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More than a perfect fit

What's New? | October 21, 2019 | By:

Startup focuses on functional intimate apparel for breast cancer survivors.

by Marie O’Mahony

Intimate apparel size and fit is a challenge for manufacturers and consumers alike, but for double mastectomy survivors there are additional problems to be overcome. Susanne Wroblewski is the Research Lab Coordinator at Central Michigan University and a co-founder of Elemental, a company that designs and manufacturers functional intimates for breast cancer survivors.

The company launched a Kickstarter campaign in October 2018, and her presentation at this year’s IFAI EXPO in Orlando, Fla., detailed much of her motivation, journey, progress and challenges.

Statistics show that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives with over 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the US alone. It is estimated that there will be around 268,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in 2019. Although diagnosis is improving, many still need to undergo a double mastectomy. Not everyone elects to have reconstructive surgery, with side effects one of the considerations.

In her presentation Wroblewski outlined the wide array of bra styles that are available. While for many women, size, fit, style and price are key concerns, for double mastectomy survivors movement may be restricted so that some may be easier to put on and take off than others, and straps can assume different degrees of comfort and support than pre-surgery. Added to this is the need to provide wicking properties.

Conducting extensive surveys in advance of Elemental’s redesign some responses were predictable, but other results were more surprising. Respondents stressed the importance of breasts as part of their femininity and part of their body image. Comfort and fit is by far the most important consideration in a purchasing decision, while aesthetics is not just less important but sits at the very bottom of the list.

Elemental’s redesign has met with a very positive response from customers. It is designed with thermal cups to provide warmth and a unique cup that fits the shape of the wearer. Under wiring has been eliminated as both unnecessary and uncomfortable. Soft fabrics provide day-long comfort, a pleasant visual and tactile aesthetic with the addition of a wicking layer moving moisture away from the body. Finally, there are no shoulder-slip straps with easy adjustments provided and additional band clasps for more size flexibility.

In 1977, two American women, Hinda Miller and Lisa Lindahl made the first athletic bra. Failing to get any interest from sports brands, the first sample was made by sewing two jockstraps together. While there are no unlimited sources of funding or easy routes for new developments, the research and market culture today is certainly more supportive for important developments such as Susanne Wroblewski’s work with intimate apparel for breast cancer survivors.

Marie O’Mahony is an industry consultant, author and academic. She the author of several books on advanced and smart textiles published by Thames and Hudson and Visiting Professor at the Royal College of Art (RCA), London.

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