Fashion’s new support system

Finding utilitarian bras is now easier. But brands like Ana Ono, Garance, Zivame, H&M and now, Marks & Spencer, also factor both sexy and trendy requirements.

Finding utilitarian bras is now easier. But brands like Ana Ono, Garance, Zivame, H&M and now, Marks & Spencer, also factor both sexy and trendy requirements.   | Photo Credit: Getty images/istock

Marks & Spencer’s line of mastectomy bras, Knitted Knockers and the Poorti Kit are just some of the ways that survivors are beating the breast cancer blues

Dr Selvi Radhakrishna has just finished operating on an 82-year-old woman, as she takes a seat in one of the empty consultation rooms at the Apollo Speciality Cancer Hospital in Chennai. A breast surgeon with over 27 years of experience, she marvels, “One of the patient’s major concerns at undergoing a double mastectomy (removal of both breasts) was about how soon she could go in for reconstructive surgery. It just goes to show, there is no age limit on when a woman stops caring about her physical appearance.”

Take your pick
  • For fun and functional head wear, write to Sandhya Rao of WikiWear info@wikiwear.biz 9886260249
  • In 2013, Shivan & Narresh designed a special edition mastectomy blouse, available at ₹15,000 onwards for personalised orders, and at a concessionalised price of ₹2,500, for NGOs dedicated to the cause, like the Women's Cancer Initiative
  • Lisa Crites of Florida created The Shower Shirt, so that women can safely shower after a mastectomy. At approximately ₹5,700 (not including shipping) on theshowershirt.com
  • AnaOno lingerie is designed for breast cancer survivors, and the line has been showcased at New York Fashion Week since 2017

This brings us to post-mastectomy wear. Finding utilitarian bras is now easier. But brands like Ana Ono, Garance, Zivame, H&M and now, Marks & Spencer, also factor both sexy and trendy requirements. Soozie Jenkinson, head of design for lingerie at M&S, says that during their research to create a line of mastectomy bras, one of their key findings was a lack of pretty designs. The high street brand recently introduced bras and prostheses that answer this need in the Indian market, although they first launched in the UK back in 2006.

This ‘style’ is relevant for two reasons: one, about 40% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have mastectomies, and two, the average age of onset in India is 45-50 years. Dr Radhakrishna says, “It is considered frivolous to even think of pretty lingerie in that situation. But it makes a world of difference, not just for the intimacy factor, but also for her self-image.” While globally, women opt for tattoos and embrace their scars, it can be tricky to approach this in India, where femininity is tied in with physical appearances. “There is also the fact that it isn’t a very comfortable topic for most people,” she says.

From the M&S post-surgery collection

From the M&S post-surgery collection   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The M&S line takes into account the needs of its clientele, with sensitive skin-friendly material in a range of colours, cotton lace trimmings, full coverage cups with pockets for inserts and broader straps to handle the additional weight of prostheses.

Oncology counsellor at Apollo, Dr Kavitha Sasikumar, says that mainstream brands getting on board with mastectomy post-op wear is a positive trend. “Knowing that they have these options makes it easier on them. Yes, it’s a serious health issue, but if a simple thing like a pretty bra or wig can get them to feel better mentally and emotionally, it will make the recovery period that much easier,” she says. This concept is not new for the hospital, which launched The Sunshine Store in 2011, providing customised bras, hairpieces and other essentials for cancer survivors. The store is currently undergoing renovation, and will be launched shortly, she says.

Poorti Kit

The Sampoorti Kit has every size and shape of insert and bra, so patients can try on and get exactly what they want from their Poorti Kit.

The Sampoorti Kit has every size and shape of insert and bra, so patients can try on and get exactly what they want from their Poorti Kit.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Human empathy has given rise to innovation in the field of post-surgery inner-wear. Dr Pawan Mehrotra was working as a cancer drug researcher at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, when one interaction — and the birth of his daughter a few months later — changed his focus. “While speaking to a lady and her husband on one of my hospital visits, I noticed how uncomfortable she was post-mastectomy. I wanted to do something to help women like her,” he says. He quit his job, went back to college (IIT-Delhi) to learn manufacturing, and from 2014 to late 2017, worked on creating what is now marketed as the Poorti Kit.

Dr Mehrotra made two significant technological advancements in his quest for the perfect prostheses. One was that he made the silicone itself 35% lighter by stripping it down and reducing the density. He also made it softer, giving the insert a flat back, unlike imported (and expensive) ones that have concave backs. The prostheses come in two shapes and 10 different sizes. While the bras and inserts can be purchased separately, the entire kit comes with one silicone prosthesis, two covers, two bras and a compartmentalised storage bag.

Currently working with over 50 hospitals across the country, he says, “It is imperative that women have the chance to try on the bra and insert for size before ordering it. So we put together the Sampoorti Kit, which has every size and shape of insert and bra, so they can get exactly what they want and are comfortable with.” In some cities, he is banking on women entrepreneurs who will take the kits to patients’ homes for trial sessions.

Visit aarnabiomed.in or e-mail info@aarnabiomed.in. 8105311590

Knitted Knockers

A knitted knocker is an insert made of cotton yarn with washable and removable stuffing, distributed free of cost

A knitted knocker is an insert made of cotton yarn with washable and removable stuffing, distributed free of cost   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Mumbai-based Jayashree Ratan came across this cheekily-named group when one of her relatives had a mastectomy and was struggling to come to terms with her body. An avid knitter, she says, “I made a pair of these ‘knitted knockers’ for her in early March, and she was quite happy with them.” Essentially, it is an insert made of cotton yarn with washable and removable stuffing, distributed free of cost by the organisation founded by US-based Barbara Demorest, after undergoing a mastectomy.

On her website (knittedknockers.org), Demorest writes that her doctor was the one to suggest these as an alternative to traditional silicone prostheses that can be expensive and heavy. “I thought, ‘What if my doctor had real knitted knockers to give to women rather than a photocopied picture to show them?’” To bring this volunteer movement to India, Ratan and a few of her friends formed a group called Saaisha and registered with KK. “Since May 2018, we have sent out over 200 pairs,” she says happily.

The knitters use 100% cotton yarn filled with recron so it is comfortable for sensitive skin, as well as washable. While they can be made of any colour yarn, you are only limited by your creativity when it comes to the kind of designs that can be added to the basic pattern that is available on the website. Currently, there are about 50 volunteers across the country who supply the inserts as the requests come in.

E-mail saaisha.india@gmail.com or call to request. 9820700310

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 5:52:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fashion/fashions-new-support-system/article25336053.ece

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