Alura Sutherland Is Dress-ing Up Against Human Trafficking This December

While most Carleton students will be bundling up in sweatpants and jeans this December, Alura Sutherland — as well as thousands of others around the world — will be sticking to dresses in the name of social activism.

Like many other students she knows, Sutherland's busy schedule makes it hard for her to dedicate much time to anything else. Still, she has found a way to dedicate an entire month to raising awareness for a cause that means a lot to her. For the second year in a row, she will be participating in Dress-ember.

“Dress-ember is basically a challenge for the month of December where you wear a dress every day," Sutherland explained. “And for people not comfortable in dresses, they can wear ties or bow ties. The idea is to draw attention to yourself to have a conversation starter about human trafficking and modern-day slavery.”

Dress-ember began in 2009 when the campaign's founder, Blythe Hill, decided to challenge herself to wear a dress every day for the month of December.

The following year, a few friends asked to join in and the year after that, friends of friends were joining the Dress-ember challenge. Hill realized her idea was quickly gaining attention, and decided to attach a cause that was important to her to the movement. She started raising awareness for modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

Now, Dress-ember is an international movement with thousands of participants who have helped raise millions of dollars since 2013. The movement then donates the money to their partners, such as International Justice Mission (IJM) and The A21 Campaign, organizations that are dedicated to rescuing victims and and contributing to restoring the lives of survivors.

Sutherland believes that modern-day slavery and sex trafficking are not talked about enough, and this movement is a unique was of starting the conversation and keeping it going every year. 

“Many people think slavery is something that’s in the past, and if they’re aware of human trafficking, they think that it’s something that’s happening in another country, not around them. But it’s something that’s happening everywhere, including here in Ottawa," Sutherland said. 

Sutherland added she knows a lot of students feel their time is consumed by their studies and they are subsequently prevented from pursuing other passions.

She considers Dress-ember to be a creative solution to this problem.

"As a student . . . a lot of my time is taken up, and I don't have the skill set to help the people who are suffering . . . But I do have to get up in the morning and get dressed every day," Sutherland said. "If I can make a simple choice of wearing a dress for the month and choosing to go out of my way to have these conversations and raising awareness, it’s not a lot out of my day. But collectively, if we’re all making efforts to do that, it will have a really big impact."

Sutherland moved Ottawa from Fergus, a small town just outside of Guelph, Ont., to study industrial design at Carleton.

She said she was drawn to the program because it was had more academic components compared to other institutions.

"This one definitely is a very creative program, but it also has a lot of academic substance to it. They value your other marks, and we take marketing and psychology and physics and things like that," Sutherland said. 

Sutherland is now in her third-year, and is still enjoying her program.

“It’s just a really neat combination. I’m a people-person, and I want to help people. Industrial design is very user-centered . . . I’m also very creative and I like having that creative hands-on element," Sutherland said. "I love math, physics, and problem-solving . . . There’s a lot of using your brain in the program as well. It’s three different areas coming together."

Sutherland said outside out of studying, she spends her time working as a residence fellow. 

"It’s my second year doing the job . . . Very quickly both this year and last year, my res(idence) fellow team became my family, and they’ve been a huge part of my life here," Sutherland said.

Sutherland added her job has presented her with many different challenges, which have helped her learn and grow. She also believes she has learned a lot from living alongside the students living in residence.

"Building community is something that’s really important to me. I had a really strong community in my first year of residence and I wanted to try to foster that for other people," Sutherland said. 

During the small amount of free time she is granted between her studies and her job, Sutherland works on personal art and spends time with friends and family.

She also plays in Carleton's intramural soccer league and likes to spend as much time outside as she can.