One woman… one month… one dress

Mennonite challenges global consumption patterns

November 20, 2013 | Young Voices
Rachel Bergen | Young Voices Co-editor

Anna-Marie Epp-Janzen has 13 dresses, eight pairs of pants, 26 pairs of shoes, eight scarves and eight sweaters, but for the past 31 days she's been wearing the same dress.

Janzen, 26, of Hope Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, has been garnering media attention lately for her consumption sabbatical and the challenges she's undertaking along the way. She just finished one such challenge, the October Dress Project, for which she wore the same dress every day for the month of October, blogging all along the way. Her self-imposed consumption sabbatical also means she won't be buying any clothes, books or anything she doesn't actually need for a year.

She's doing it as part of a global campaign to raise awareness about North America's consumption craze, but also because she's inspired by people who work for peace and justice: Jesus, Thich Nhat Hahn and Gandhi, especially.

"I was brought up with the understanding that being a Christian and following Jesus means following Jesus in action, " she says. "His entire life and teaching [were] around justice, peace, loving our neighbours, shalom and being at peace with each other, ourselves and the world. "

"There comes a point where, if that's your mandate and your whole purpose in your life, you can no longer contribute to a consumer culture with integrity, " she adds.

The entire garment industry is exploitive at all levels, according to Epp-Janzen, from the people who pick the cotton and who make the clothes, to those who buy the clothes and even the environment.

"The whole thing is ripe with injustice and it doesn't need to be, " she says. "We have all the power in this. We can vote with our dollars and 'buycott, ' rather than boycott, " she says.

And the sacrifices she's been making haven't been all that painful.

"I've been getting happier with the clothes I do have, " she says during the October Dress Project, "although, it's been getting colder here, and I really want to wear pants. "

Epp-Janzen's been getting a lot of praise from the media for these challenges, but she doesn't really understand why.

"It's silly that I'm getting so much attention for something [wearing the same clothes] that most people do every day, not just for a year or a month."

Living simply and working for a just, peaceful world are her mandates in life. She works at Canadian Foodgrains Bank as a youth coordinator, she buys fair trade and local products where possible, cycles most places, drives instead of flying when possible, and educates others on unjust systems.

On Oct. 30, Epp-Janzen spoke at Canadian Mennonite University's Face2Face event, which looked at the links between North American consumption of cheap clothing and how it's related to the spread of sweatshop labour in developing countries.

"It's not about blame, guilt or 'look what I'm doing,'" she says. "It's about sparking conversation, and thinking about things in a real, physical way. We can make personal sacrifices that don't hurt that much."

Now that the October Dress Project and the dialogue that ensued are over, Epp-Janzen and her husband Daniel are planning for Lent, for which they will give up plastic. They'll be able to use plastic that they already have, including old plastic bags and Tupperware®, which they have already been doing, but they will also have to curb their diets to accommodate the challenge.

"We won't be able to buy milk because of the plastic packaging … so it will really change our diets more than anything, " she says.

And they are also considering a water-use experiment. Canadians use more water per capita than any other country, so the Epp-Janzens want to see how little water they can live on. This challenge will involve limiting their daily water use to a blue jug each per day for a week. 

--Posted Nov. 20, 2013

Share this page: Twitter Instagram

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.