PULLMAN, Wash.—When Washington State University senior Casey Burnette graduated from Corvallis (Mont.) High School four years ago, her mother, Elizabeth Weis, wrote in a letter to her daughter, “Baby horse, I can’t wait to see your first clothing line.” Burnette, now preparing to graduate again, created her first fashion line for the WSU Mom’s Weekend Fashion Show Friday, April 13, in memory of Weis, who died in 2009 at 39 after losing her fight with leukemia.
“Baby horse is what she called me. I called her momma horse. My mom was my best friend and the one person that I was closest to in this world, so I’ve been trying to do right by her and become a woman she would be proud of,” said Burnette, a design major in the WSU Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles.
Burnette’s line combines elements of tree roots, sand patterns and X-rays of flowers. Burnette chose the X-rayed flower images as a kind of catharsis. “They are haunting,” she said. “It’s like taking something that is supposed to be ugly, like an X-ray, and making something beautiful out of it. It’s kind of ironic. I’m trying to do the same thing in my situation.”
Burnette said as a high school junior she originally planned on becoming a veterinarian but soon changed her mind because of her too-close attachment to animals. Her mother encouraged her to pursue fashion because Burnette was an avid watcher of Project Runway. So as a first step, without knowing how, Burnette designed and sewed her own dress for senior prom, assisted by Weis.
“Seeing my drawing come to life…I knew this was what I wanted to do,” she said.
Burnette visited WSU for the first time at the 2008 Mom’s Weekend Fashion Show with Weis, who had heard about the event at the last minute, pulled her daughter from school and drove them both five hours to Pullman to see it. When she graduates from the university in May with her degree, Burnette plans to apply to fashion firms in California and New York and gain enough experience to start her own boutique, with the goal of becoming a designer of high-fashion cowgirl wear by the time she’s 30. She and Weis used to joke that when Burnette became a fashion designer, her mother would be her assistant and get her coffee.
“She’s definitely my inspiration,” Burnette said. “It took me a long time to decide whether I wanted to share our story, but I decided that everyone should know how amazing my mom is.”
Nicole Smith of Vancouver, Wash., a senior merchandising major, is also dedicating her fashion line, called “A Blossom of Hope,” to her mother Brenda, who beat breast cancer 11 years ago. Smith, who was 11 when her mother was diagnosed, said the theme of her collection is to promote breast cancer awareness through more on-trend apparel with subtle variations on pink, using high-end, comfortable fibers like wool, silk and cotton. Almond blossoms are also featured in the line because they represent beauty and hope.
“I want it to be wearable for anyone from 18 to 50,” Smith said. “They don’t have to wear a bright pink shirt with a slogan to raise awareness.”
Brenda learned of her cancer when she went in for her first mammogram. Caught early, the tumor was treated with radiation, and Brenda opted for a lumpectomy. While Smith recalls her mother initially struggling with treatment and the surgical procedure, Brenda also became a dedicated advocate for breast cancer causes, like the Susan G. Komen Portland Race for the Cure, and for mammograms and self-screenings.
“She’s an inspiration to me because she is strong and positive,” Smith said of her mother. “She always told me to remain strong during that time. She never wanted me to be scared. Love and strength are what pull you through.”
Taking the same activism to WSU, Smith also encourages women to get their breast cancer screenings. But the Mom’s Weekend Fashion Show allowed her to tap into another favorite memory of Brenda: their mutual love of sewing. Smith learned to sew from her mother when she was 8, around the same time she also started ballet classes. Brenda made tutus for Smith’s dance school, continuing her work even after Smith graduated high school and left for college.
“She makes the most beautiful tutus I’ve seen,” said Smith, whose goal after she receives her WSU degree is to work in a ballet theater’s costume shop. Ultimately, she would also like to make fashion lines for fundraising at breast cancer causes.
Now in its 29th year, the Mom’s Weekend Fashion Show will feature the work of 27 AMDT juniors and seniors, 25 production crew members, 30 models and 10 volunteers. Those attending will also see garments made from materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill, such as an 80-pound dress from worn tires and another dress from old wine corks.
In addition, an inaugural online auction April 1–16 will help raise funds for AMDT programs. Among the items up for auction will be a trip to Africa, a painting by Florida painter/attorney Steve Andrews, custom-made bags from Konjo Ababa and Crystalyn Kae, wine from Kyra Wines of Moses Lake, handmade jewelry from AMDT alumna Breya Stephenson and Eugene, Ore., jewelry maker Jody Stokes, and a WSU Marching Band pillow designed and handmade by AMDT department students and faculty.
To purchase tickets and learn more about the Mom’s Weekend Fashion Show, set for 7:30 p.m. April 13 in Beasley Coliseum, visit the event website at http://fshnevolution.wordpress.com. To participate in the auction and for more details about it, visit http://amdt.wsu.edu/auction.