My name is Erica Templeman. I am 27 and live in Boston, working production at a jewelry company and freelance as a seamstress & tailor. I also happen to have Crohn’s Disease and an ostomy, but what I don’t do is let my disease define me.
Crohn’s Disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the digestion system. I was diagnosed at 10 years old, and have a severe, atypical case that has always kept my doctors on their toes. I had my large intestine removed at 12-- to work in its place, I had bowel reconstruction to join everything back up. Over the years I had plenty of chronic infections, abcesses, fistulae, and perrianal disease-- all linked by my Crohn’s Disease as it’s source. At 24, too much scar tissue and weak/diseased tissue gave out and I had to have the reconstructed bowel removed, and got my ostomy put in. “An ostomy refers to the surgically created opening in the body for the discharge of body wastes (Ostomy.org).” We’ve seen a lot of viral media about models showing off their ostomy bags for the world to see lately, but I feel this provides an inaccurate representation of what it’s like to have an ostomy. I’m glad people are putting it out there and that the only real difference in people with an ostomy is the appliance itself, but I don’t want to be defined by my disease, and I don’t let it rule my life (even if we do have a power struggle now and then).
The Descience project has been incredibly personal for me from the moment I was paired with my scientist, Torben Bruck. He’s incredibly smart and humble, and happens to work in an area of research that is on the very cutting edge of producing new lifesaving drugs-- fermentation science. Granted, it took us many emails back and forth to figure out how to communicate and understand each other. And then, during some of his descriptions on why one would grow and scale bacteria it hit me: this was the foundation of the very drugs that saved my life while battling Crohn’s. Torben’s area of research has already saved my life, and the same area of science and research is being sought for usage to treat the Ebola outbreak in Africa.
To understand how this field of biopharmaceutical science progresses from growing and modifying bacteria, I started with the very basics.
I called up a friend of mine who teaches high school biology & biotechnology and we went over some of the most basic building blocks of Torben’s research: proteins. Proteins are one of the major building blocks of our genetic makeup. So in my own design research and quest to understand Torben and his work better, I broke it down into the smallest parts-- amino acids and how they form their structures into proteins and then the proteins building into antibodies. Antibodies are the body’s natural form of defense against disease. With certain diseases that are autoimmune or genetic, a patient’s body can’t supply the antibodies needed to fight off what other people can easily do. And that’s where biosimilar therapeutics come in. These drugs, utilizing proteins that contain the properties needed to heal the patients, are made in a genetically modified host bacterium.
Crohn’s disease has always been part of my life, but never the sum of it. For this project, I worked closely with Torben to make sure that the science lined up with my inspiration. Knowing what I was working with, and my own experiences in taking these drugs, I knew that I’d be designing a battle gown. One that would be able to reflect the grace which many patients handle their disease, but it’s just not known since it is not a disease that makes you look sick. I drew inspiration heavily from Joan of Arc, reading the notes from her trial and viewing different visual depictions of her. I designed a textile pattern to look like chainmaille, comprised of the molecular formula for amino acid Phenylalanine (C6H5CH2CH(NH2)COOH) that is then folded like a primary protein structure, arranged in the shape of an antibody. The garment now reflects the armor that is being used.
I drew the threads of continuity together to build upon the details for a cohesive design. We selected protein based materials: silk and leather. The custom textile was printed on a polyester performance knit; polyester is created in a fermentation like process. For the skirt, I utilized tucks, in alternating directions to mimic a helix look, the common secondary structure of proteins. My obsession with continuity in my design didn’t end with the garment however-- I enlisted the assistance of my friend and model, Jemesii to wear the garment in not just the photographs, but also for the upcoming runway show. Jemesii also suffers from an invisible disease, and understands as someone who experiences such health issues what this garment has the potential to be. It is worn by a warrior, someone who puts up the fight every day against disease, against the world, but does it with grace and style, and does not let her illness become the sum of her person. Just like me. Just like everyone else with health issues, visible or not, keeps moving on through life not looking for pity, but instead just looking to live a rich and fulfilling life.