Experts in the post-surgery lingerie sector discuss some of the positive trends that are driving growth in the market and the exciting new innovations that are launching in stores nationwide.
It is no secret that an increase in breast cancer diagnosis is driving growth in the post-surgery lingerie market. According to Cancer Research UK, breast cancer incidence rates have increased by around a fifth (19%) in the UK since the early 1990s.
But there are also many positive trends that have been cropping up in the wider intimate apparel sector in recent years that are leading to an increase in sales in this category, and thus helping suppliers and retailers meet their customers’ demands.
For instance, fashion trends across non-specialist lingerie styles, such as vibrant colours, bold prints and lightweight fabrics, are finally filtering through into post-surgery styles, and as this happens, more and more retailers are taking notice.
“Because post-surgery lingerie is becoming more creative in terms of design, it sits better alongside mainstream ranges on the shop floor, so retailers are happier to stock it,” says Amoena UK marketing manager Rhoda White.
Anita Care managing director Jemma Barnes believes that growth in the post-surgery market has been driven by independent retailers looking for new “specialist areas” for their businesses, in order to attract custom.
“I think retailers on the high street are now looking at all specialist areas when purchasing stock, whereas in the past small back sizes and large cup sizes drove business to their doors,” she explains.
“I also believe that people in the lingerie industry have a real passion for ‘care products’. Our industry naturally invokes emotional connection and there is nothing more rewarding than helping a post surgical lady who has lost confidence in her body to regain her curves and feel comfortable, feminine and glamorous again.”
The rise in customer expectations has also played a part in the amount of retailers now choosing to stock post-surgery lingerie and swimwear.
“Customers now expect to walk into the majority of high street stores or lingerie and swimwear boutiques stores and have the opportunity to view, try on and purchase various post-mastectomy styles,” explains Nicola Jane operations manager Melissa Reeve.
“The Nicola Jane range is now being stocked in many independent boutiques and department stores. It is however important that alongside choice, retailers have staff trained to deal specifically with post-surgery customers as it is essential that their post-surgery needs and requirements are understood and met.”
Debenhams is one retailer that is focusing its efforts on training staff to fit customers with fashionable post-surgery lingerie.
“One of our biggest focuses continues to be on staff training, ensuring that staff are fully equipped to help customers who are coming in to find their perfect bra,” says senior buyer Ananda Gill.
“Many of our staff are incredibly passionate about wanting to help and go above and beyond, working closely with their local breast clinics.”
Gill believes value for money is one of the key drivers of growth in this category.
“There is a growing awareness within the retail industry around social responsibility and this comes in so many forms, but I believe one thing we will see more of is retailers joining us in our views that all women should be able to shop for a post-surgery bra in the same places they have shopped before their surgery, without incurring a hefty price tag,” she explains.
So as more retailers are realising the emotional and financial benefits of stocking post-surgery lingerie, what new trends and innovations should they be looking out for?
Naturana, which offers a line of moulded mastectomy bras, has adapted this range as prostheses have evolved.
“As prosthesis become more comfortable, the shape is much more natural and less heavy,” says Naturana key account manager Tanya Bulloch.
“This has helped our designers develop more ways to incorporate femininity and functionality into our mastectomy bras. Our Secret Support bra offers pocket reinforcement to ensure the correct fit and encourage everyday confidence.”
Amoena, which makes post-surgery lingerie that combines visual appeal with comfort, fit and performance, has incorporated several innovations into its garments over the last year.
Some of the brand’s favourites include spacer foam technology.
“Spacer foam has imperceptible air pockets that allow air to pass through the cup, making it very light and more breathable than traditional foam cups,” explains White.
“This technology also helps us create bras that are as supportive and shape-enhancing as moulded-cup bras, but infinitely lighter – a bonus in hot weather and for anyone experiencing menopausal symptoms as a result of their treatment.”
The brand has also incorporated memory foam into its bras. This is a shape-perfecting technology that is designed to make bras more comfortable and versatile.
“Memory foam absorbs body heat, quickly adjusting to body temperature, and can then perfectly adapt to the shape of the breast,” adds White.
“Once taken off, it returns to its natural shape. This means bra cups don’t crease or get out of shape – a bonus when packing in a suitcase or storing in a lingerie drawer. Instead they feel like a second skin, shaping to a woman’s breast or breast form and helping even out any irregularities for a perfect silhouette in clothing.”
The post-surgical market is evolving in response to changes in surgical techniques and practices. As more and more cases of breast cancer result in partial surgery rather than a full mastectomy, innovative products that are seam-free and wire-free, but still offer high levels of support and compression, are giving comfort and shape to wearers immediately after surgery.
Take the Anita 1199 ‘Initial post-operative bra’ for example. “This features a terry towelling lining that covers the join from the under band to the cup – the location of scars after segment resection – and this seam-free soft option provides welcome comfort and high-level compression for faster healing,” says Barnes.
The Calmia 5310 post radio therapy bra is another clever innovation from Anita Care.
“This brings comfort to sore skin damaged by radiotherapy. With minimal pressure and a full seam-free bra lining, it is super soft for the wearer. The bra also has no joins from cup to strap and has no metal adjusters that can be dangerous for radio therapy patients to wear,” she adds.
For SS18, Anita has adapted its best-selling 5527 Extreme Control sports bra to house a pocket for a prosthesis.
“Women are encouraged to exercise after surgery and this will allow them to train with confidence, knowing that they are getting maximum support for their natural breast and that their prosthesis is well secured and will not be exposed,” says Barnes.
“The new 5727X is launching in the fashionable ‘heather grey’ colourway.”
Debenhams has also seen the overall demand for sports and activewear market filter through into post-surgery bras and swimwear in the last 12 months. And as a result, the retailer is set to launch an own-brand post-surgery sports bra.
The Nicola Jane SS18 lingerie collection is currently being updated to include new trims and soft cushion seal hook and eyes.
“Comfort is a key aspect of post-surgery and mastectomy lingerie and we are continuously improving and adapting our collection based on customer feedback. Popular continuity styles are also being reintroduced into the collection for SS18 in on-trend colours.”
Post-surgery brands and retailers share details of the projects they have been working on recently to help women who have undergone breast surgery find the perfect bra.
Anita managing director Jemma Barnes: “We have our new mobile fitter, Carolyn Portch, who has spent the last year promoting the importance of well-fitting bras at clinics and hospitals across the UK. A breast form is provided via the NHS and Carolyn then recommends which bra is best for the patient and gives details of the local specialist Anita stockist where the bra can be bought. We can’t reveal too much about it yet, but we are working on a new project in conjunction with the National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline to help promote Anita products and also raise awareness of the importance of vulnerable women with a family history of breast cancer to be tested for genetic inheritance.”
Amoena UK marketing manager Rhoda White: “We work very closely with our retailers to ensure that they are trained to fit post-surgery lingerie and provide their customers with the best possible shopping experience. The Amoena Academy offers a range of courses to help retailers gain the necessary skills and knowledge, and our courses are free of charge. We also work with selected retailers to hold fitting events, where women are encouraged to be fitted for a bra and try a selection of the latest lingerie and swimwear styles. These have proved very popular with retailers, who find it helps raise awareness of the fact that they offer post-surgery lingerie.
Debenhams senior lingerie buyer Ananda Gill: “We collaborate with Breast Cancer Now’s fantastic ambassadors to gain their input and ensure that comfort is in the DNA of the product, without compromising on style. Delivering consistency of fit is also absolutely key. We ensure that the fit is consistent so customers can confidently purchase a new style or colour without having to worry that the fit will be different.”
Naturana key account manager Tanya Bulloch: “We have been speaking to local breast care nurses in the NHS to see how we can progress with our styles. The ladies in our office also take part in the Moonlight Walk in aid of cancer research.”
Nicola Jane operations manager Melissa Reeve: “Over the last 10 years we have campaigned and featured real customers as Nicola Jane Inspirational Women modelling our post-surgery and mastectomy collection in our catalogues and on our website, and this is something which we will continue in 2018. We also work closely with our Fitting Team to listen to customer feedback and hold regular team meetings to discuss product demands. These demands are then often met and introduced into our collection. We also have a specialist Breast Care Fitting Team who attend Support Groups and organise regular Fitting Clinics across the UK, Ireland and Channel Islands offering an expert bra, swimsuit and prosthesis fitting service for ladies who do not have access to this in their local area. So far in 2017 Nicola Jane has organised and ran very successful Fitting Clinics in Hereford, Jersey, Bristol and the Isle of Wight.”