Thanks to clever marketing campaigns, charity events and more media platforms giving women with breast cancer a voice, the stigma of the ‘C’ word has now been lifted. What’s more encouraging is that post-surgery bras are now just as beautiful as ‘conventional’ lingerie styles, with subtle details for comfort and support, and mastectomy ladies can now walk certain stores, or visit an online shop, to find a style that suits them, just as they would have before their surgery. But with so many styles available, how do retailers know which items to stock? And what are post-surgery brands doing to make their products even more accessible?
On the panel
Rhoda White, marketing manager, Amoena UK
Tom Kavanagh, UK sales and marketing director, Naturana
Tanya Bulloch, key account manager, Lorna Drew
Melissa Reeve, operations manager, Nicola Jane
Nicki Hall, senior designer, Royce
Jane Fleming, design director, Royce
How has post-surgery lingerie evolved over the last 12 months in terms of new innovations, shapes and styles?
Rhoda White: We have seen a continuing trend towards bras and briefs that are just as beautiful as ‘mainstream’ collections. Women also expect to be able to find styles like strapless and multiway bras in post-surgery ranges and we have offered these in our collections for some time. Similarly, there’s no reason why sexy designs and luxurious fabrics can’t be used in post-surgery lingerie and our Seduction range, which is influenced by Parisian design, does just that.
Tom Kavanagh: The post surgery market is developing due to the lingerie industry’s recognition that women who have undergone treatment want bras that allow them to continue to go about their everyday lives.
How have fabrics and technologies evolved in that time?
Melissa Reeve: The Nicola Jane collection features various padded styles, which are created for everyday wear. The moulded foam cup design, created using a heat moulding technique, provides a seam-free smooth cup, suitable for wearing under all clothing. Pocketed to hold a prosthesis, the structured moulded foam cups help to disguise any difference between a prosthesis and a natural breast. We also use the latest modal fabrics for extra softness, ensuring our customer has the ultimate in comfort.
Nicki Hall: More modal and brushed fabrics are being used to give a much softer handle. At Royce, we’re always pushing to use different technologies and innovative materials like our silver fibre, which is used in our post-operative bra to inhibit the growth of bacteria on the fabric.
Rhoda White: Breathability continues to be a key feature that women look for in post-surgery styles – particularly as they may be experiencing menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes. High cotton content or fabrics like micro-modal and Microsense are being featured much more because they are as soft as cotton but even faster drying, and perform better when it comes to wash-and-wear. And to help women achieve that all-important smooth, even outline following surgery, technologies like memory and spacer foam help us meet women’s everyday needs in innovative ways.
Tom Kavanagh: Our mastectomy bra is made of soft smooth Micro Touch – a natural comfortable soft cotton/elastane material. Special care has been taken with the integrated pockets of the design, which are made of a stretchable material on the inner side in order to make room for a full prosthesis or enhancer, depending on the surgery that the customer has had. We have also created this style with a higher neckline and side panels, as well a deeper under bust for a snug fit. This allows the customer to feel safe and secure.
Tanya Bulloch: Fabrics and technologies are always evolving. Our founder and designer, Lorna, is always designing and researching to ensure that we stay on top of technologies and trends. Natural fabrics like cotton are every popular and we are finding more ‘stretch and forgiveness’ in lace options.
Which key post-surgery shapes and styles should every bricks and mortar lingerie store stock?
Melissa Reeve: Post-surgery lingerie stores should be mindful of the different types of surgery a consumer can have after breast cancer – there isn’t one bra to fit all. Nicola Jane bras can be worn by ladies who have had various different surgery types after breast cancer, including a single or bilateral mastectomy, lumpectomy, partial mastectomy or reconstruction. Padded bras can often help to create a smooth, even shape and are therefore an ideal choice for ladies who have had partial surgery, a reconstruction or for ladies who need to disguise any difference in shape between their prosthesis and natural breast. More specialised designs, including camisole bras, can be worn to help to provide additional coverage, suitable for ladies who have high scarring or a slight hollow chest.
Rhoda White: Comfort is important in the weeks immediately after surgery and if a customer comes to you for a bra that she can take into hospital with her, the ideal style is a soft bra in breathable fabric that is front-fastening for easy dressing, and has pockets to hold a ‘softie’ prosthesis comfortably in place without irritating her surgery site. For women who have passed the six-week post-surgery period and can wear their choice of lingerie, we recommend stocking a basic T-shirt bra, a sports bra, a multi-way bra for adaptability under summer tops and dresses, a choice of non-wired and underwired styles and at least one pretty fashion set.
What special features should retailers look for when buying post-surgery lingerie?
Nicki Hall: Wirefree bras with a fuller cup, high neckline, deep centre-front and a deep underband to keep the prosthesis secure. They should also look out for comfortable straps – cotton-lined ideally, for comfort.
Tom Kavanagh: Retailers should look for a full-cup style that provides coverage across the front and side panels of the design, as well as flexible pockets that hold the prosthesis securely in place, and smooth seams to prevent any rubbing against sensitive skin.
Rhoda White: Although they look like mainstream bras, good post-surgery styles have design features like elasticated edges to the cups for extra security, bra cups that are designed to completely encase the breast form, pockets that are easy to access from the top or sides, and a comfortable underband to help support breast forms and provide stability. Straps are important too – some of our styles have wider straps with gentle padding for improved comfort, particularly in larger cup sizes – and our straps are designed to be fully adjustable to any length, for a great fit whatever a woman’s shape or size.
What are you doing to raise awareness around the variety of products available to women during the different stages of treatment?
Melissa Reeve: As well as working with breast care teams, we also run fitting clinics across the UK. Our aim is to make the Nicola Jane brand accessible to everyone who might not be able to get to one of our shops or wholesale stockists. Our fully trained, expert fitters are on hand to give professional advice and to find the best style for consumers’ specific needs.
Jane Fleming: We run training courses for our customers, retailers and etailers so they can become confident when speaking to their customers.
Tanya Bulloch: We work closely with our local breast cancer nurses and support our specialist stockists by attending events and groups. We also host our own Everyday Superwoman competition every year, celebrating the women who have been through and survived this life changing-event, and promoting a healthy body image. The winner becomes our brand ambassador.
How do you ensure that your stockists have the knowledge and customer service skills to help post-surgery customers find the right style for them?
Rhoda White: We offer our retailers extensive training, both in terms of fitting skills and the face-to-face customer care that’s needed when helping women who have had breast cancer surgery. Creating a welcoming environment where her privacy is respected at all times, and ensuring that staff are trained to fit mastectomy lingerie, is key in helping her feel confident to return to the store again and again.
Tanya Bulloch: It is very important to us that all our stockists understand how our products benefit the wearer. We visit stores to ensure that we provide staff with one-on-one training so that they understand what this consumer will have experienced and will need in her new lingerie.
Are more women turning to the web when they can’t find their preferred style in store?
Melissa Reeve: Recently, retailers have seen a rise in digital influencers; consumers are now turning to social media platforms for advice from fellow consumers. It is important for retailers to embrace this way of building a relationship with consumers. At Nicola Jane, we are aware that someone who has been through the experience themselves can offer the most relatable advice. We therefore encourage a customer community via Nicola Jane’s Facebook page.
Nicki Hall: Once they know their correct size, we believe they do shop online. There are good systems for e-fitting, but mastectomy fitting is different and requires a more bespoke fitting. A lot of ladies do not realise they first have to have a good fitting bra before going hospital to have their first prosthesis fitted. If they are not sure of what size bra to buy online, and get the wrong size, their prosthesis will not fit properly.
Tom Kavanagh: We are finding that this is a convenient option, particularly for women who live in more rural areas, or have undergone treatment and don’t have the stamina or confidence to visit their nearest store.
Would you recommend shopping for post-surgery lingerie online?
Rhoda White: Yes. We believe that women should be able to shop whenever, wherever and however they want to – just as they did before surgery – and that includes buying their lingerie online. It’s a good idea to be fitted properly for your first mastectomy bra, however, and to have a professional fitting once every couple of years to allow for fluctuations in size due to weight gain or loss, ageing, etc.
Melissa Reeve: For ladies who know their size and the style that meets their post-surgery needs, online shopping is a great way to shop.
Does your brand cater for the fuller bust market?
Jane Fleming: Yes. Royce support bras go up to an L cup. For styles that go above an FF cup, a pocket may be added, if required.
Rhoda White: Several styles in our range of bras are available up to an F cup, and many of our bras have features that are ideal for women with a fuller bust, such as wider, padded straps and cut-and-sewn cups for shape and support.
Melissa Reeve: We currently have the best core range of DD-H cup bras in pocketed bras within the UK. However, we do recognize that there is room for improvement in this area and we are continuously looking for manufacturers who can supply products for the fuller busted lady, whilst not compromising on femininity and comfort.
When it comes to “conventional” lingerie, many retailers are unable to stock a large number of SKUs. Is this also a problem with post-surgery lingerie?
Tanya Bulloch: Yes, this is an issue. Space equals money, unfortunately. However, we offer our stockists low minimum orders and are happy to send out special orders within five days. We find that this helps our smaller retailers to offer their customer a personal and expert service without having to carry large SKUs.
Nicki Hall: Mastectomy lingerie is not a priority for many retailers, so they will only stock a couple of items, rather than a complete range. The customer really wants to be able to go into a store and see a selection of styles and buy on the day. Sadly this is not the case as a lot of department stores just to not have the space to dedicate to this area.
Melissa Reeve: The size of the premise will be a restriction for most retailers. However, although it may not be possible for a store to include every product in every size it is essential that you give consumers a choice. It is important to understand your customer base and know what type of styles they prefer.
Where do you see the future of the post-surgery lingerie market heading?
Nicki Hall: Sadly, women will continue to get breast cancer, but with earlier detection, and more ladies opting for re-construction, we might see a decline in the need for pocketed bras, but the need for wirefree will still be high.
Rhoda White: Post-surgery lingerie will continue to become more mainstream, so that women who have had breast surgery don’t feel different from other women.
Tom Kavanagh: Naturana brand is synonymous with providing affordable styles which women can wear throughout the day. Whilst there is more choice coming onto the market, with more elaborate designs, it is important not to forget what women need as an everyday lingerie requirement.
Melissa Reeve: As the medical practices involved with breast surgery after breast cancer evolve, so does the need for different types of post-surgery lingerie. Reconstructions are now becoming increasingly common; therefore post-surgery bras such as the Lucy Smoothing Padded T-Shirt Bra, which is designed to create a smooth even shape, are suitable for this.