In the past year there were two huge social media sensations having to do with dresses. Remember that one – was it blue or gold? I saw #TheDress for myself at the Twitter Nestwarming and I can assure you that when I saw it in person – it’s blue. Recently there was another story about a dress that caught social media’s attention. Erinne Paisely from Victoria, BC wore a dress to her prom dress that she made out of her math homework to support the Malala Fund. Erinne, who is a passionate youth activist for global education, donated the money she would have spent on a prom dress and donated it Malala. Like me, you probably think she’s awesome right? Well it is and so is Erinne. I had a chance to catch up with her and find out more about who she is.
Hannah: Your most recent initiative has gotten a lot of attention! But it is not the first thing that you’ve done to take action about something you care about! Like any good journalist, I did my research and I found that when you were in grade 9, you shaved your head for cancer awareness and that you co-founded a group at your school called “Action Now”. Tell me more about Action Now.
Erinne: Yes! I’ve been passionate about activism and giving back to my community for as long as I can remember. As you said, I shaved my hair for Cops for Cancer in grade nine when I first entered high school. It was a very scary thing to do, but my school was very supportive which made it a lot easier. Near the end of grade ten I realized that there were no fully student-driven leadership endeavors at my school, and I wanted fill this gap. I found in a lot of “leadership” type courses the focus was often put on fundraising (which is a very valuable thing to do) but not really on any other aspects of giving back. This is where the idea of the fully student-run activist group “Action Now” came from. I co-founded it with two older students and we based it on the three pillars of Learning, Dialogue, and Action. We wanted it to be a space where students could explore their own passions that connected to activism, learn from each other and outside sources, discuss in our group pressing topics as well as create discussion in the greater community, and make change right now! This year the topics we chose to focus on were Women’s Equality and Youth Voter Turnout.
We also heard from guest speakers this year such as NDP MP, Rob Fleming, and leader of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May. I’ve been so happy to see how many students become passionate about activism when they have a space to explore and learn with their peers!
Hannah: Let’s talk about social media. What platforms do you find give you the greatest impact? Is there a network that you like better than others? Why?
Erinne: Firstly, social media is such a powerful tool so I’m very excited to talk about this! I find different social media platforms are very beneficial for different types of messages. For the story of my grad dress the message spread the furthest, and fastest, through Facebook. As well, I received a lot of professional inquiries through Twitter. I often find Twitter can also be a very good platform to get a message out in a quick and large way. I very much enjoy using Instagram as well, but I use it more for my personal life. I find Snapchat is a good way to keep people updated on your day-to-day lives, but also in more of a personal way. I also used LinkedIn often for professional purposes.
Action Now created this short PSA on feminism and shared it on YouTube.
Hannah: You and I have lots of things in common, but I want to talk about someone who we both admire. Malala. What about Malala inspires you?
Erinne: There are many, many things that inspire me about Malala! I was fortunate enough to see her speak live at the first ever We Day UK in 2014. The way she spoke was so grounded and real that it made me realize how much of a reality not receiving the right to an education is for over 62 million girls around the world. It also inspires me how outspoken Malala is and how committed she is to her causes. How she balances her life (activism, work, school etc.) is something that also comes to mind right away.
Hannah: And now, we have GOT to talk about THE DRESS. How and when did you come up with the idea? Did you at any point think that you couldn’t or shouldn’t do it? Tell me about the process of making it. Tell me what your friends said. Tell me how you felt when you wore it to prom?
Erinne: Someone that I knew a few years ago made their prom dress out of old newspapers to raise awareness for environmental issues, so the idea of creating a dress out of recycled materials first came from that. Then, as prom began to approach, I realized how much attention and energy goes into grad. I wondered if I could re-direct some of that into creating the same opportunity for a secondary education that we had all received, for others who aren’t able to receive it.
At first I created a few drafts of the dress to see if it was even physically possible. Then, I created the draft that you see in the pictures over the course of one whole day, in my living room, with my best friend! It took a lot of trial and error to get something that could actually hold together and that looked like a dress, but it was definitely worth it.
I did have some times where I considered wearing a regular prom dress. In the beginning I actually had bought a prom dress online, but I sold it after I decided to create the paper one. Once I started to realize this could be an opportunity to support Malala and everything she fights for, I knew exactly what I was going to do.
Physically, it was quiet uncomfortable to wear in all honesty. My best friend and I kept tape in our purses to make sure we could fix it if it began to fall apart. At one point, we lost track of the tape and used wet gum to hold part of it together!
My close friends and family knew I was going to wear this dress, but the majority of people did not. When I arrived at prom I think most people were shocked and curious about what I was wearing and why I was wearing it. A lot of people approached me and asked me about it, which was great because it started a discussion about the topic of women’s rights and education. Starting a discussion is exactly what I wanted to do! I’ve also been able to raise money for the Malala Fund through donating the money I would have spent on a dress to the foundation, auctioning off my dress, and other individuals donating directly on my behalf!
Did you know that Erinne’s Malala Paper Prom Dress is now up for auction in support of The Malala Fund? You can check it out bid on it here until June 29, 2015.
Hannah: What’s next for you?
Erinne: This is the first time I have officially spoken about this, but very soon I am going to be launching my own blog just like this one! It will focus on integrating activism and pop culture to weave activism into mainstream media for youth. Each post will mainly focus on one topic (such as women’s rights), something that has happened recently in pop culture to support it, an organization that is working to positively progress it, and something you can do to make a difference right now! I hope it will be able to show this generation how easy it can be to make a positive change in the world as part of your every day lives.
There are a few other opportunities that I am hoping to also explore that have arise from the dress story, but more on that soon!
Also, in September I will be studying International Relations and Peace, Conflict, and Justice at the University of Toronto as one of eleven National Scholars from across Canada!
Hannah: What advice do you have to offer to young people who want to make a difference?
Erinne: I think my biggest advice would be to think about a passion you have and an issue you want to make a positive difference in. Then brainstorm ways you can use that passion to create the positive change. For instance, both Malala and you enjoy writing blogs and used that to make a positive change in the world on topic(s) that are very important to you.
Always dream big and find people who share common passions because you are even more powerful when working together!
Here is what I have learned from getting to know Erinne and her story:
Role models are everywhere. Your role models don’t have to be famous speakers, authors, artists or activists. Your role model could be sitting at the desk right beside you.
You don’t have to do it alone. Most of the initiatives that Erinne has done have involved other people who share common interests and passions. She found a community to work to create awareness and change.
Ideas only work if you do. Erinne is a do-er. She thinks of an idea and she makes it happen. She doesn’t just talk, she acts.
The formula, Issue+Gift=Change, works.. With the dress, Erinne identified her issue – education and paired it with her gift – the creativity and skills to make the dress. The awareness that she was able to create when people saw what she was doing had a lot of people talking about why she did it – education.
Knowledge is so important to make a difference. Erinne has spent a lot of time and energy learning about the issues that matter her. In the fall, she is going to the University of Toronto to study International Relations.
Social Media can be powerful for social good. Erinne uses social media to her advantage. Erinne became a social media sensation overnight. This is because one person shared it, then more and more. Erinne and her dress it seemed were everywhere online MTV, Seventeen, Cosmopolitain, Teen Vogue, The Malala Fund and many, many more.
On a personal note: Thank you Erinne for taking the time to talk with me, share your story and photos with me. I can’t wait to see what you do next!
UPDATE ON ERIN’S BLOG: IT’S LIVE! CHECK IT OUT HERE: http://erinnepaisley.com/
You can find Erinne on Twitter: @ErinneP