Dixie Espinosa, an IHE M.Ed. graduate, is a former secondary English, history, and ESOL instructor. After leaving the classroom, she worked as a Program Director for an English literacy non-profit training tutors how to teach English as a second language to adult immigrants. Currently, Dixie works as Front of House and Social Media & Events Coordinator for an organic and plant-based cafe. In this role, she educates patrons on health and nutrition through day to day dialogue, community talks, film nights, and more. In her time off, she enjoys reading and writing, participating in local protests, and spending quality time with her 12-year old daughter, Sarabi, and husband of 18 years, Eric.
IHE: Dixie, your curriculum, Pretty Mindful: A Sustainable Clothing Workshop for Tween Girls, is such an important contribution for teachers in general and humane educators in particular, and we’re so excited to offer it through IHE’s Resource Center. Can you tell us about why you created this curriculum?
Dixie: This curriculum was inspired by my own personal experience as a young girl living in Miami, Florida, a city known for its high-end living, fashion trends, and beauty-obsessed culture. During my tweens, I felt immense pressure to look and dress a certain way in order to feel accepted by my peers, family, and society. This superficial demand influenced many unhealthy practices, such as dieting, excessive shopping, self loathing, and obsessive thinking, which in turn led to several unnecessary ailments like depression, sleep deprivation, stress, and anxiety. Although I understood this toxicity early on, most of the people around me were also feeding into this normalcy, from my mother and her shopping addiction, to my closest friends having plastic surgeries, which made it that much harder to escape.
As an educator, I recognized the tremendous gap that exists in the school system to educate young girls (and boys) on mindful consumerism, voting with your dollars, secondhand shopping, and self love. At a minimum, I wanted to create a curriculum that explored a deeper look into the fashion world in order for students to understand its cultural purpose and effects on their lives. Adding the humane education lens to the workshops helped to further provide opportunities for students to think critically about the systems put in place that cause harm towards people, animals, and the environment. I chose to help young girls to be conscientious consumers of fashion so they could discover healthy practices for sustainability and self acceptance.
IHE: When you offered the workshop, what were some of the responses from and impacts on the girls?
Dixie: From the very first class meeting, where we learned where our garments came from and the poor working conditions of the female factory workers, the girls expressed great shock, sadness, and disapproval. They were upset they hadn’t learned this information sooner. It was clear that they valued the opportunity to discuss these topics thoroughly and openly in order to process the new and challenging information.
When I shared difficult information, I always provided positive solutions to enable students to make small, personal changes that would limit the cruelty and injustices in the fashion industry. For example, day three of the workshop focused on self identity, media messaging, and the connection between excessive shopping and low self-esteem in youth. These conversations led to many “aha moments” where students recognized the various social institutions responsible for influencing their shopping attitudes and behavior.
To conclude this workshop, students participated in two hands-on activities involving an eco-shopping method: repurposing old garments. They shared many laughs as they made book bags out of thrift store flannel shirts and fringed crop tops out of worn out, cotton t-shirts. I believe concluding each workshop with a sustainable fashion practice not only helped the girls explore tangible alternatives to shopping, it also helped them channel their emotions into action, validating their desire to take responsibility for their shopping habits.
IHE: What’s next? I know you have a vision of combining plant-based food production and service with education. Can you tell us more about that? Do you imagine also creating other curricula and workshops?
Dixie: I am currently working on a business plan to create the first sustainable bed and breakfast in Naples, Florida. This project, essentially, combines all of my passions and work experience. My vision is to create tiny houses made from recycled materials, a large garden from which vegan meals can be made for guests, and a rabbit sanctuary to provide a home for the countless unwanted rabbits in Southwest Florida. The bed and breakfast will serve as an educational lodge to teach visitors how to minimize the ecological footprint of their homes; grow food themselves; practice mindfulness and sustainability through voluntary workshops; and prepare organically-grown, plant-based meals using seasonal items made available from the garden. Additionally, the bed and breakfast will host community events to provide a space for other local, green businesses to share knowledge and support to its neighbors. I believe it’s important to continue to share renewable resources with each other in order to create a sustainable future.