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Healthy mammograms. The contagious chicken pox virus. A set of cloudy x-ray scans. Respectively, these things have long inspired great relief, great distress, and great confusion. But ... a clothing line?
Lizzie Cochran, a pre-med student at Columbia University in New York City, said that the idea for Epidemia Designs came to her while in a biology lab.
"We were tasked with memorizing dozens of slides with different cell types so that we could eventually identify them," she told TODAY.com.
As she studied, Cochran noticed just how intricate and beautiful the cells looked underneath a microscope and in photographs. She realized that if she hadn't been introduced to them within the context of a laboratory, she'd simply see them as gorgeous abstract designs (and not associate them with, say, the lining of her stomach).
"Next, I was reading a magazine article that featured all these images of viruses from the past 100 or 150 years. This was around the same time that the whole Ebola situation was starting to wind down, so discussions of epidemics were everywhere," Cochran explained.
"The one that jumped out at me was the flu of 1918 virus. It was one of the most devastating epidemics in the history of the world, but there on the page, colored with dyes, it just looked incredible, interesting and vibrant."
That's when the idea for a clothing line was born.
A fashion lover with a penchant for big prints and colorful patterns, Cochran immediately began to think about turning the unexpected beauty of those viral images into wearable goods, the proceeds of which could benefit research and projects aimed at disseminating already available vaccines for preventable illnesses.
She remained motivated by the tragic fact that one child dies every 20 seconds from a disease that is preventable by vaccine (about 1.5 million children every year). That fact is made all the more tragic when one takes into account that many lifesaving vaccines cost less than a dollar.
"Frankly, it's unacceptable," said Cochran. "It's not like we're trying to solve an unsolvable problem. We really have the power to lead the way toward a healthier future. We already have the tools."
In early 2015, she officially founded Epidemia Designs.
Motivated by the belief that the human body is beautiful in ways that go beyond your weight, height, and the color of your skin, the company has begun designing fitness apparel and fashion accessories featuring biological images.
The ultimate goal? To remove negative stigmas surrounding certain diseases, to fund vaccination programs and research efforts, and to invite girls to engage in typically male-dominated public health discussions ... all while looking good.
And though Epidemia's first clothing line uses prints created directly from biological images (think: microscopic pictures of cells, x-rays, and CT scans), no one will know you're "wearing science."
Well, not until you proudly clue them in, that is.
"You wouldn't look and think, 'Oh my gosh, that person is wearing a biological image,' because it's fairly obscured," Cochran pointed out. With the use of mirroring programs, Photoshop manipulation techniques, and kaleidoscope effects, each virus or cell depiction has gotten a fashionable boost.
Still, with a little help from the wearer, Cochran hopes the designs could become a conversation starter.
In fact, that's the whole point.
"Infectious diseases are the primary cause of death globally for children and adolescents," she said. "And we want people to acknowledge that. We want them to see the intricacy of how these illnesses work — the incredible and terrible way that they've been able to survive and spread throughout all these years."
The way Cochran sees it, fear of a word or an idea is the same as fear of the thing itself.
"I often mention to people that I'm a big fan of Harry Potter," she said. "And our fear of certain viruses reminds me of the way the wizards in those books are afraid to even mutter the word, 'Voldemort.' We just can't have that kind of fear. We must acknowledge these viruses, step up, and face them with real solutions."
Cochran's team has expanded. Now, Epidemia has a VP of Retail, a friend of Cochran's named Taylor Newby. Her other friends, too, have jumped at the chance to be models and advocates for the brand.
In July, she'll start medical school back in her home state at the University of Texas San Antonio. But for now, Cochran's focused on getting the company's very first line of activewear up and running. Prototypes of leggings, phone cases, journals and more have been produced, but the company is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the launch of their first real clothing line. Working with an athletic apparel design company, they've been able to ensure that each pair of pants will have the perfect fit and durability both for daily wear and exercise.
The theme of the line is "She's Got It." Designs include images of heart tissue ("She's Got Heart"), epithelial tissue ("She's Got Guts"), nerve synapses ("She's Got Nerve"), and images of brain cells ("She's Got Brains"). There are also limited-edition stem cell leggings available exclusively to the Kickstarter backers.
"'She's Got It' embraces our mission of empowering women and celebrating the human body," said Cochran. "We hope women will wear these clothes and feel empowered to join the discussions of public health, science and technology that are so vital to our world. And, in turn, we'll donate 15 percent of all proceeds to research and projects aimed at reducing the incidence of preventable diseases."
Cochran also believes she can help to bolster an untapped scientific resource: women.
"As a girl growing up, I was always a creative kid. My initial strengths were singing and dancing," she revealed. "I always felt as though being good at those things meant that I must not be good at math or science, and once I realized just how male-dominated the world of science was, I was even more hesitant to pursue those things."
Indeed, it took Cochran a long time to come around to the idea that she was just as intellectually capable as those men, but when she did, her trepidation waned.
"Our hope is that our stylish, feminine, fun, and most importantly, interesting designs will appeal to girls of all ages — and maybe encourage them to get involved in the scientific community."
You can check out the brand's Kickstarter page here.