Larry LaRue: Student’s plastic-bag dress isn’t trash — it could win national title

Staff WriterMay 5, 2014 

MacKinzie Roberts poses in the dress she made out of 993 plastic grocery bags. She hopes the dress will win an award from the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America in July.


When the dress was finished, MacKinzie Roberts and her mother did the math.

“We’d kept all the scraps of plastic we didn’t use, and we weighed them,” Vicki Roberts said. “Then we weighed the dress, and came up with the total weight. We weighed 10 plastic bags, and determined what one would weigh.”

And then, by dividing the weight of the dress and scraps by that of one plastic bag, mother and daughter came up with a total.

“We used 993 plastic bags,” said MacKinzie, a 17-year-old Rogers High School junior. “I researched it and found that it can take up to a thousand years for one plastic bag to decompose — so we saved 993,000 years of plastic bags decomposing in a landfill.”

All that calculation may have been the easier part of MacKinzie’s dress-making project, an effort that will send her to San Antonio, Texas, in July to compete for a national award.

MacKinzie is a member of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, and she entered its annual contest in the recycle and redesign category.

What she was determined to create wasn’t just any dress, but a formal ball gown made completely of plastic bags.

“In the end, we used pop tops from cans as hooks to lace up the back, and some parts of cans to embellish the gown,” she said. “It took a lot of tears and sweat, but no blood.”

The youngest of seven children in her Puyallup family, MacKinzie can crochet, and she and her mother decided the simplest approach would be to make a yarn of the plastic, then crochet the gown with it.

“I knew more about what we were getting her into,” said Vicki, the seamstress of the family. “We had a friend who had a dress form, a mannequin-type thing that you can make any size fit. Basically, the dress was all trial and error.”

Certainly, it was a trial.

MacKinzie is an active student, a member of the track team and the president of her class in a church youth group. When she started making plastic yarn, then actually putting the dress together, the hours piled up.

“It was fun in the beginning, no fun in the middle, then a lot of fun at the end,” she said.

Keeping her in bags wasn’t easy.

“My friends, teachers, church leaders all brought plastic bags, and it still wasn’t going to be enough,” she said. “At one point, my mom went to Walmart and Winco, explained the project and asked if she could raid their recycle bins. They let her.”

Once all the plastic had been turned into balls of yarn, there was the issue of color.

“The bodice is gray, so it’s almost all Walmart bags, because they’re all gray,” Vicki said. “The white bags we used for the ruffles.”

And for the red sash and trim?

“The only money I spent was on bags from the Eastern Washington University Bookstore,” MacKinzie said. “They had bags that were black, red and white — so I spent $6.25 on them.”

In February, she took the finished dress to the regional competition and won.

“I was the only one competing in my category,” MacKinzie said with a laugh.

In March, it was on to the state competition in Wenatchee. MacKinzie won her category, and in July she will fly to Texas for the national contest.

The dress has been a family affair. Mom Vicki helped and brainstormed. MacKinzie’s sisters encouraged.

Her father, Dennis?

“My mom said, ‘He stayed out of it!’” MacKinzie said. “But he took the photos for me.”

Now, the family is budgeting a few thousand dollars for MacKinzie’s trip to Texas. The convention and contest runs six days.

“It’s a lot of money,” MacKinzie said. So she’s taken her cause public. She’s created a GoFundMe page at, and hopes to offset the costs of the trip.

MacKinzie is also thinking ahead.

“She’s already working on a service project for next year,” Vicki said. “She has long hair, and she’s already donated twice to Locks of Love, which makes wigs for children with cancer.

“MacKinzie wants to do an event with hair dressers lined up and all the girls she knows taking part in a beauty day where they all donate 10 inches of hair or more.”

With luck, it shouldn’t involve much math.

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 larry.larue@

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