It's the creepy feeling underneath your skin. You know, the one that causes your breath to quicken and your muscles to tense. Your heart starts beating so fast you think you're having heart palpitations. You feel the rush of anxiety flood your mind, feeding into your worst nightmares. Your knees buckle because you know you can't escape it: Its fear.
But what if our fears just stared at us, and rather than fleeing, we laugh? Meet Powers Capote, a Cuban Psychiatric Nurse who infuses humor, phobias and t-shirts to create the Phobia Shop. According to its website, Phobia Shop is for people to have fun and laugh at their own fears.
We spoke to Capote about his fears, what inspired him to get into the t-shirt business, and how he plans to bring awareness to mental illness.
Culturist: What fear triggered you to want to start The Phobia Shop?
Powers Capote: There have been a few. Working has a nurse, you see a lot. The most common one you see in the hospital is fear of needles. It is a recurring fear in many patients. I 'm really good at calming people. I am able to get to them to relax, even though they are under a lot of stress and so fearful. I started playing with the idea, first with common fears and than expanded to more unknown fears. I have always been interested in the human mind, and this lead to want to acquire a Masters in Psychiatry. So, I will be dealing with phobia 24/7.
How did the fear of needles turn into a t-shirt image?
Once I come up with the idea, we played with different ideas of messages. For example, there is a fear called Cacophobia, fear of ugly people. We wanted to write, "I am not shallow, I have Cacophobia." I researched that people do not like reading messages anymore, they prefer logos. So, we designed logos for phobias. We wanted them to be slightly abstract. For example, take the fear of frogs. Rather having the actual frog image, we just took the legs and turned into evil frog legs. But we didn't want them to be "too Disney" nor "too dark" yet, I wanted them to have some punch. The Fear of Needles was the first one created. At first, I thought of a voodoo doll. Most people think a voodoo doll is bad and evil. I didn't want it to be too dark, so we made it more cartoonish. I then worked with a graphic designer. We developed the T-shirt and trademarked the logos.
After the fear of needles, how did you decide which fears to tackle?
I became familiar with all the phobias. I know there were a lot but not so many. Also, I always loved well-created and thought-out T-shirts, something that is a conversation starter. When I started my research, there are hundreds of phobias, and I did not have the budget to target all of them. So, I started making my selection, the first 16. I knew I did not want to start with the classics, Acarophobia or Claustrophobia. Although I will do those next, we wanted to start with a different mix. We didn't want anything that would be offensive.
The craziest one I created so far is the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. It's called Arachibutyrophobia. What we did was use a giant open face sandwich with evil-eyed peanut butter on one side and a huge scared tongue on the other. Although its one of the weirdest ones, it turned out to be one of our best sellers.
The next one we went with was a common fear among my friends, fear of cooking. Everyone has a mother, aunt, sister or themselves that hate to cook. So we used a pressure cooker. To me, the most interesting is the fear of having wet dreams. People with this fear are very religious and are taught that sexual feelings are evil.
Why are you so thoughtful about your selection?
I am not trying to make fun of the phobia; I want people to embrace it. It makes for a funky logo and funky t-shirt. I want people to embrace there fears and laugh.
Is that how you embrace your fears?
Yes, I just embrace them. Due to a lot changes in my life, I developed a new why of thinking, which is acceptance. I accept my fears.
Who do you see wearing your t-shirts?
You don't need to have a phobia to wear it. I met this lady who purchased the fear of meat, not because of a fear, but because she was going to a BBQ that afternoon. I also wanted to create t-shirts to celebrate events. I created the fear of books for graduates - not just for kids that hated books. I thought that would be a great gift. Its goes beyond the phobia. I want people to be aware of mental Illness too.
How do you relate mental illness and these t-shirts?
I've worked in the medical field as nurse for a few years, and I noticed the stigma towards mental illness. It's horrible, and there is a lot of research about mental illness that is not being used, although you have tons of research for breast cancer and diabetes. No one is fearful of stating how they are working on themselves or how they survived cancer. People don't feel judged. But if you are suffering from depression or an addiction, people do not take it well. Even among professionals, some do not feel comfortable working with patients with depression because they can become suicidal.
I just want to bring awareness, even if it's in a subtle way. Some of these phobias can be debilitating. Some people don't leave the house or can't be around people or are afraid to get on an elevator. I am hoping this opens the window to other topics, not just funny weird phobias, but other deeper issues that hopefully society will accept and would want to have those important conversations (about).
Are you playing on collaborating with any charities?
In the future, I am. I plan to work with autistic children. Children with autism tend to have a lot of phobias. But I am not sure yet, since I have so many ideas for giving back to my community. I have not decided.
What do you see the Phobia Shop becoming?
A known brand that can put a smile on people's faces, expanding into different languages, and able to transmit the message to other cultures. With the success of the company, (I'd like to be) able to have an organization that helps people with mental illness.
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Check out the rest of the Phobia Shirt line at thephobiashop.com. Phobia Shop t-shirts are also sold at Second Saturday Art Walk and will be available at the International Book Fair.