As a girl, sewing helped her recover from hand burns. Now her designs grace red carpets and runways
Fashion designer Linda Rowe Thomas remembers playing “dress-up” on November 26, 1971. Linda was two years old, her sister was six. Shortly after she put on a fur coat, a kerosene heater exploded in her Douglasville, Texas home.
“My mom came into the house and saved us,” Thomas told CNN.
Burns covered more than 70% of her sister’s body. And Linda sustained third-degree burns to her face, neck and hands.
“Because I was wearing the coat and I had the hood up, the only thing that was burned was what was exposed,” Thomas told CNN.
Third-degree burns scorch all layers of skin and underlying tissue. Due to the extensive damage, doctors amputated all Linda’s fingers on her left hand and part of her fingers on the right hand.
Her sister succumbed to her injuries five days later.
“The doctors told my mother that I would probably not have a good quality of life.”
Thomas slogged through a long, intense recovery. The hospital became her second home as she endured reconstructive surgeries and physical therapy to get her hands working again. But the therapists’ mobility exercises bored the young girl. So her mom found another way to keep Thomas’ hands moving.
“I would take the scraps from my mom’s sewing projects and began to make doll clothes with the needle and thread. She got wind of that and started to teach me to sew,” Thomas shared.
That skill she learned at the age of five eventually led to a successful career in fashion. She’s produced designs that wowed on the red carpet at the Golden Globes, the ESPY Awards and other award shows. Thomas has also showcased her collection at New York Fashion Week.
The doctors’ “prognosis was definitely wrong. God placed a remarkable gift in these unusual hands.”
A runway of dreams
“My first big break was getting noticed by a young lady from Project Runway and she introduced me to producers at New York Fashion Week. I did my first runway show in 2010. And everything just took off from there.”
The couturier opened her 7,000 square foot showroom and production house in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas in 2015. Her collection, Romás by Linda Rowe Thomas specializes in custom evening gowns and ready-to-wear fashion.
“My design process can vary, because sometimes I will create a sketch, and then I will select the fabric that brings that sketch to life. And sometimes, I’ll find a fabric and that fabric becomes a sketch,” the designer told CNN. “I’m always creating. Wherever something pops in my head, I’ll just I’ll sketch it down.”
Along with being a fashion designer, Linda also is very active.
“Outside of fashion, I kickbox, I box and I’m a runner.”
Designing hope for others
In 2010, Thomas established her nonprofit, Designing Hope as a way to help other burn survivors pay their medical bills.
“I went to Shriners Hospital from the age of two to 18, and my family never incurred a bill. That that was my reason for starting to provide help. But in the process of doing that, I realized that not everyone’s scars are visible. And I was touching so many other people.”
Thomas has gotten recognized for her philanthropic contributions and accomplishments in the fashion industry.
Officials in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she now lives, declared March 12th “Linda Rowe Thomas Day.”
Thomas hopes that her story can motivate others to chase their dreams.
“I walk into the room with my head held high and I’m proud of who I am. And I exude that confidence and that’s what the world receives. And I’m hoping that the light my mother gave me gives someone else light.”