Newark, New Jersey:
When graduate student Haobo Zhang decided to design underwear specifically for transgender women, his ambition was more arrogant than submitting a project to complete his master's in fashion at the University of Delaware.
Zhang wanted to meet a need that would help bring comfort and respect to the millions of people around the world who identify as transgender.
One of them is Willa Patsy Sharpe, a registered nurse named William Patrick Sharpe at birth, who agreed to undergo an intimate interview and a full-body scan at the University of Newark's Innovation Health & Design Lab after making a volunteer call had answered.
The computer-generated avatar, created from the scan and insights from conversations with Sharpe and other trans women, will help Zhang develop the first transgender underwear for mass production, said Martha Hall, director of the laboratory and assistant professor of health sciences at the university ,
"I want to help people who were previously ignored feel good and align themselves with what they want to be," said Zhang, who works with a laboratory team.
Zhang's project grew out of a conversation Hall, his academic advisor, had with an underwear designer at Calvin Klein, the global fashion house.
"He suggested that we work on a gender-specific collection. I went one step further," said Hall.
The 24-year-old Shanghai native said creating a vision for transgender underwear is exactly the kind of job he wants to do as part of his dream career as a functional designer.
"Functional design is clothing that improves people's lives. Clothing can protect a firefighter, clothing can help disabled people to live more comfortably," said Zhang, who is not a native English speaker. "Some trans women want to hide their genitals."
Sharpe, 60, a divorced father of two who "came out" at the age of 56, said that most transgender women don't try to "deceive the world", they just want to be comfortable and feminine.
"There must be a way to plate your jewels," said Sharpe, who also has three grandchildren.
Sharpe said existing transgender underwear made by boutique manufacturers is artificial and uncomfortable. In one line, each panties contained a padded cup shaped to resemble female genitals.
Sharpe said she responded to the lab's request for attendees after other trans women told her about techniques used to hide her male genitals, from wearing a double layer of women's panties to taping them up.
In order to feel good and look natural, Zhang said that some trans women need prosthetic improvement in some areas and "stuck" in others.
"I would like to have enough looks to make people think so that they don't automatically call me" Sir "," said Sharpe, whose testicles were surgically removed.
"Every time someone calls me & # 39; sir & # 39; it's like a little arrow hitting you. Sometimes you just have to worry about it. Like crying," said Sharpe.
An estimated 25 million people worldwide are transgendered, according to The Lancet medical journal. In the United States, an estimated 1.4 million adults identify as transgenders, according to the Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law, a research group that focuses on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Zhang's goal is to complete the project to complete in May, and Hall hopes to expand its scope to include transmen and possibly sell the underwear nationally.
For Sharpe, however, the effort is much more than a fashion project.
"This study means not only understanding our community, but also confirming that they exist," said Sharpe.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)