one who got to have this intimate experience with my grandmother but I am grateful for it. When my grandma passed away three years ago is when I started Namaste. I think her creative spirit guided me along into the next part of my journey.

signs of human trafficking

How did you go about selling your crochet products to fund your trip to India with IPP?

When I decided to sell crochet in order to go to India, I was still only making simple blankets and scarves. I think I made 30 scarves in that short time and all of my friends were very sweet to make purchases that helped me to earn enough money to afford my airfare.

What was it like crocheting with the women in India and Thailand? Did you teach them to crochet?

I didn’t actually teach anyone to crochet in India because the women there already knew how to do more than I did. I was so touched when an Indian woman on a bus took over my crochet project because she already knew how to do the lace stitch that I was working on. Someone else must have taught her, although I don’t know her story. It was surreal that we ended up in the same bus across the world with the same niche skill. It was such a magical moment. 

Dominique shares on her website, “Just like my mother, my grandmother and myself, she understood this ancient magic that women all over the world share.”

I did, however, teach Crochet in Thailand, which was so much fun. Even with the language barrier these bright young women were able to pick up the skill. Women in Asian cultures tend to be extremely tactile so they quickly learn skills with their hands. We were crocheting lace flowers on the first lesson!

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.

human trafficking covid statistics

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.

What do you most hope people experience when seeing your crochet work?

There are a few things I hope to communicate through Namaste as a clothing line and art form. Fashion belongs to all of us. It is important that we all feel seen, heard and valued no matter our sex, shape or size. I love featuring models of every size and color because I believe all human beings are beautiful. In the future, I would like to talk more in depth about each of my models and why they inspire me as people and not just as pretty faces. 

Another message I would like to spread is that of validating your gifts. I cannot tell you how many times I have belittled my love for crochet because it felt like such a silly thing to love. In spite of that it has become an immense platform for me to share my story and connect with people I never thought would be interested in this art form. Every person has passion and talent. We must encourage ourselves and one another to express the beauty we hold, share our individual gifts and make the world a better, more connected place.

What is your favorite piece that you’ve crocheted?

My favorite thing I’ve ever made is the first dress I crocheted. It took two years to design and was a game changer in my abilities. I named it Edma after my grandma.

What is the process of creating a crochet dress like for you from start to finish?

Designing a dress can be very fun and also very maddening. When I first started out, it took much longer and much more trial and error to get a design right than it does today. I don’t read / use crochet patterns so everything I make is an original design. I have unraveled hours and hours of my work and worked at it again until I could get something right. I am a tiny sized lady so often times I’m putting on the dresses myself and trying to fill in the blanks where I’m hoping it will fit another sized model. It’s quite a ridiculous process. I crochet for hours in my underwear and try the dress on over and over until it sits right.

Can you say more about your statement you’ve made that “each stitch becomes a mantra”?

A mantra is a phrase said over and over in meditation practice to center the mind on a particular thought or truth. Because the stitches happen repetitively, I can concentrate on the pattern in my hands and center my mind. Sometimes with each stitch I will say a phrase to myself or focus on a peaceful feeling. As I do this, not only am I creating a work of art, I am meditating on the goodness of God and the moment.

Is there anything else we should know?

I am working toward growing my clothing line and have plans in motion that will benefit those who are suffering from human trafficking. As I secure a market I will be able to expand and benefit more people. In that process, I’m hoping to share my story and the stories of others who have found beauty in spite of their pain.

many human trafficking victims are children

2020 Update to Crochet Heals Interview

I asked Dominique if she would answer a few more questions since this interview was conducted a little while ago. Here’s the update:

What has 2020 been like for you and what does it mean to you to wrap it up with Dressember?

2020 has been such an unexpected year for all of us and even though it’s been a very hard year, it’s also been an amazing year. I had so much extra time on my hands when the world but down, I was able to learn about pattern wiring and release my first ever patterns.

I’m really thankful that I was given the time I needed to focus, learn and get plugged into the crochet community. I am so excited to include my newfound community in on something so near to my heart: fighting human trafficking. There is so much #craftivism happening in the maker community and I’m excited to be a part of it.

What is the number one reason that Dressember is important to you?

Dressember is such a fun and effective way to make a difference in the fight against modern slavery. I’ve seen the campaign grow over the years and it’s so inspiring so see what an impact has been made through a simple style challenge. Not only are participants giving resources to survivors but we have an opportunity to raise our voices about sustainable living and conscious consuming. The combination of fashion and activism is a dream come true.

What is one thing you wish more people knew about human trafficking?

Hunan trafficking comes in all shapes and sizes and happens all around us. In many ways consumers perpetuate the problem in their daily lives but making changes like buying sustainable fashion and ethically sourced products can make all the difference in the world.

Why is it important for the knit and crochet community to participate in something like this?

I think our community of makers has such a powerful voice as an alternative to fast fashion which is a huge contributor to modern slavery. Designers and makers hold the key to the new wave of fashion because of our craftsmanship and ethical practices. Fast fashion is killing the planet and keeping people enslaved all around the world. I want the world to see that fashion can fabulous and mindful and our community is the proof.

foster care and human trafficking

What are some of the most powerful things you’ve seen crochet do?

In my own life crochet has been a powerful way to express myself and bring me back to my center. When I was working in South East Asia with survivors of human trafficking, I was suffering from bad anxiety. Crochet completely helped me overcome and gave me a space to meditate. It is still such a powerful meditation tool in my life and I know it brings peace to so many around the world.

What are some of your crochet patterns people might want to look at for Dressember?

Well I am super excited to be releasing my latest design, The Blythe Dress just for Dressember! Blythe is a velvety sweater dress and it’s going to be a staple in my wardrobe for chilly December days. It’s a super quick and fun make and a percentage of proceeds will be going toward my Dressember fundraiser!

Anything else we should know?

2020 has been a whirlwind of disappointments, uncertainty and emotional hardship but it doesn’t have to be a wash. We can still go out with a bang and continue to make history in a positive way. I am cheering on every single one of my team mates as I know we could all use a reminder of how beautiful life can be. This community has changed my life and together we can change the world.

You can connect with Namaste and Crochet on Instagram and Facebook. Learn more about her Dressember team here. Or click to my page to make your donation.


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