West Linn fashion designer blazes trails
In a cool, wooded area off Salamo Road, 21-year-old Erika Williamson snips and stitches a piece of coth in a loft workspace.
Around her house mannequins show off earlier creations: a reversible army jacket and coat with pink polka dot lining. A rough sketch of a wedding gown tacked above three sewing machines.
'I've had my wedding dress designed for years,' she explained. 'But I don't know the guy yet.'
This fashion diva and West Linn High School graduate returned home just a month and a half ago, and since then not only has she started her own clothing line, but she's also scored a high profile client: The Portland Trail Blazers stunt team.
Williamson met the coach at a birthday party, where she proposed stitching for sports for the first time.
'I said, 'I'll do 'em. Just tell me what you want,'' she said. 'I made a uniform in two days to see if they liked it, (and) what they would change and then I had three weeks to make them - then alterations. Altogether, everything took about a month.'
The Blazers Bowflex Stunt Team consists of 12 men and 12 women who perform throughout the NBA games, both on the floor and in the stands. Their outfits had to be flexible, comfortable and festive.
Williamson's black mini-skirt design with a diagonal single strap top is similar to what the squad's head coach, Linus Oey, wanted from a professional cheerleading company.
In her initial design, Williamson used a thinner black material for the two piece outfit. A thicker, sport material was decided on for the completed design because it should hold up better throughout the season, she said.
The red, black and white Trail Blazer outfits were a change from what she was used to designing but she dove into the project.
'She was very calm but she was at the machines every moment of the day,' said her mother, Susan Higbee. 'It was non-stop (when she got the assignment).'
Williamson personalized the gear with small rhinestone details.
'I like sparkly things. I like elegant things. I like things that are form fitting,' said Williamson.
Sports apparel is a new kick for Williamson; she's designed evening dresses and organized fashion shows for years.
Math and art
As a child, Williamson seemed a walking fashion billboard.
'She just always was aware of coordinating colors and items. Her socks and her ponytails always matched,' Higbee said. 'She was aware of color and things around her from as early as three years old.'
While at West Linn High School, Williamson says she was enticed by fashion - she even designed her own prom dress.
'She was always interested in art and fashion (in high school),' said Lynn Pass, fine arts department chair at WLHS and Williamson's former teacher. 'She was passionate about her art and it's wonderful to know that she'll be working in a field that she's excited about.'
Williamson attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, and she recently spent a year in San Diego where she worked as a sales associate at Cache, styling props and models for fashion shows. She also designed and created a dress to be worn by an organizer attending the Country Music Awards.
Thumbing through her portfolio in the loft, Williamson reminisced about dresses she made in the past - inspired by flowers, waterfalls, shoelaces, snowflakes and a Shar-pei wrinkly dog. Her drawings are a combination of lifelong art skills and meticulous detail with dimensions.
'I've always excelled at math and I've always really liked art so finding a job where I can be very artistic and still use my abilities (was fun),' Williamson said. 'You have to think of (how the clothing) item fits together. You've got to know where things should change and how to alter things.'
Williamson says she will always design dresses but hopes to remain versatile. She recently started her own clothing line called Sky Couture, and puts this label on a tag within each of her designs. And she said she wants to create costumes for theatre performances and design sport attire for Nike and Adidas someday.
When the Blazer games begin, Williamson's stunt team uniforms will get a workout and exposure to thousands.
Always a Blazer fan
Back at home with her parents, Williamson added personal touches around the house. Mannequins are dressed in her designs and placed here and there.
She said she is keeping busy and looks forward to upcoming projects, and attending Blazer games.
Oey also said he is hyped for the upcoming season.
'The Blazers have worked really hard to bring the crowd back in,' Oey said. 'The new uniforms add to my team because they can go out with something new and exciting. They are people that are seen throughout the game. We'll be on the 300th level and in the next minute on court. They're constantly running around.'
And as the NBA basketball season starts, the 12 outfits may earn cheers throughout the Rose Garden Arena. Williamson says she plans to watch the action from the stands at the first pre-season Blazer game.
And she'll dress the part. She says she plans to make a red, white and black 'Blazers inspired' sports jacket.
'It's my team. I love basketball,' Williamson said. 'I've always been a Blazers fan.'