Teaching Preschoolers Healthy Lifestyle Habits Can lower Risk For Heart Disease, Study Says

A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that introducing healthy lifestyle habits to kids at a young age can lower their risk of developing heart disease later in life. Healthy lifestyle habits include staying active, eating five portions of fruits/vegetables, and reducing overall salt intake. 

“The SI! Program (Salud Integral – Comprehensive Health) was developed as a multilevel and multi-component school-based program for the promotion of cardiovascular health and achieving lasting lifestyle changes in children from preschool age. It was implemented in three countries from the year 2009 onwards,” said Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD, general director at Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares (CNIC), director of Mount Sinai Heart and principal investigator of the project.

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The authors reviewed the results which were taken over a period of 10 years, and surveyed more than 3,800 children aged between three to five from 50 schools across Colombia, Spain, and the US. The children were mainly assessed on how their knowledge, habits, and attitudes changed towards a healthy lifestyle. 

Those who participated in the program itself showed a significant increase in knowledge, attitude, and habits that support a healthy lifestyle. Fuster explained that they were able to analyze the success of the program by focusing on the maturation of the children, and changing the questionnaires to adapt with them as they get older. 

Children who received more than 75% of the program had a significant change from the baseline of their overall knowledge, attitudes, and habits, especially when compared to the children who received less than 50% of the program. 

 “The school environment is a great area to introduce healthy lifestyle interventions because children are spending so much of their time there,”  said Rodrigo Fernández-Jiménez, MD, PhD, and author on the study. 

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“There are specific times in a child’s life when improvements can be made to enhance long-term cardiovascular health status. Our review, and previous studies, suggest that four to five years of age is the most favorable time to start a school-based intervention focused on healthy habits.”

“Most preschool interventions focus solely on physical activity and diet. The SI! Program breaks down cardiovascular health into four components. Through the first two components, children are learning how a well-balanced diet and physically active life are directly connected to a healthy heart. Next, they learn about emotion management, which seeks to instill behavior mechanisms against substance abuse – mainly smoking – and dietary decisions later in life. Finally, the children are taught about how the human body works and how it is affected by behavior and lifestyle,” said Gloria Santos-Beneit, PhD, and lead author of the study.

In the future, the authors hope to put a greater focus on the involvement of the families of the children in the study. Socioeconomic status has a major influence on how easy it can be for a child and family to maintain healthy lifestyle habits, so the authors of the study are looking for ways to intervene and make it more accessible to them. 

“Further research is needed to identify specific socioeconomic status factors that influence child health and effectiveness of intervention in the long term, and the issue of sustainability or need for re-intervention,” Fuster said.

Pope Francis Criticizes ‘Selfish’ Couples Who Adopt Pets Instead Of Kids

Speaking in front of a general audience at the Vatican Wednesday, Pope Francis took a bold move at upsetting the masses of animal lovers by saying that couples who adopt pets instead of children are showing “a form of selfishness” and that it “diminishes us.”

“How many children in the world are waiting for someone to take care of them,” Francis said. “And how many spouses wish to be fathers and mothers but are unable to do so for biological reasons; or, although they already have children, they want to share their family’s affection with those who have been left without.”

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Francis — who dived into the topic while discussing Joseph, the foster father of Jesus — called adopting “one of the highest forms a love” a person can give. He also told potential parents to not be afraid of adopting children, and that while there are always risks, there are “more risk in not having a child.”

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, adopting a child can amount anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 depending on the type of adoption, such as private or independent. Around 140,000 children are adopted by American families each year, while there are an estimated 153 million orphans worldwide. Meanwhile, per the ASPCA, around 4.1 million pets are adopted in the U.S. each year (2 million dogs and 2.1 million cats).

For the Church, Catholic families birthing or adopting more children could benefit it in the long run. A Gallup report found that in addition to U.S. membership in houses of worship dropping below 50% for the first time in eight decades, Catholic membership declined by 18 points, from 76% to 58%.

That’s a steeper decline than what Protestants have faced (down nine points from 73% to 64%). Gallup also noted weekly church attendance for Catholics has declined as well, whereas it has remained steady for protestants.

Across the globe, countries are also experiencing what is termed as a “demographic winter,” or falling fertility rates. According to BBC, worldwide fertility rates — which currently sit around 2.4 — are projected to fall below 2.0 by 2050, and to 1.7 by 2100.

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BBC explained that the drop in fertility rates can be credited to more women going to school and working, as well as the greater accessibility of birth control. In May, Francis commented on fertility rates, stressing the need for “a policy, an economy, information and culture that courageously promote birth.”

The Pope has discussed animals several times during his papacy. In 2016, Francis said that a person can’t love their pet more than their neighbor. While some might recall Francis saying that animals — which the Church hasn’t confirmed nor deny have souls — will go to heaven, the quote credited to Francis was actually spoken by Paul VI.

While Francis, who is often seen as much more of a progressive Church leader than those in the past, has neither children nor pets, he was gifted two donkeys by a farming cooperative back in 2014.

Despite Francis’ frequent dismissal of animals, previous Popes have a more affectionate history with creatures. Benedict XVI was well-known for his housing and enduring love of cats, while Pius XII possessed a goldfinch.


How To Help Your Dog Overcome Separation Anxiety

The past 21 months has been a whirlwind of unprecedented changes and events. For many, it has meant that more time is spent in the house than usual, which your pets may have become accustomed too. Or, perhaps you recently rescued or bought a new dog or puppy due to your new-found time at home and ability to provide them with the care and attention that they deserve and need.

However, as life slowly begins to return to normal, you may be worried about how your dog will cope with longer stints of time on their own.

Speaking to the Huffington Post, Candace Croney, a professor of animal behaviour and well-being at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, explained that it can vary as to how your dog will react to absences. “Many [dogs] will probably adjust relatively quickly and well. Some may actually enjoy having quiet time if they have been overstimulated due to their families being around constantly.”

“Others may have a harder time, particularly if they were inclined toward separation anxiety prior to stay-at-home orders going into effect. Dogs adopted from shelters who have had no experience in the home beyond what they experienced during the pandemic may need additional support.”

Separation anxiety refers to the separation-related behaviour dogs convey only when they are separated from their owner. In many cases, it is a sign that the dog is in distress. According to the RSPCA, an animal welfare charity, “research suggests that eight out of 10 of dogs will find it hard to cope when left alone, but half of these won’t show any obvious signs, so it can be very easy for owners to miss.” However, RSPCA explained that separation anxiety is preventable.

The signs of separation anxiety in dogs includes destructive behaviour — such as chewing, destroying furniture — howling and barking, toileting, or other signs of agitation. More subtle signs can also include trembling, whining, pacing, excessive salivation, self-mutilation, repetitive behaviour, escaping and vomiting. You may find that setting up a camera in your home can help you spot some odd behaviours in your dog as you are away. 

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It is not clear why dogs develop separation anxiety, but according to the ASPCA, it can be triggered by numerous actions like a change of guardian or family, change in schedule, change in residence, and a change in household membership.

If your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety, you may want to rule out any other issues such as medication issues or incontinence problems. You may also want to speak to a dog specialist or trainer, as their training may be insufficient causing them to engage in destructive behaviours or urinating inside. They could also be in need of mental stimulation. 

If you are worried that your pet could develop separation anxiety due to an upcoming change, there are preventative measures. “Animals thrive when they have consistent, predictable routines,” Croney explained.

“So if feeding, play, rest and exercise times are going to change when people head back to work, those changes should be introduced well in advance of the back-to-work date. Gradually shifting over the course of a few weeks to the new schedule and sticking with it should help ease the transition.”

Croney suggested practicing short independence exercises while you are at home, using high-value treats. “During what remains of the work-from-home period, have the dog relax in a room away from their people while keeping them well-occupied with favourite toys and treats that will hold their attention for that time period.” 

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After sometime, this can be practiced as you leave the home for shorts periods of time — like five-to-ten minutes — and can be gradually increased. “As your dog learns to associate your departures with good things and feels safe because you come back before he shows even subtle signs of stress, you can start to increase the time slowly and at a rate that is comfortable for him,” Croney said. “The goal is that your dog has a positive experience and is not stressed during these exercises.”

Other methods include desensitising dogs to departure cues, such as picking up your keys and coat to leave. This means getting ready to leave without actually leaving. You should also stop making a fuss about hellos and goodbyes, as dogs can pick up on your energy – which can heighten their anxiety. Instead, opt to fuss your dog at times where they are not seeking your attention and calm. 

This method can also be used as “counter conditioning” when a dog already has mild separation anxiety, the ASPCA states.  However, for more severe cases, it is probably best to seek a behavioural expert as any mistakes can worsen the dog’s anxiety. More information can be found on the ASPCA website

Californian Firm Introduces Sustainable ‘Mushroom Leather’ As Vegan Alternative 

Dr. Matt Scullin is the CEO of biomaterials company MycoWorks. He recently discussed their newest vegan alternative to leather that could help save more than just animals. The scientists behind the alternative believe that mycelium, a material grown from fungi, could help save the planet as it can be engineered to look and feel like real leather. 

“We’re predicting that mushroom leather could be a sustainability gamechanger, unlocking a future of design which begins with the material, not with the object.”

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Fine Mycelium is a patented material that can be grown from fungi in trays within a matter of weeks. The material replicates both the appearance and feel of leather, while outperforming it in strength and durability. Recently, the material made it’s designer debut as an exclusive Hermès handbag.

“It can give the same emotional response as an animal leather. It has that hand-feel of rarity. On a planet of finite natural resources, both the technology and the mindset of carbon-neutral, grown-to-order mushroom leather could be revolutionary, and have implications for innovation in manufacture beyond fashion,”  says Scullin.

“I’m interested in talking to people in creative industries about how the possibilities of fungi can help open the mind to new ideas. I am excited to support the fashion world in its efforts to become more sustainable. There is so much potential in fungi to overcome some of the problems we face,” says Merlin Sheldrake, author of ‘Entangled Lives: How Fungi Makes Our Worlds, Changes Our Minds, and Shapes Our Futures.’

Mushroom leather can be grown in pieces to a specific shape and size as well, which eliminates the need for cutting and wasting product. A recent report from the Higg Materials Sustainability Index found that bovine leather does more environmental damage than any other fabric, including plastic-based synthetic fabrics. This damage is due to the deforestation and gas emissions associated with harvesting real leather. 

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Leather goods account for about 15% of the luxury market, and scientists believe sustainable alternatives could greatly decrease the fashion industry’s carbon footprint. 

“In order to have a substantial impact on sustainability, the material needs to be accessible at a lower price point. We are working with luxury fashion first because they are ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability. These are brands which are in a position to think big and to think long term,” says Scullin.

Sheldrake believes that “one of the overarching lessons learned from studying fungi is reforming the way we think about waste. If fungi didn’t do what they do, our planet would be piled metres high in the bodies of animals and plants.”

“We have been trained as consumers to think in terms of a straight line whereby we buy something, use it and throw it away. Fungi can inform thinking about fashion on lots of levels. This is about material innovation, but it’s also about the culture of making endless new things, and what we can learn from thinking in terms of nature and of cycles instead,” he explained.

Dua Lipa Expanding Her Career With Lifestyle Brand Service95

Dua Lipa announced to Vogue this week that she would be launching her own lifestyle brand, Service95. Dua explained the brand as a “style, culture, and society concierge service,” which has been a hobby of hers for quite some time now.

“I’ve dreamed about this for so long. It’s a massive hobby of mine – I’ve always compulsively made lists of everything: my favorite places to eat, my favorite places to stay. Honestly, if I were to show you the Notes app on my phone right now…” 

Service95 is described to be a weekly newsletter featuring recommendations personally chosen by Dua. 

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“All my friends and family, wherever they travel in the world – even if they’re just there for one night – they’ll text me to ask what they should do. I’m their go-to person for recommendations.” 

Service95 will “allow those outside Dua’s inner circle access to that same insider knowledge she’s acquired as one of the biggest – and most well-travelled – superstars on the planet,” Vogue wrote.

Dua is also mending this new project with her non-profit organization the Sunny Hill Foundation, which recently opened up a kindergarten in her parent’s native town of Kosovo. Service95 will be used as a platform to shine the spotlight on inspiring figures and the causes that Dua feels passionately about. 

“For young people, looking at the news can be quite intense. You want to help but you don’t really know how to help. I want to help give young people the tools to make a difference.”

She’s not just stopping there either, Dua announced that along with the newsletter the project will also involve a podcast called At Your Service, which is described to have a wide variety of guests, including activists and some of Dua’s most famous friends. 

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“It’s very interesting being on the other side of the interview! All the guests I’m speaking to have very inspiring stories, and hopefully [as listeners], you will learn something about yourself,” she says. 

“Providing a platform for grassroots voices, or breaking down pressing issues in an accessible way, that element is really important to me. I’ve always believed that being of service is my mission in life. The whole idea is sharing information and helping each other.” 

“Subscribers can look forward to an artfully curated mix of think pieces, travel tips, and advice. There will be lots of different voices, interesting articles, and my own personal note about what I’ve been up to and what I’ve discovered,” Dua explained. 

“I want to be able to experience things, I don’t want to go to an amazing city and stay inside my hotel then leave and just say that I’ve been there. That has always been a massive thing for me. No matter what, I’ll make an effort to do something fun, and now I hope I can inspire others to do the same.”

Food Bank

Food Banks Struggle To Feed The Hungry As Prices Rise

For food banks, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a hard-hitting obstacle that threatens the well-being of families across the countries. Now, there are more hills to climb in the forms of rising food prices and supply chain issues that could cause massive havoc as the always-busy holiday season approaches.

As the Associated Press notes, the surging costs and the subsequent scarcity could equate to families in need receiving smaller portions or substitutes for favorite foods. Some food banks even worry they won’t be able to provide classic servings such as cranberry sauce or stuffing for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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Speaking to the AP, Feeding America chief operating officer Katie Fitzgerald explained that while food distribution numbers have seen a decrease, they’re still at almost 55% over the totals from the pre-pandemic times, and that an increase in food insecurity is still very possible “if too many shoes drop.”

The 200 food banks that work with Feeding America — which distributes around 4.3 billion meals per year — saw a 31% increase in the amount of food distributed in the first quarter of 2021 when compared to the first quarter of 2020. Many of the food banks expanded due to the increased demand.

During the first year of COVID, food distribution continually rose as many who had never required a food bank before suddenly needed assistance. 1.1 billion pounds of food were shipped off in the first quarter of 2020, which rose to 1.6 billion in the second quarter, a 42% increase. The third quarter had a slight increase of 5%, and distributions began to decline at the end of 2020.

The surging transportation costs are to blame for donated food being more expensive. Meanwhile, labor shortages and backlogs at factories and ports are heavily contributing to the lack of availability when it comes to food and supplies.

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According to AP, the Alameda County Community Food Bank in California is now spending an extra $60,000 a month on food, while also spending $1 million a month in order to distribute 4.5 million pounds of food. The costs of various types of servings are up anywhere from 6% to 17%.

In addition to food banks, government food assistance programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — also known as food stamps — saw increased usage by hungry families as well. SNAP users bumped up by 7 million from 2019 to 2021, which brought the total amount to 42 million. The program also had a benefits increase of 25% in October, which means the average monthly per-person benefits rose from $121 to $157.

It’s not just the absence of food supplies and costs that are interfering with food bank operations, however – the lack of volunteers is also an alarming factor. In San Francisco, one food bank only has seven to 10 volunteers working a shift despite needing to serve over 50,000 families per week. The number of volunteers down from 30-80 volunteers pre-pandemic.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, one reason for the absence of volunteers is the uprise in remote work. Companies are opting not to send employees in to assist anymore on paid-volunteering days, which has left pantries scrambling to rework their inner organizations.

Meet The ‘Psychic’ Tik Tok Pug Who’s Captured The Attention Of Millions

For Tik Tok users, there’s only one dog that matters: Noodle, the 13-year-old pug who apparently has “psychic” abilities. Every morning, his owner Jonathon Graziano (@jongraz) picks Noodle up from his dog bed. From there, Noodle will either fall or stand up.

If Noodle falls right back into bed, it’s a “no bones” day. According to Graziano, that means you should take the day off, don’t do hard tasks, wear comfortable clothes, and just enjoy a bath – a la, a “self-care” day to help you revitalize.

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If he keeps standing, it’s a “bones” day. That means you’re in for a great day, and Graziano says you should be confident, ready to take risks if need be, and seize the day. Noodle’s cute predictions have since blown up: Graziano’s profile currently has 2.6 million followers and 23.2 million likes, and a number of Noodle’s videos have combined for over 50 million views. #NoBones also has 258.1 million views.

In one of his videos, Graziano explained that Noodle was adopted when he was seven and a half-years-old and they learned early that when Noodle doesn’t want to go on a walk, he won’t go on a walk – probably something all dog owners have related to at one point or another.

Graziano has also made sure not to “force” a bones prediction. If Noodle, who Graziano refers to as his “sweet king,” won’t wake up, his owner won’t disturb him. Rather, it’s just a no bones day and the pug can enjoy his deep slumber.

“I love this thing but… no TikTok video is more important than Noodle’s wellbeing. None of it,” Graziano told Insider, assuring that the dog calls the shots when it comes to the video.

Appearing on the TODAY show, Graziano (with Noodle in tow) talked about how unbelievable it was that such a funny little daily event could have impacted so many on the popular app while spreading tons of positivity in the process.

“Noodle has brought joy to so many people online. I can’t believe it,” Graziano said. “This ‘no bones’ video is something that I would just do as a silly little ritual for us in the morning to check in and see how he was doing. And then it took off.”

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For the doubters out there, Noodle’s magic apparently works. “A woman the other day said it was a ‘bones day,’ so she bought a lotto ticket and won half a million dollars,” Graziano claimed, also citing actions such as proposals and down payments on bones days.

Tik Tok is known for its ability to thrust people into the spotlight due to impressive (or somewhat ordinary) talents. Charlie and Dixie D’Amelio, Addison Rae, and Zach King are just a few of the many names that have hit the spotlight up since the app saw its usage soar amongst young teens.

Of course, Tik Tok doesn’t always have warm-hearted moments like this. The app received plenty of negative attention last month when the “devious lick” – a trend where teens vandalize and steal school property – emerged.

In a world where many are feeling stressed from current events, pandemics, and challenges, it’s nice to see how much joy and excitement a pug, who may or may not have psychic powers, can bring. Hopefully we experience nothing but bones days from now on.


Are “Smart” Headbands The Newest Stress-Relieving Technology Of The Future?

If you’re an avid headband wearer who also happens to love the newest innovative technology, this just might be the product for you. Speaking with BBC News, USA Bobsled/Skeleton team member Emma Baumert has taken to wearing a smart headband that measures brainwaves.

The headband, called FocusCalm, is a neurofeedback or EEG (electroencephalography) device. According to FocusCalm, the headband’s sensors pick up electrical pulses from your brain, which are then compared to an AI (artificial intelligence) model that shows the user their mental state.

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Through the use of an app, FocusCalm offers the user the opportunity to build a routine while also improving their mental state thanks to games that are intended to engage the user’s brain in order to increase productivity and calmness.

Max Newlon, president of BrainCo., the firm behind FocusCalm, explained to BBC that the headband’s AI monitors 1,250 “data points” in the user’s detected brainwaves. A user score between 0 to 100 is then given, with 50 being the typical score as their website states.

While some may be skeptical of how well FocusCalm actually functions, Baumert— who became a part-time researcher for BrainCo. due to her education and sports-heavy background— vouched for the headband’s usefulness when it comes to improving a person’s overall state of mind and being.

“I got to visualize and learn how to have better control, and what training I need to do to get into a more relaxed state, while still being able to have very high explosive power output.”

A device like FocusCalm isn’t exactly new or exclusive, as other companies have taken a crack at neurofeedback technology. Muse and Cove work similarly to FocusCalm, using apps to deliver brain activity results and exercises to the user. Unlike FocusCalm, both respective products emphasize their ability as a sleep-aid.

Of course, not everyone is on board with the brain-reading headband. U.K. psychologist Dr. Naomi Murphy told BBC that EEG devices can have negative consequences, such as changing a person’s view on their brain activity after use.

“While some people find measurements useful or reinforcing, many are attracted to ‘neuro-tech’ because they identify with a vulnerability, an anxiety about their performance, and the use of data can exacerbate this.”

Additionally, others question how AI can successfully implement itself in meditation practices that have existed for well over 1,000 years, and advocate that you shouldn’t need to compare your mental results to others.

The going price for one of these headbands is almost $200. That also doesn’t include the app membership, which costs $149 for a lifetime account. While you may not be having stress following a purchase, your wallet might. If you’re out of that price range, don’t fret— there are other, less-costly methods that can help you break away from your anxiety-filled days.

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Calm, an app that has received critical praise and was named an Editor’s Choice on the App Store, helps to bring users less anxiety through breathing and stretching exercises. Calm also promotes better, more relaxing sleep through music and bed-time stories told by well-known stars. Calm is also free, although it does contain in-app purchases.

If technology isn’t appealing, there are simple, classic ways of stress relief that you could do, even while reading this. From simple, 5-minute yoga techniques to taking a morning or afternoon walk or run, stopping to give yourself personal time, even for a brief period, could do your mental health good in the long-term.

Of course, don’t let anything stop you if you have the burning desire to give FocusCalm a go. You’ll be able to try out some fascinating hardware while also giving yourself a head start on a sci-fi costume for Halloween.

Experts Worried About Rise Of ‘Zoom Dysmorphia’ As Pandemic Continues

Experts are worried that spending too much time staring at ourselves in “funhouse mirror” sizes on video-conferencing calls will begin to distort our self images.

Meet The French Drag Pair Who Are Redefining The Wedding Dress Market 

James and ViviAnn Du Fermoir-de-Monsac are redefining the current vision of an “ideal bride,” which is often portrayed in the mainstream as someone thin, white, and able-bodied. The two meet with their clients in full drag as a means of creating a safe atmosphere where everyone can feel accepted for who they are. 

“That’s why we chose to open a store in drag, because we wanted to say to everyone that you are welcome, no matter who you are.” 

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The dresses are designed after a two-hour consultation with the client about their specific needs, and typically start around €1,500 (£1,290). While the couple is inspired by the classic looks of Christian Dior and Coco Chanel, their main goal is always to create the most accurate version of their clients vision as possible. 

They typically create dresses that other designers wouldn’t attempt. For example the couple recently designed a dress with a cape for an individual in a wheelchair, and are currently working with a client who was told she couldn’t get married in trainers. 

“The marriage industry is still a little bit classical, and there are many people who are forgotten. No matter what your taste is, no matter what shape your body is, we love everybody and we want everybody to love themselves.” 

“We want people to be the best version of themselves on their wedding day,” said James. 

Du Fermoir-de-Monsac’s first ever client was a four-year-old boy who wanted to wear a dress to a wedding, however, his mother was afraid doing so would attract negative attention. So the couple made him a kilt that the mother says he still wears to school. 

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James and ViviAnn originally met at a drag competition in 2019; James was a judge and ViviAnn was a contestant. The two bonded over their love of fashion and the fact that they both designed their sisters wedding dresses. James was originally working as a chocolatier and ViviAnn was a hairdresser, however, when the pandemic initially hit in spring 2020, both of their businesses took a major hit, so they decided to take a risk and open a wedding boutique. 

Du Fermoir-de-Monsac was the pet name ViviAnn’s father gave to her mother. The boutique officially opened in April this year and in June they launched their first ever collection followed by a runway show. The collection was meant to be a “riot of lace, leather, spikes, and tulle tailored to a variety of body times.”

After the show James and ViviAnn’s drag personas got married in a faux ceremony; although the pair are actually best friends in real life and live together. 

“We are close friends in our lives, and we decided, as we were building a bridal dress company, to marry James and ViviAnn. We married in the name of couture.”

The pair are planning to bring their designs to a multitude of bridal shows this year in attempt to reach a wider pool of clients and spread their message of inclusivity and beauty in the bridal sphere.