Bethany Winz wore the same dress for an entire year, to help raise money for International Justice Mission, while raising awareness about sex trafficking. But, as is the case when we embark on a journey like this, the adventure changed Bethany, too. Today, Bethany is sharing a little bit about her story, but you can read about the entire journey in her new book, One Dress. One Year. And, of course (courtesy of Baker Books), I’m giving a copy away to one lucky reader today!
How did you get the idea to wear the same dress for a year?
When I was in middle school, I learned that slavery didn’t end with the Civil War. The idea that people were still being bought and sold was difficult for me to get my mind around, but the more I learned about it, the more I knew that I needed to do something. Then, in May of my sophomore year of high school, I learned about a young woman named Elaini who was wearing the same dress every day for 100 days to raise money for orphans in India. She’d been inspired by a woman who’d done a similar project for a year. As I watched Elaini’s hundred days unfold, I was amazed by what she was able to do with her dress and how people responded by giving.
That fall, I sat down with my mom to talk through several projects I wanted to do. At the end of our conversation, I looked at her and said something like, “What if I did what Elaini did, only I could do it for a year and use it to raise money for International Justice Mission?” And thus the idea was born.
What was your goal when you started the project, and how did that goal change over time?
My goal when I started was to raise $100,000. The woman who inspired the woman who inspired me had been able to raise that much in a year, so I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal. (I was in high school and perhaps a bit naïve.)
As the year went on, part of me still always hoped that what I was doing would go viral and I’d hit my goal. I never consciously changed the amount I wanted to fundraise, but my attitude toward it did change a little bit. I began realizing that I was getting an opportunity to watch as people learned about human trafficking and decided that they needed to do something. And really, that was the goal—to get other people involved, even if the numbers weren’t as big and glamorous as I wanted them to be.
Throughout the course of the year, you dealt with some health issues. How did that intersect with the dress project?
On the one hand, some of the health issues I was dealing with caused me to stop dancing, so I had more free time to even dream of something like the dress project. At the same time, I was dealing with some hormonal imbalances that caused physical symptoms that made me feel insecure. Combining that with posting a photo of myself on the internet every day was really challenging.
Were there any surprises about how the project went?
In a lot of ways, all of it was a surprise. I didn’t really know what to expect when I started. Part of me was surprised that I didn’t raise more money, but another part of me was surprised that people gave the $8,615 they did. I was also surprised by how much I learned about fashion. Growing up, I’d been the kind of girl who wore jeans and t-shirts most of the time. Wearing the same dress in a different way every day for a year taught me to think more about what I’m wearing, what works with what, and how to put together a complete outfit.
What was the most difficult thing you learned through the project?
The most difficult thing I learned is that I can’t save the world. I knew this, but I’m not sure that I really believed it. Wearing the dress every day and dealing with my health issues all at the same time brought me to the end of myself on a regular basis. At the same time, it was a relief to be reminded over and over again that my job wasn’t to change the world, but to be faithful to whatever was in front of me.
What would you say to other people who want to begin making a difference?
I think I would say, “Go for it, but don’t go for it alone.” One of the greatest gifts in doing this project was input and encouragement from family and friends. Many of my accessories came straight out of my mom’s closet, and I had friends who would come over and help me figure out some new ways to wear the dress. They were the people who helped me plan events that came off without a hitch and the ones who kept me grounded, reminding me that what really matters isn’t so much the things I do that everyone can see, but the small things that make up daily life.
If you’d like an opportunity to win a free copy of One Dress. One Year. (US and Canada residents only), follow these Rafflecopter instructions (winner will be announced next Friday):
Bethany Winz is studying social justice at Trevecca Nazarene University where she’s learning to love Nashville and urban farming. She already loves Jesus, hot tea, good books, and bacon. She processes the world by writing and blogs about the adventure of growing up and what she’s learning about justice at www.bethanywinz.com. She grew up in Orlando, Florida, with her parents and her brother.
Feeling as if the world has gone a little bit mad? No worries! I’ve got you covered! You might want to escape to some lush green island where there are drinks with umbrellas and lawn chairs, but I’ve got the next, best thing. Each Thursday, during the month of March, I’ll be giving away books! Some days I’ll give away one book, and other days I’ll mix it up. It’s my small offering to say thanks for hanging in there, you can do this, and we’re all in this together!