For 7-year-old Grace Bear, the inspiration came last summer after she watched her mother Cher cut her waist-skimming hair and donate it to the nonprofit Locks of Love organzation.
Grace’s own tresses weren't quite long enough for her to donate herself, so she came up with another idea to help others in need: Make hand-crafted tutus from her Crescent Township home and give the proceeds to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and St. Jude’s Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, TN.
After Grace, a student at St. James School in Sewickley, struck a pose in one of their handmade purple and black tutus, a name stuck for the fledgling enterprise: Tough Girl Tutus. The two already have sold a handful of skirts after beginning their blog one month ago.
“We’ve had orders from all over,” said Cher, who helps her daughter piece together the tulle tutus and display them on their blog.
“We’ve had an order from a dancer and an order from a cancer survivor. One lady is ordering them as a little flower girl dress. Grandmothers are ordering them. We’ve had orders from Los Angeles.”
Grace said her goal is to sell 50 tutus and split the proceeds between Children’s Hospital and St. Jude’s. All of the money earned from the sales of the first 50 tutus will be donated to the hospitals.
Cancer research is a cause close to the family’s heart: Cher said both her father and aunt, as well as her husband’s grandfather, battled the disease, making the tutu donations all the more special to her and her daughter.
“I just really like to do it,” said Grace, adding that she and her mother work on tutus in between her after-school activities. “I just wanted to be nice to people.”
From full and frilly to short and sweet, the tutus are made-to-order by the mother and daughter duo: The tulle hoops come in every color of the rainbow and can be used by experienced dancers or little girls playing dress-up.
“Well, I just cut pieces of tulle and put them into two halves and hold both ends and pull,” said Grace of her approach to tutu construction.
“Kind of like making a slip knot,” her mother added.
Grace said making the tutus gives the pair a little extra bonding time while her dad, Maj. Bo Bear, a C-130 pilot with the 911th Airlift Wing, is away working.
“It helps when we miss (Grace's) dad," Cher said. "We're already close, so as she gets older this is nice."
But Grace has no plans to retire from the tutu trade after selling her first 50 skirts. The second-grader hopes to turn the craft into a budding business, and she even plans to save a portion of the future tutu proceeds.
“It'll work toward her college education," said Cher. "That's what she said she wanted."
For more on Tough Girl Tutus, visit its blog.