By Crystal A. Weyers Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H.
Two local women aiming to end the stigma attached to mental health disorders are launching an edgy new line of apparel.
The pair believes that by bravely wearing a mental health issue front-and-center on a T-shirt, more dialogue will open up about the struggles that they and many others face on a daily basis.
Erin Duquette, founder of the Berwick Art Association, and town resident Elisabeth Menter recently surpassed their fundraising goal on their Kickstarter page and will be launching their project with a lookbook catalog to showcase their designs in the near future.
Having previously worked part-time as a T-shirt designer for seven years, Duquette said she came up with the idea a couple of years ago after she was diagnosed with Graves' disease and suffering from intense stress and anxiety.
"I had a revelation during some free creative design time that I should make myself a shirt that said 'anxiety' and just 'out' myself to my co-workers and friends so maybe they would be a bit more patient with my odd behavior," she said.
She said wearing the T-shirt got a great response in public and on social media, so she kept adding designs for every disorder she could think of, learning some new ones along the way.
"Sharing laughs and smiles through social media made me realize just how many people, especially women, were feeling and experiencing the exact same things," she said. "I started realizing how many people feel that they are alone in their battle and that the medical community isn't helping them ... You can feel like a square peg in a round society pretty quickly."
Before that, Duquette had always shied away from sharing her personal struggles with others. She said she has always struggled with anxiety, ADHD and learning disabilities, but would try to hide it from others.
"I have found that when I share my struggles with others, they in turn feel open to share their own struggles, whether they are the same, or different from mine, the mountain climb can feel the same," she said.
Duquette's 10-year-old daughter has also sparked more open conversation about illness and anxiety as her pancreas stopped working when she was only 4 years old and she is now insulin dependent. So, too, suffers from the occasional bought of anxiety.
"(That) definitely contributed to me being more open about it and learning more about it," Duquette said.
Duquette met Menter when she purchased one of Duquette's 'Anxiety' T-shirts. The meeting sparked a discussion surrounding what it's like to suffer from depression and anxiety and the pair became an instant support system for each other.
After that, Menter offered to help launch Duquette's ideas into a business.
"And off we went," Duquette said.
The line, called "Kiss My Disorder," allows individuals to wear their mental health issues on their sleeves. The designs label and depict issues such as "attention deficit disorder," "multiple personality disorder," "anxiety" and being "anti-social" or "bipolar."
Duquette believes "the mental health community has successfully created their marketing campaign for them, and she is confident there is a disorder for everyone."
With more than 20 years of experience in the art and design fields, Duquette has always pushed to accommodate her lifestyle around her mental health issues. By starting the Kiss My Disorder line, she finally feels she may be able to design a profession that works with her and her family's medical needs.
She hopes the T-shirts will help fight the stigma attached to having a mental health issue.
Their Kickstarter page states, "We are in no way trying to start a movement ... nor are we mental health professionals. We are simply two artistic moms from Maine with a sense of humor about real life and we love to create and share."
The duo set a crowdfunding project goal of $2,600, and 68 supporters surpassed that by providing a total of $3,705. A check was sent to the pair this week to start bringing their ideas to life. The funds will help the women update and add new design samples, get professional photographs of models wearing the designs, purchase studio equipment for printing and further develop their website and lookbook of designs.
"With the samples in hand, we will be venturing out to figure out our best partners for reselling and showing our designs," Duquette said.
All printing and dying of the shirts will be done locally or by the pair themselves in their studio. They also only use materials from "labor friendly manufacturers."
View their page on Facebook. Visit their website at www.kissmydisorder.com to keep up to date on their progress.