HER parents forced her to study Latin instead of home economics in high school, but that didn't stop Donna Boys from sewing her way to Hollywood.
The West Vancouver resident picked up a needle and thread while attending university in Ottawa. Being a "starving student," she would salvage furniture that residents left at the curb on garbage day and revitalize the shabby pieces with fun fabrics.
"I just taught myself how to upholster," she says. "From there, people noticed what I was doing and started asking me to do work for them."
Many custom-made pillows, draperies, headboards and sofas followed. One day, while reupholstering a chair for a friend, Boys fell so in love with the funky upholstery fabric that she decided to sew the scraps into a handbag.
That marked the beginning of her home-based purse-making business Sew Donna Designs, which is getting some star-studded exposure in Los Angeles leading up Sunday's The Oscars awards show. On Friday and Saturday, Boys will be selling her handbags at the Alive! Expo Green Pavilion as part of a benefit event for Project Green, raising money to protect green space for future generations. She is one of many eco-conscious designers who will be selling their products.
"The idea of course is to have celebrities mill through the museum and buy the designs," says Boys. "They bring so much attention for the charities involved and they spend their money."
It would be a dream for Boys to see one of her handmade creations on the arm of a fashionable actress like Emma Stone or Anne Hathaway. Though, the star Boys would be most excited to rub shoulders with in Tinseltown might not be interested in carrying a jewel-studded clutch.
"All I can think about is Usher," Boys says giddily. "I would really like to see Usher."
She got the opportunity to head south because she is friends with Marc Palmer, CEO of Fashion Hope, a charity that raises funds within the fashion industry to rescue and rehabilitate survivors of human trafficking. The charity is part of the umbrella organization Fortunate Angels, which agreed to sponsor Boys' attendance at the expo.
Part of her proceeds from bag sales will support Fashion Hope.
A single mother of two who works part-time as an ophthalmic technician (where her high school Latin comes in handy), Boys has been sewing purses for five years.
She has since branched out from upholstery scraps and now incorporates thrift store leather jackets, recycled bridesmaid dresses, old jewelry and more into her bohemian sack purses, wristlettes and bobble-clasp bags. Boys sells her creations for an average $200 a piece at craft fairs and through her website.
The best part of the business, she says, is designing commissioned pieces. For example, she created the "Dana" for a friend whose father had recently passed away and incorporated pieces of his suede jacket into the final bag.
The pre-Oscars expo is not Boys' first brush with fame. Inspired by a contest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, she created a purse in the talk show host's likeness that appeared in an episode.
Other than catching a glimpse of Usher, Boys says her ultimate goal while in Hollywood is to help raise money for charity.
"I would like to have celebrities be able to buy my purses and, having bought them, be able to give back," she says.
But if her handbags find their way onto any red carpets, she would certainly welcome the exposure.
For more information, visit sewdonnadesigns.com.