It was a classic mom line, if ever there was one.
“You’d look good in anything, even in a potato sack,” Courtney Barich’s mother told her last December after a day of dress shopping.
The Surrey, British Columbia, Canada student, who’d been horrified by the $700 price tag of a gown she’d been trying on for grad, the Canadian equivalent to prom, took the comment to heart.
“When the whole kind of idea came up in the car talking about it, it was just like, ‘How could we turn this whole thing into like a cause helping someone?’ ” Barich tells PEOPLE. “I wanted to help kids.”
So she created a website and Facebook page where she vowed to wear a burlap dress to grad if she could raise $10,000 for Saint Martin de Porres Orphanage in Manila, which she already planned to visit on a two-week mission trip in March with her school.
Barich quickly met her goal but needed a little help to make a dress out of burlap and still look glamorous.
“My mom and I messaged the Vancouver Art Institute, and we were asking if anyone, like one of the students, were willing to help make it,” Barich said. “And then one of the students messaged me back who’d graduated, and she donated her time.”
Suman Faulkner, a designer and former accountant, says she wanted to help give back to society and was impressed with Barich’s idea.
“It just touched my heart,” she tells PEOPLE. “I saw that, and for a teenager to do something like that, especially on her grad, right away I was like I have to do something to help her with that.”
When it came to designing and creating the dress, Faulkner says she wanted Barich involved as much as possible.
“She gave me some sketches and I worked with it, and I said I’ll use the sketches but I’m going to make it work with burlap so it’s soft and still workable,” she adds. “It was easy. It’s a very easy, giving and versatile fabric as long as you know how to work with it.”
After only two weeks, the dress was complete with embroidery, ribbon and a lined bodice so it wasn’t itchy on Barich’s big day – May 30 – and looked remarkably like a regular party dress. Total cost? $40.
“I just wanted to make her feel like a princess,” Faulkner says.
Barich’s date got into the spirit of things, wearing his own burlap vest under his suit with a bow tie.
“He was very supportive and on board the whole time and thought it was a very cool idea,” Barich says.
When Barich arrived at her friend’s house for pre-prom photos, people were really shocked at first, she says.
“When I walked up, everyone kind of like stopped and stared,” she says. “They were all amazed at what the dress looked like.”
The teen, accompanied by her sister and sister’s boyfriend, will travel to the orphanage again in September to donate the money she raised.
Faulkner and Barich plan to collaborate more in the future, and Faulkner says she is donating a percentage of her sales of her own designs to the orphanage.
“I’m really proud of her,” says Faulkner. “It’s amazing what she did.”