NEWS | February 3, 2012

UC Davis fashion design students use their talents to advocate for women's heart health

Unique partnership broadens the message of the red dress in raising awareness of heart disease as the leading killer of women


UC Davis Department of Design students today unveiled eight red dresses they created to raise awareness that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women.

The distinct, youthful designs were modeled at the UC Davis Women's Heart Care Education and Awareness Forum for Community Leaders, an event held in Sacramento each year on National Wear Red Day to empower women to take charge of their heart health.

Student Yuan-Yuan Song © UC Regents
Design student Yuan-Yuan Song adds the final stitches to her red dress. Photo by Gregory Uquiaga.

The UC Davis Red Dress Collection is part of a unique collaboration now in its third year between the Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program and the Department of Design. The goal of the partnership is to bring the message of the national Red Dress Collection and Fashion Show closer to home and broaden its impact.

"The red dress is a powerful tool in encouraging women to talk with their families and physicians about heart health," said Amparo Villablanca, a UC Davis cardiologist and director of the Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program and the forum. "Involving students helps more women -- including women in their 20s -- have those important conversations and realize that prevention today can add years to their lives."

For her dress, Nidia Trejo integrated technology with texture to address a common heart health issue: stress. She started with a cotton top with a sweetheart neckline and paired it with a polyester skirt that she melted into soft folds to demonstrate the release of tension. Computer-programmed lights brightly emulate a healthy heart beat on the skirt.

"I want people to smile and lower their stress levels when they see my dress," said Trejo. "We all need to remember that simple, enjoyable actions can help maintain a healthy heart."

Other inspirations ranged from a father's heart attack to Lady Gaga to Mughal art. Trejo's twin sister, Helen, created a dress to honor their grandmother, who has high cholesterol.

"This project is a positive opportunity for our students to combine their individual aesthetics and experiences with a valuable health message," said Adele Zhang, the faculty member who mentors the designers. "Each dress represents a unique point of view, yet together they deliver a united story about the importance of our hearts."

As part of her outreach, Villablanca encourages women to adopt healthy habits such as a low-fat, high-fiber, low-sodium diet and daily exercise, because most heart disease is preventable. Her program at UC Davis is the first in the nation dedicated to women's heart health and a national model for research, outreach, education and care for women.

"Wearing red, especially red dresses, has made a huge difference in alerting women to the fact that heart disease is not just a 'man's disease,' and that taking an active role in their health and understanding the importance of a healthy lifestyle are the keys to prevention," she said.

Click here to view UC Davis Department of Design students' red dresses

About the UC Davis Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program:
The UC Davis Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program offers state-of-the-art cardiovascular care for women, education services and studies on women's heart health issues. The cornerstone of the program is the Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Clinic, providing comprehensive care in a climate that is woman-centered, culturally appropriate and respectful of each patient's needs. For information, visit

About the UC Davis Department of Design:
The UC Davis Department of Design emphasizes design as the nexus of culture, science, technology and creativity. The program includes courses in exhibition design, interior architecture, textile and fashion design, and visual communication. The design major is the only professionally-oriented, design driven undergraduate and graduate program in the UC system. For information, visit