By Breanne Massey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Nearly three years ago, Carla Voyageur and her friend Jeannine Lindsay passed a prominent billboard in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, raising awareness about a missing woman.
The duo believed the signage displayed throughout the community was “profound” and agreed it was an effective way to distribute information in a meaningful, yet prominent way.
However, Voyageur and Lindsay quickly recognized the financial resources required to purchase multiple billboards throughout the region to raise awareness about missing women from the community may not be immediately accessible for Indigenous families in need.
“We had this conversation about how Indigenous families are marginalized and how a lot of families wouldn’t be able to afford to buy billboards,” explained Voyageur, co-founder of the Lil Red Dress Project. “Then, we sat on it for a while.”
Afterwards, the duo found themselves volunteering to hang red dresses up in a community art installation with the Kumugwe Cultural Society at The Red Dress Awareness Campaign project when the idea resurfaced.
“We started talking about having something that we could wear while we were hanging up the red dresses for the campaign,” said Voyageur. “Jeannine and I are both board members of the four-year-long red dress installation. One of the things that we had talked about was how could we wear something that could symbolize what was going on at the time, and one of the things that we thought about was that we could (make) a little red dress since we’re both beaders.”
After completing the prototype, the duo posted their achievements on their personal Facebook pages to show their friends and family.
“It kind of went viral from our personal Facebook pages,” she said with a chuckle. “Our inboxes were getting flooded within two days, so we had to set up a dedicated page to make and sell them, and it grew from there. We started receiving lots of big orders, and it was truly amazing.”
As web traffic on their social media presence continued to grow, the duo made the decision to expand to a website that empowers a team of volunteers to craft enamel red dress pins, dangling earrings in the shape of a red dress and most recently a red dress face mask for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Voyageur credits a volunteer for donating the pattern for earrings to the cause after requests began to inundate the artist’s inbox as well.
Today, the Lil Red Dress Project has a dedicated team of volunteers, ranging from 12 to 18 people depending on availability, working to create merchandise for the cause, process payments and to distribute orders.
Proceeds from the project are used to purchase billboards, both digital and ground-based, to aid families who are searching for missing Indigenous women that are at-risk. Voyageur added it’s essential to raise awareness within the community during the first three-days when a person goes missing or the outlook is bleak.
“We know from the stats, if a person isn’t found within three days, we know they may not be found alive,” explained Voyageur, noting that the 72-hour-period is critical to supporting families.
She added her oldest daughter recently recognized there’s a need for an emergency response funding for families who are launching search initiatives for their loved ones, and it’s currently a work in progress.
“We run this out of the side of our desks. We’re parents, and teachers.”
Voyageur and Lindsay have dedicated themselves to campaigning on Vancouver Island, as well as to offering community outreach in other locations and organizations to help those interested in designing their own community programs.
“Once for every two to three months, we open up for orders of pins and / or earrings,” explained Voyageur.
“The support has been amazing and overwhelming. Before the pandemic, we were travelling and doing workshops on occasion to deliver beading workshops to educators and talk about how to incorporate the red dress issue into the classrooms around the province. It’s been an amazing opportunity as well.”
For those with an interest in making pins, the patterns are available at no-cost on the Lil Red Dress Project’s website.
“We want people to use the pattern, but we don’t want to see people profiting off of it,” explained Voyageur, noting that extensive quality assurance takes place before any official products leave the hands of volunteers from the Lil Red Dress Project team. She added it’s important that those utilizing their free patterns can donate the proceeds to locally operated MMIWG causes, or to the Lil Red Dress Project if local community organizations aren’t available.
“We just want to express our sincere gratitude for all of our volunteers and all of the people who support us, whether it’s buying products, sharing our posts or donating,” said Voyageur. “It’s all so appreciated. We don’t have any openings for beadwork right now, we do have enamel pins and face masks right now.”
The Lil Red Dress Project will celebrate its third year in operations in the fall of 2021. Currently sales have reached across the nation, as well as into the United States of America.
To learn more about the Lil Red Dress Project, please visit: https://lilreddressproject.ca/about-us/
Thank you for sharing, this is a great initiative and we need more support around the topic.