Duct tape can be used for much more than just fixing things. For artists like Larissa Leon, duct tape opens a world of possibilities for fashion and design.

As part of the Duck Brand prom dress scholarship contest, Leon used 47 rolls of duct tape to create a colorful folklorico flower gown, inspired by her Mexican culture. Folklorico dancing stems from both Indigenous and Spanish practices and traditionally features wide-skirt dresses with bright colored ribbons and lace.

Leon started working on the dress a month or two ago, she said, but she did majority of the work in the past month, as she made lace and flower details. Overall, she spent 163 hours on the project.

Five finalists are expected to be announced this week for the “Stuck at Prom” scholarship. Then public voting will open, with a winner announced on July 21. The grand prize winner of the dress category will win $10,000, with a runner-up prize of $500. There’s also a contest for tuxedo 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 Folkloric 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.”

Leon grew up watching Folkloric dancing at the annual Sunnyside Cinco de Mayo celebration. 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 do the dance, but it’s very heavy so it’s not as nice as it would be with a fabric dress.”

Leon said she would consider wearing the dress to her senior prom next year, but it’s a heavy material that can get sweaty if worn for long periods of time.

The duct tape prom dress was not her first creative project. Growing up, Leon spent hours in her bedroom making wallets, roses, figurines and a backpack out of duct tape.

“She was always a crafty girl,” said Maria Perez, Leon’s mother. “Instead of going to the toy section, she would always tell her dad to take her to the craft section. And one day she comes home with a bunch of duct tape and I was like, ‘what are you going to do?’”

One of her projects was a mermaid tail made of duct tape that she would use to swim. Her mom got so tired of carrying the mermaid tail everywhere and drying it out after Leon swam with it that she had to hide it from her daughter, Perez said with a laugh.

Leon enjoys design and fashion and spends a lot of time sewing and crocheting. She takes pottery classes in high school where she makes sculptures.

“(Art) is a form of a stress reliever for me,” Leon said. “It’s a form of self-expression.”

She will be graduating 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.

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.”

Amanda Ray contributed to this story.