‘Potato sack’ the fashion plan for Surrey grad

With help from some fashion design students, Courtney Barich hopes this burlap sack will be a little more tailored – and less itchy – come graduation night. - EVAN SEAL / THE LEADER
With help from some fashion design students, Courtney Barich hopes this burlap sack will be a little more tailored – and less itchy – come graduation night.
— image credit: EVAN SEAL / THE LEADER

Holy Cross High School Grade 12 student Courtney Barich has decided to forgo her opportunity to light up the room at her graduation dance this June and instead light up the lives of nearly 200 young children halfway around the world living in a small orphanage in the Philippines.

Graduation night is a chance for most students to get dressed up in glamorous dresses or dapper tuxedos and celebrate the end of their high school life. Many will move on to post-secondary studies while others will begin the transition into adulthood and their working careers.

But Barich has decided to challenge herself and everyone around her to help make a difference on a global scale.

During spring break, Barich and 40 of her classmates and teachers from Holy Cross are heading to the Philippines to help build houses at the Saint Martin De Porres Orphanage, home to over 170 children. The school has travelled to the Philippines every second year for many years, but this will be the first time to this specific orphanage.

Barich wants to raise $10,000 for the orphanage, and recently came up with a unique idea on how to do it.

While out shopping for a graduation dinner/dance outfit, Barich and her mother found what they thought was the perfect gown – a dark-red, full-length mermaid-style crinoline dress, layered with lace and sequins.

She tried on a few gowns in varying styles and colours ranging in price from $500 to $1,000, but it was this one dress priced at just over $700 that was the one.

Since they had arrived at the New Westminster Boutique late in the afternoon, the store employee asked if Barich would mind coming back the next day to get the dress fitted as the store was about to close.

Barich agreed, but the delay got her thinking: “That’s just crazy money to spend on a dress for one night. It’s just insane.”

During the drive home, Barich’s mother expressed how wonderful her daughter would look on her big night.

“We were just talking about (the dress) in the car and my mom said, ‘you could wear a potato sack and you would still look good’,” said Barich. “And that’s when the idea just came up, I guess.”

Rather than spend hundreds of dollars on a grad gown, Barich decide she would instead wear a dress fashioned from a burlap sack in an attempt to raise $10,000 for the orphanage in the Philippines.

“As we drove home I started to think about how my generation is pretty spoiled,” she said. “I felt pretty selfish, so I thought I just can’t do this when so many people in the world have nothing.”

Barich plans to use her trip to the Philippines with her school during spring break to learn more about what the children need most, then return during the summer with her sister to donate whatever money she has raised.

She found a store in Cloverdale that sold her a burlap sack for $4, but finding help making a dress proved a little more difficult.

“I called a few seamstresses to help make the dress, but they all thought it would be too hard on their sewing machines,” she said.

That’s when she decided to call the Vancouver Art Institute fashion design program to see if one of the students could make the sack somewhat form-fitted. As burlap is quite itchy, it will also need to be lined as well.

“Hopefully they can help, if not I’m not sure yet what I’ll do. I may just cut some arm holes and pull it over my head.”

Although no one in her class has yet to join her and choose burlap over crinoline, Barich is determined to make it work.

She still plans on accessorizing her outfit with high-heel shoes and having her hair, make-up and nails done by her sister.

“Ever since my sister graduated, I’ve been thinking about the dress I would wear but once I found one I realized I didn’t really want it – that I would rather give the money to someone else.”

So far she’s raised over $600, mostly from family and friends, but regardless of the final total, she plans on donating as much as she can.

“No matter what I raise, I’m still wearing burlap to grad, that’s for sure.”

For more information on how you can help, check out Barich’s web page at or her Facebook page at

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