The Life Aquatic

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IMG_0987Captivated by the underwater activity she saw while snorkeling at age 10 in Hawaii, Lia Barrett (right) was disappointed she couldn’t bring any fish home to Chapel Hill. After her family trip, she got her hands on a Jacques Cousteau book and spent her teenage years covering her bedroom walls with vivid paintings of fish inspired by his work. “I thinkit’s looking at all those underwater photos that made me want to be an underwater photographer,” Lia says. At 16, she got scuba certified and after college, off Lia went to Thailand, Indonesia and the Maldives, “chasing creatures” with her camera for diving companies and publications. But even while working on a submarine a world away, Lia never forgot that she and her best friend Claudia Wilcher had a starry-eyed dream of having a clothing line someday. It was here that she gazed out a porthole and noticed that the contrast between the pitch-black depths of the ocean and vibrant coral had a graphic element to it. Back on land, the two got serious designing, combining silhouettes of animals from Lia’s photographs with bubbles and waves, and found a screen printer in Carrboro. Today, their company Prawno releases a variety of apparel from tees to hoodies and pullovers to appease both the paddle boarder in the States and the nature lover in Australia experiencing different seasons. Look closely, and you’ll see tiny numbers and notations on each piece. “Everything has depths and locations built in, so [you know that] the Eagle Rays were photographed at 79 feet,” Lia says. As an advocate of the ocean, Prawno contributes a portion of proceeds to marine conservation efforts. (Even the company name – prawn plus an “o” for ocean – is aimed to bring public attention to the damage of commercial trawling for shrimp.) Hundreds of miles from the Atlantic, landlocked Chapel Hillians can shop local for shark- and whale-covered shirts at Townsend Bertram & Co. in Carr Mill Mall.

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Jessica Stringer

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