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Elmhurst teen transforms fashion with technology

ELMHURST – Many women have dreamed of clothing that changes as quickly as fashion trends.

"There's so many possibilities," said 17-year-old Ella DiGregorio of Elmhurst, who has designed a dress that just may satisfy those desires for attentive attire.

Her line of "Transforming Beauty" gowns literally change from long skirts to short with the touch of a button. With skills that vary from stitching to writing computer code, DiGregorio combined beauty and brains to conceptualize a line of seven dresses perfect for formal prom or wedding pictures and easily transformed at the dance to minimize tripping hazards.

"I really like the idea of technology and fashion," DiGregorio said.

Inspired by window shades, her sample dress uses threads that run from the bottom hem to the waist of the garment to shorten the skirt when she pushes the button of an Arduino microcontroller board, which she programmed herself, hidden in the back of the dress. Other designs she's sketched rig the threads in different fashions to create completely different looks including a high-low skirt, a layered look and an Angelina Jolie inspired slit that disappears for more conservative settings.

"I'm kind of use to hiding things in clothing," said DiGregorio, who always has to consider the microphone pack when she creates costumes for plays at York and Sandburg Middle School.

With the sample dress DiGregorio designed from the custom pattern, the York High School junior earned a gold medal in fashion design at the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America State Leadership Conference on April 11 in Springfield. She'll also be taking her project to compete at the national conference from July 6 to 10 in San Antonio, Texas.

Sitting in another of her creations, a floral skirt-turned-dress that she's belted at the waist, DiGregorio explains she doesn't plan on presenting her gold-winning project as is at the national level. Her creative mind is already working on improvements and additions to the custom clothing line, including a mobile app and telescopic heels.

"My brother's been really involved in it. He's helped me out," DiGregorio said about her 20-year-old brother, A.J., who has helped her with technical projects like a pair of heels she created that light up.

DiGregorio's clothing design resume includes everything from costumes for plays to funky spirit week creations like a football-themed dress made of actual football leather to her own day-to-day wardrobe.

"I'm trying to not shop anywhere where they outsource their clothing," said Ella, who explained she's turned off by some practices in the textile industry she views as unfair.

Instead she shops secondhand or creates her own clothes. Her mother, Stacy, remembers one instance in particular when Ella bought a maternity dress, secondhand, for $5 and converted it into a sundress.

"I think it's one of my favorite things [Ella's] made because it was so ugly when she brought it home, and it turned out to be really cute," Stacy said.

A sewing machine pendant dangles from a chain around Ella's neck as she recalls she first started sewing long before high school. Since going to York, she's taken a few classes with family and consumer science teacher Sarah Marik, who she now goes to for advice on independent projects.

"She just sets the bar really high and inspires other people," Marik said.

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