Today we’d like to introduce you to Madeline MacDonald Kronenberg.
Madeline, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am an LA transplant but was born-and-bred in Seattle, Washington (the smell of coffee brewing and rain pouring still gives me nostalgia for the Pacific Northwest). In my early ’20s, as I prepared for post-grad life, I became anxious for an adventure, which led me to a whirlwind trip through Southeast Asia. What was supposed to be a quick post-grad escapade turned into a 3-year journey through over 25 countries. Along the way, I met my husband (a hunky German guy who matches my sense of adventure perfectly), lived in three different continents, and found a common thread in my travels that would change the course of my life; the existence of modern-day slavery.
During my travels, I continued to come across these memorials and historical sites marking terrible injustices. Seeing mass graves from the Rwandan genocide, cliffs where bodies were thrown during the Arab slave trade, walking through the Killing Fields in Cambodia — these experiences made me uncomfortable. The breaking point for me was walking through the Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany which is situated in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. In the audio recording, a neighbor recounts closing the blinds to try to block out the screams coming from the camp. And I began to wonder what injustices occur in my own “neighborhood” that I close the blinds to out of fear of getting uncomfortable. What these memorials signified to me is that true injustice occurs when we believe the lie that other people aren’t our responsibility.
These experiences led me to where I am today — leading communications at Dressember Foundation; an anti-trafficking organization using fashion and creativity to fight back against the injustice of modern-day slavery. We seek to create easy and fun advocacy opportunities for everyday individuals to meaningfully engage in the fight to end modern slavery — because let’s face it, it can be really tough to know how to approach these wildly complex, tough issues.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
In my experience, the best journeys and destinations require some bumpy roads. In fact, the whole reason I was able to travel was the result of a car accident that I was involved in. A year before graduating, I was hit from behind as I entered the Freeway. At the time, it was devastating. The car was totaled, the injuries I retained — while not life-threatening — required a full year of physical therapy to readjust the curve in my neck. But the beauty of that challenging period was that it allowed me both the time and the resources to go an unconventional route after I graduated.
My advice for young women starting out on any journey, not just the social justice road, is to not be afraid to go an unconventional route. If I had been ‘smart’ and taken the advice of my professors, I would have had to say ‘no’ to many of the experiences that have shaped me into who I am today. There were many moments as I was traveling, or living abroad, where I thought, “How am I ever going to explain this on my resume”, but the truth is that it is the very experiences that I learned from the unconventional route that has equipped me with the perspective I am able to bring to organizations. At the time, many of the experiences that I said ‘yes’ to seemed random at the time, but that was because I couldn’t see the full picture. Don’t be afraid to veer off the usual career trajectory to follow your passions. More likely than not, you’ll end up somewhere far better than you could imagine.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Dressember Foundation – what should we know?
Dressember is best known for the dress style challenge we host every winter. For the 31 days of December, men and women from all over the world, take on the daily challenge of wearing a dress or tie every day as a way to raise awareness and funds to bring an end to modern day slavery. It sounds crazy BUT we’ve been able to raise $7.5 million dollars to fund anti-trafficking programs around the world. We partner with the leading anti-trafficking organizations to fund specific programs that are vital to ending this injustice. Our grants fund everything from rescue operations in South Asia, to aftercare centers in Bulgaria, to legal services for survivors in Los Angeles (because yes, it happens here too: https://abc7.com/human-trafficking-sting-in-ca-leads-to-339-arrests/5112123/).
When many people hear the term “human trafficking”, they don’t realize that it is actually modern-day slavery. Many people would say that slavery doesn’t exist anymore however, there are more slaves in the world today than ever before in human history. Reports differ on the average number, but the International Labor Organization estimates that the number ranges from 20-40 million slaves in the world today — and the reality is that the number could be MUCH HIGHER, as this crime goes heavily undocumented. This includes sex trafficking, forced labor trafficking, debt bondage, and child sexual exploitation.
This issue is quite nuanced and complex, and the shocking part about it all is that many people still don’t know that it exists. And when people find out that it exists, it is hard to find the right avenue to get involved. We can’t all quit our jobs to become undercover investigators, or lawyers, or prosecutors. Dressember exists because our founder realized that there were thousands of people around the world who had this undeniable passion to make a difference but little direction on how to start. The simple act of wearing a dress or tie every day for one month is a simple way to remind ourselves what we’re advocating for, and whenever we do something “different”, it gives us an opportunity to talk about this issue and spread awareness. A dress symbolically has represented fragility and hindrance. We like to think that this challenge also reclaims the dress as a symbol of resilience.
Do you recommend any apps, books or podcasts that have been helpful to you?
If you’d like to learn more about the issue of human trafficking, I highly recommend listening to the Sold in America podcast –> https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/stitcher/sold-in-america/e/56758624
The Dressember blog (dressember.org/blog) is also a resource that I’m very proud of. I’ve had the opportunity to work with over 50 talented writers and researcher to create an archive of information. The blog splits the issue of human trafficking into small, digestible pieces. We cover issues of female foeticide, foster care, race — all these systems of injustice that contribute to the issue of modern slavery. We also offer tips and resources to start shopping ethically, recognizing that the clothes we buy are often made in sweatshops that exploit their workers.
Bookwise, the book “Sold” by Patricia Mccormick is a book I recommend for anyone 12 years or older to get an idea of what sex trafficking can look like. The story is fictional but it was created from information gained from hundreds of real stories of slavery in South Asia.
I can’t leave you without recommending my amazing boss’ TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGuTpWTcSE8
- Website: dressember.org
- Instagram: @dressember
- Facebook: Official Dressember
- Twitter: @dressember
First photo sent of the Dressember Team: Funraise, Dressember Photos: Kara McFarlane