Two fashion students from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) are spearheading a research campaign to design the ultimate bra for women who have had surgery for breast cancer.
Melissa and Vicky in DMU's Contour Fashion department
Melissa Holden, a third year studying Contour Fashion Communication, and recent Contour Fashion graduate Vicky Rose Evans, who is studying a Masters in Textile Design, Technology and Innovation, have teamed up with Professor Gillian Proctor to be part of the DMU Medical Forum.
In 2017 Gillian was dealt the devastating news that she had stage two breast cancer and would need surgery.
It opened her eyes to how problematic it is to find a bra that offers the right support and comfort immediately after medical treatment.
With one person being diagnosed with breast cancer every 10 minutes in the UK, the Associate Professor has made it her personal mission to find solutions by setting up the national forum.
Melissa and Vicky have joined Gillian’s research group – along with medical experts, the intimate apparel industry and breast cancer patients – and are raising the forum’s profile as National Breast Cancer Awareness month is launched today.
The two students are dedicating their time to helping Gillian come up with solutions to a problem that has never before been properly addressed by the fashion industry, the health service or the higher education sector.
Melissa said: “It is a challenge nobody has taken on and I want to start a whole new conversation about it.
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“It is brilliant to be involved in designing something that is going to benefit women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Vicky said: “Breast cancer is being diagnosed at a younger and younger age and I don’t think anything is being done within the industry to deal with this. The response I get from women talking about what is available is ‘they are all like granny bras’.
“Women should not have to be restricted in their choice and only have one option, all because they have been treated for breast cancer.”
Melissa and Vicky’s research has involved talking to surgeons at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester –one of the country’s leading centres for breast cancer care – as well as holding discussions with the fashion industry and patients.
Melissa said: “Immediately post-op, there are issues such as accessibility, wearability, look and how the bra makes you feel.
“Specialist bras at the moment cost between £40 and £100. If you have had a cancer diagnosis, you may not be working. You may have a family to support. You cannot afford to keep buying different bras according to what treatment you are having that week.”
Vicky added: “After treatment, women may have been fitted with drains, there is bleeding, there is painful scarring and there is swelling.
“A lot of ops involve having lymph nodes removed so women have restricted movements in their arms, their armpits, around their chest and their back.
“We want to design something that is easy to put on and take off as well as something that can be worn without the swelling and scarring causing discomfort.
“We also want something that can adapt to these changes so women don’t have to pay £40 pounds or more every time there is swelling or they are undergoing therapy.”
Melissa said: “Not only does it need to be cheaper but it also has to be sustainable too, so there is a lot to take into consideration.
“It is still a taboo subject in the industry but, I have to say, all of the companies we have spoken to are really excited and want to help us.”
Vicky says both she and Melissa have been on an emotional journey so far.
“We desperately want to help these women,” she added. “They want something beautiful and amazing to wear. These are incredibly brave women and it is the least they deserve.
“This is Gillian’s legacy and we are proud to be involved.”
Posted on Tuesday 1st October 2019