Could you tell us a bit about your personal experience with cancer, and how it inspired you to set up Millie Lingerie?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, and underwent three rounds of surgery, including a mastectomy and reconstruction, and five years of hormone therapy. Ten years later I had a recurrence on the same side, with the same cancer. I had another lumpectomy, which meant that my left breast was much smaller, battered, and uneven, and I now wear a breast prosthesis to even out my shape.
I found it almost impossible to find a bra that was not only comfortable, but that I actually liked. I was reduced to tears repeatedly in changing rooms, leaving feeling disheartened and grumpy. So I decided to turn a grump into a business and do something about it, for myself, the 50,000 women who are newly diagnosed each year, and the half a million women who are living well after treatment.
We all deserve more, and I’m determined to see that we all get it – fabulous, comfortable bras to wear, that help to reduce some of the impacts of breast cancer treatment, and restore some self-confidence.
Can you explain, for those who may not already know, some of the difficulties women who have overcome breast cancer face when trying to find new underwear?
We’ve identified that 99% of women have to replace their entire bra wardrobe after breast cancer surgery because of sensitive, painful scar tissue and uneven breast shape. The impact of their treatment lasts for the rest of their lives, and many women find it too uncomfortable to go back to wearing ‘standard’ bras, because the materials rub and irritate sensitive skin.
A high proportion of women wear a breast prosthesis to even out their contour, so they also need a bra with a pocketed lining to hold their breast form securely in place. Other women prefer to remain flat, but even then, they often have uneven chest contours that feel sensitive, and they still need something to wear to help them feel secure.
Of the 120+ women we surveyed, a high proportion told us they are extremely dissatisfied with the choice of bras they have access to, describing them as old fashioned, ugly, and not anything like the bras they used to wear. One of the ladies I spoke to is 72, and she would still like to wear a pretty bra – age isn’t important, but the wish for something gorgeous and comfortable to wear is the same for all women.
Why is this range of lingerie important to women who have overcome cancer?
Women go through a challenging medical and psychological experience during breast cancer treatment, and they lose something they can never really quite get back. For many women, lingerie is an important expression of their femininity and helps with self-confidence. We designed the Millie bra to help give them a little bit back.
We understand the practical challenges women come up against when trying to find a bra wardrobe to get themselves dressed comfortably and stylishly each day, whether they are returning to work, going out with friends, getting dressed for a special occasion, or resuming exercise.
Our first bra is a stylish, feminine, soft cup, non-wired lace bra to give women a welcome confidence boost after the rigours of their treatment are over. We hope they will be able to look at themselves in the mirror and think, “I look like me again.”
We’ll design bras to wear right after surgery as well, but we first wanted to show that it is entirely possible to feel comfortable and look gorgeous at the same time.
Are there other products like this on the market? If so, what sets Millie’s Lingerie apart from the crowd?
There are around 500 lingerie brands in the UK, but only a handful design specifically for women who’ve been through breast cancer treatment. Our starting point was a deep understanding of the ‘medical’ requirements of our wearers, then focusing on the woman herself, her wishes and hopes, and the things she thinks that she’s not entitled to any longer – like pretty straps and lacy details.
Breast cancer is something that’s happened to us – it’s a part of us, but it’s not a definition. We’re designing for women, not breast cancer patients.
Tell us about the Millie’s team…
Sue’s been working with designer, Laura Stanford – previously of M&S, Debehams, and Agent Provocateur – who says Millie is the most challenging and inspiring design she's ever created. Pattern and sample makers, Laura and Karen, are both Nottinghamshire-based, and were on board throughout 2016 refining and specifying our design to get it ready for production sampling.
Tony Jarvis, Sue's mentor, is past Sales & Marketing Director at Triumph UK and MD at Gossard UK, and has advised throughout; he will become Millie’s first non-executive director later this year.
Our three interns, Rebecca Lewis, Molly Moore, and Marija Marc, are all graduates of Nottingham Trent University’s BA Fashion Marketing Communications. They have created graphic design and photography for our upcoming Kickstarter campaign and new website.
We're collaborating with Press For Attention on our PR activity, and we’ve had extensive business support from Nottingham Trent University, Medilink, BioCity, Ingenuity Network based at the University of Nottingham, and NBV (Nottingham Business Venture).
Are you involved in the design of the underwear? If so, what’s the creative process like? Do you make the bras yourselves?
The design process began as series of sketches I made, tracing out my ideas and aspirations for the first Millie bra. I’m not a designer as such, but I can easily articulate how I see something, and Laura, my designer, took me through a creative process which culminated in the first bra we took into prototyping.
We’ve had a lot of fun, eaten lots of cake and had a few tears. When I first revealed my scars to Laura and my garment technologist, that was a big day. When we chopped up the third sample to see how we could improve its shape, it made me both laugh and cry. We’ve yet to have a meeting when one of us isn’t air-drawing boobs, and we’ve had some interesting glances as we rifle though lace samples in coffee shops.
I’ve been involved in product design throughout my entire career, but this is by far the most complex and challenging thing that I’ve ever worked on, and the most satisfying beyond a doubt.
We’ve made all our prototype samples here in Nottinghamshire, and our production will be outside of the UK to give us the best possible quality and price.
You’re launching a Kickstarter campaign – could you explain to readers how much you are trying to raise and what you are fundraising for?
Our project goal is to raise £30,000 or more. We plan to use the funds raised to:
What rewards are available for readers who choose to support your Kickstarter campaign?
Our rewards have all been created around the bra itself, so we expect that many of our backers will be women who have been through breast cancer treatment.
We recognise that not everyone will want to wear the bra themselves, so we’ve created Gift Rewards which allow our backers to gift a Mille bra to someone they know. If backers don’t know someone personally, but like the idea of gifting a bra, they can choose our Bra Benefactor Reward. Bras can be gifted via one of our charity partners, Nottingham Hospitals Charity or Keeping Abreast, and bras will be given to women who might not find it easy to replace all their bras, but would really like a little bit of lingerie magic.
The idea comes from understanding how hard it can be to know how to support someone while they’re going though breast cancer treatment. This is a very practical way of helping them.
Backers can also get involved with the design process by becoming a Design Curator, or become one of our Founding Benefactors and support our business development at a higher level.
Anything else you want to say?
Thank you in anticipation to anyone who supports our campaign, please get your credit cards out…
Join our conversation #in3words and #isItJustMe on our social media pages.
Millie Lingerie Kickstarter Campaign
Millie Lingerie website