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Omaha Teen Designs Her Way to New York Fashion Week

By Elizabeth Wolff | February 8, 2013 7:13am

NEW YORK — Teenager Kate Walz is living a grown-up dream — showing her own clothing line at a New York Fashion Week show.

The 16-year-old arrived in the Big Apple Wednesday with her family to premiere her fashion collection for the Fall 2013 season at Fashion Week on Friday.

It's a journey that started eight years ago, when her mother bought her a sewing machine. That's when the self-taught 12-year-old fashion hopeful started creating formal-wear collections — by hand — that she would end up showing at Omaha Fashion Week.

"I've sold in a local store and I sell my custom dresses for $75 to $400," Kate told DNAinfo.com in the lead-up to her first New York show. "From homecoming dresses to skirts for my mom's friends, I make for all age groups."

It wasn't until Gordon Josey, co-founder of FashionCampNYC, the Manhattan-based summer camp for aspiring teenage fashion designers, got wind of her story that New York became a possibility.

"She's a rising young star," said Josey, who has made Kate the face of his popular summer program. "She works hard and has a great following, and is driven and talented. She's already doing what [other] 16-year-olds only dream about."

With the buzz surrounding her local success in Omaha, she was approached by Plitzs Marketing, which hosts a two-day showcase for emerging designers at the W Hotel in Midtown.

"Kate's the latest young designer we've had, and she's immensely talented," said Plitzs founder Wayne Shields. "I commend her and her mom for getting good brand exposure, and we hope their participation in Fashion Week helps facilitate the introductions they need to grow their label."

Friday will mark a turning point in Kate's budding fashion career. In the evening runway show, she will present 30 looks in total — 20 of which were designed during the past four years, and 10 new looks.

"I'm so excited to expose my work in New York," said the 10th-grader. "The new collection is inspired by New York in the '60s, and that was my inspiration even before I knew I was showing in New York!"

Kate describes her designs as inspired by "the architecture of New York" with "softer details to get the Central-Park-in-the-fall feel."

She's using cranberry, charcoal gray, black and champagne as her color palette.

But Kate's dream hasn't come cheaply. The teen's mom, Jackie Walz, who supports her daughter's ambitions with a job at the chain clothing store White Label/Black Market inside their local mall, said funding a teenage fashion designer is "a serious challenge." But she said she'll "do anything" to help her daughter make it.

"I figured it would cost $5,000 for travel and lodging and another $2,000 for materials," explained Walz, Kate's self-described "momager."

She's already dipped into her 401(k) and, when she feared she couldn't afford the trip, the community helped her throw a fundraiser, which raised $3,200 to send Kate to New York.

"The community has been so supportive of her," Walz marveled. "We've blown the budget, but it's worth it."

In addition to the costs to make her dresses and to fly to and stay in NYC, participating in a Fashion Week event is not free. As with all runway shows, there are costs. Plitzs Fashion Week, one of many spin-off events held concurrently with Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, charges a fee.

Shields explains that Plitzs has a stringent vetting process, but that the designers who are chosen must pony up to participate. He offers three packages: $300 to show 10 looks, $700 for 25 looks, and a deluxe package that includes a hotel room for 50 designs at a cost of $1,700. All three packages include professional photography, models, show production and publicity.

Walz sprung for the $700 package and negotiated with Shields to allow Kate to show 30 designs.

The next step will be turning Kate Walz into a viable company. "Our goal is to land her a manufacturer or get advice on limited distribution," explained her mom, who handles all of the business end of Kate's label.

Until then, it's a dream weekend in New York for a suburban blonde who loves hanging out with friends, shopping and making clothes. After Fashion Week is over, Kate will return to high school, where she takes an independent studies class in sewing.

This year she took on a 10-year-old intern, who helps her out after school. "She wants to be a fashion designer, too — just like me."