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Larissa Leon in her finished gown

Running Start student creates prom dress honoring her heritage

Duct tape is a multipurpose tool — from general sealing or patching holes to packing boxes and repairs. For Sunnyside High School and YVC Running Start student Larissa Leon, duct tape opened a world of possibilities for fashion and earned her a $10,000 scholarship.

“I [have] enjoyed crafting and designing things from a very young age,” stated Leon. “My dad would always take me to the store and buy me craft items or science kits to make and create. I never really liked playing with toys, my room was always full of craft items and science stuff.  My grandmother taught me to knit and sew very young and as I grew older I started perfecting it and now I can actually make clothes.” 

Leon recently participated in the Duck Brand prom dress scholarship contest. She used 47 rolls of duct tape to create a colorful folkloricó flower gown. The gown was inspired by her Mexican culture. Stemming from both Indigenous and Spanish practices, folkloricó dancing features wide skirt dresses with bright colored ribbons and lace.

Leon started working on her dress in the spring. Overall, she spent 163 hours on the project.

Leon grew up watching folklóric dancing at area Cinco de Mayo celebrations. She learned the dance style when she was 5 years old and has been captivated by it ever since.

“I tried to make the dress similar to those dresses, but with my own unique spin,” she said. “I also tried to make it as movable as I could, which it does…, but it’s very heavy so it’s not as nice as it would be with a fabric dress.”

Five dress and five tuxedo finalists were selected as finalists, and then the public was invited to vote on the designs.

“I knew I wanted to do something really extravagant and really colorful. I also wanted to pay homage to my culture, so I designed a dress in the folklóric style,” Leon said. “Those dresses have always stood out to me because they are so colorful and so poofy and huge. With a dance that comes along with the dresses, it’s so fascinating.”

In July Leon was excited to learn that she had won the grand prize scholarship. Leon said winning the award has given her new confidence in herself and her artistic abilities.

“I’ve been doubtful of myself, so seeing that so many people like one of my designs is crazy to me because I never thought (winning) would be something that would be possible. It feels good to have reassurance in my art,” she said.

She will graduate from Sunnyside High School in 2022 with an associate in arts degree from Yakima Valley College’s Running Start program. She worked on the dress at the same time she was taking final exams for Yakima Valley College.

“When the pandemic started I was a sophomore in high school, for many weeks we didn’t have school until our school district made the decision to go online. I decided to join the Running Start Program to get a jump start in my post high school educational goals and to better prepare me for when I go to a university. It has been a great experience from the beginning. I have learned so much and feel much more confident in certain academic areas than I did before,” continued Leon.

She plans to use the $10,000 for her education and get closer to her dream of becoming a dermatologist and owning her own practice.

Leon plans to pursue medical school after graduation but hopes to keep using her design skills.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve loved medicine and I love the dermatology field so that’s the main field I really want to strive towards,” she said. “I could always minor in something creative and that would be amazing if I’m not too busy in the medical school.”