For Carson City resident Ashlee Marie Donovan, fashion design is more than just clothes; it is a way for her to make women feel beautiful.
The 21-year-old has been designing clothes since she was 10 years old and will be presenting her creations at the Reno Fashion Show Saturday as one of the youngest designers in the show.
“A lot of (designers) can’t believe that I am so young,” Ashlee said. “But I am still in disbelief because there was a time when honestly I didn’t think I was going to make it this far.”
This will be Ashlee’s sixth fashion show and second debut at the Reno Fashion Show; however, it hasn’t been an easy road for the young designer. Struggling with her body image, depression and illness since middle school almost crushed her dreams of becoming a designer, but she used the negatives in her life to motivate her.
“Not only in middle school did I deal with depression but I was suicidal and I had teachers tell me that I would commit suicide in high school and having epilepsy they told me I wouldn’t be able to draw because it was a trigger point,” Ashlee said. “So being told you can’t do something for so long because you have an illness or being told you can’t because you aren’t good enough (was hard).”
But from that negativity came Ashlee’s passion: designing clothes for all women’s body types so that she can make women happy and feel beautiful in their skin.
“That is what I love do to, I just sincerely love to see people happy,” Ashlee said. “I think that is my favorite moment of being a fashion designer because these clothes can make someone happy. I know some people are like its just clothes and its like not to me, they aren’t just clothes. The fact that these girls can put something on and it is their size, it’s something to not only help with confidence and self esteem, but when they put it on and say ‘I feel good, I feel beautiful’ I feel happy because I did that, I made you feel happy and beautiful.”
In order to prove her point, Ashlee’s clothes and the models she uses are all different sizes.
“With my designs, I do designs for all sizes and all heights so I go from extra small to plus sizes and for girls who are really tall and really short,” Ashlee said. “I started mainly focusing on that because growing up I was about 400 pounds and I have friends who have that same issue and all those things hurt your self esteem, so that is why I started designing for all sizes.”
“The best way to show that everyone is beautiful is to incorporate different sized models and create garments that look best for these sizes. I think that is the best way to do it so it shows the fashion industries and also the people who say ‘oh she’s too big to wear this or too small to wear this’ that is wrong. They need to say ‘she looks great in this outfit.’”
Ashlee has worked hard to prove the naysayers wrong in her life through her dedication and fashion. Ashlee missed her freshman year of high school after being hospitalized with a ruptured esophagus, and when she returned to Carson High she said the staff didn’t think she would be able to graduate in three years. However, she did graduate on time, with more credits than necessary and was even accepted into the internationally recognized Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.
“I tell people just don’t listen to them, don’t listen to people who are negative and tell you that you can’t do something,” Ashlee said. As long as you work hard, it is going to happen. There was a time I didn’t think I was going to make it this far and I had to put those negative thoughts aside and listen to the people who are positive around me and I just started working hard.”
And now she is preparing a dozen garments to showcase on the runway during Artown. Her designs represent two sides of a woman: the dark, edgy and mysterious side and the feminine and elegant side.
“I am doing dark against light so it is pairing black dresses that are more edgier and more structural and textural designs, then I have white garments that are more like elegant and more like a fantasy, more dreamy garments and they are supposed to be more elegant as opposed to the more edgier, sexier dresses,” Ashlee said. “It is for girls who want to be sexy or girls who want to be more elegant and not show off that sex appeal, but want to be beautiful. “
Though this isn’t her first show, the appeal and excitement have yet to fade for Ashlee.
“It’s a bit of a rush,” Ashlee said. “But when you get everyone in their garments and you see your work and how happy your model feels when they put it on, I love how their face lights up. When they hit the runway it is really cool because of that backstage feeling, because it is like ‘its real.’ I still sometimes don’t believe it is real.”
“The fact that you put so much effort into something is what is going to make you appreciate it more. I think that is what is the best thing when I do a show because it is like finally all this work is paying off.”
After this show, Ashlee is going to start working on creating her own website to sell her designs on. Not only will this allow her to show more creations to the world, but a lot of big shows, such as LA Fashion Week, require designers to have a website domain or storefront.
Right now, she is selling her designs and her signature Ashlee Marie Dolls T-shirts, but she can also work with customers and take custom orders for anything from shirts to wedding dresses. For now, she is selling her designs through Facebook, and anyone can send her a message telling her what they want.
The Reno Fashion Show is Saturday, July 2 at 7:30 p.m. at the Grand Sierra Resort. Tickets are $30 and doors open at 6 p.m. with a shopping and cocktail hour. Twenty-five local and international designers are expected, including two special guest designers from Project Runway.
For more information on the fashion show and other Artown events, visit renoisartown.com.