It is fair to say Gillian Proctor knows more about bras than most, having led the world-renowned Contour Fashion course at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) for many years.
But when she was dealt the devastating news that she had stage two breast cancer and would need surgery, it opened Gillian’s eyes to how problematic it is to find lingerie that offers the right support and comfort after medical treatment.
With one person being diagnosed with breast cancer every 10 minutes in the UK, the Associate Professor of Contour Fashion has now made it her personal mission to find solutions by setting up a national research group called the DMU Medical Forum.
Gillian receiving her Lifetime Achievement Award at the UK Lingerie Awards
With the backing of a leading surgeon from Leicester’s Glenfield Hospital, breast cancer patients and a breadth of bra brands, along with Stretchline elastics and F&F, Gillian hopes their collective know-how, and that of her students, will lead to finding solutions to an issue that affects close to 700,000 women in the UK.
Gillian, who has previously designed for Armani and Versace and was given the lifetime achievement award at the UK Lingerie Awards, says it will be her way of giving back and helping tackle what is a ‘yawning gap’ in the market.
She said: “I thought I knew everything there was to know about bras. But after my op I ended up buying 28 different bras to try and offer the comfort and support I needed. I also spoke with many, many other women with breast cancer and they all had the same issue.
“Many had been told to wear a sports bra as it clasps your breasts close to your chest. The last thing you want to do is clasp anything so tender. And you often have to pull a sports bra over your head which is no good if you have had lymph node surgery and scars under your armpits.
“Then with lymphedema you get fluid on your back and arms and you need a bigger band size. There is an obvious lack of products that, following surgery, offer comfort, support and wearability.
“We need as an industry, along with patients and surgeons and nurses, to look at the practicalities of post-surgery garments.
“There is a yawning gap to be filled here. There are so many issues and the Medical Forum will look at producing post-surgery products that will be a viable and sustainable part of the lingerie industry.”
The Medical Forum will start its work by talking to patients and collecting data on everything from the emotional and physical scars from surgery to what advice they received from doctors and nurses and what more can be done to prepare all people for the shock of diagnoses and what is to come.
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DMU’s Contour Fashion course deals with all aspects of what the industry calls intimate apparel, so the research will also look at comfortable swimwear, nightwear and sportswear.
Gillian added: “We can then look at all other aspects of life transforming surgery such as stomas, breast reduction or enlargements, people with disabilities and so on. There are so many aspects of life that are crying out for this type of specialist support.
“We all want to be treated as a person, not a patient, and we want to be able to regain our confidence and sexuality.
“When I was told I had stage two breast cancer I thought ‘why me?’, but then I thought ‘why not me, who has an input into an industry who can pull together experts and help do something about this?’.
“The treatment and care that I received at Glenfield Hospital was, without exception, exemplary. Everyone was so positive and supportive. I also made many friends and have stayed in touch with them all. It is now time for me to give something back.”
Gillian will be promoting the work of the Medical Forum and raising money for breast cancer research at the annual Contour Catwalk Show, which takes place in Covent Garden on June 6. The annual show attracts companies and designers from some of the lingerie world’s biggest names and is a major showcase for final year Contour Fashion students’ work.
Posted on Wednesday 5th June 2019