St. Petersburg woman makes lingerie for breast cancer survivors
ST. PETERSBURG - Heather Joie knows what it's like to deal with breast cancer — even as a survivor. That's why the St. Petersburg woman is launching Clothing with a Kiss, a lingerie line designed to conceal the scars of surgery without covering the feminity of the wearer. "One of the things I kept hearing was women, whether they were married or had boyfriends or single, not feeling sexy, desirable anymore, getting dressed in the dark, not letting their husband or mate see the breast or no breast," said Joie. Rather than covering up with long, "frumpy" nightgowns, Joie envisioned garments that would carefully camouflage scars and unevenness while still accentuating a woman's femininity.Marlyn Carlton Ford, a breast cancer survivor who modeled Joie's designs for a Saturday launch party at the Hollander Hotel, said the black body suit she showed off at the event helped her overcome the body image anxieties created by cancer. "It's so beautiful, but it covers and it gives you that confidence you don't have that the cancer takes away from you," said Ford, 33. For Joie, cancer came as a shock. "I had just moved to Florida, starting a new job, and three months later, got diagnosed with breast cancer," Joie said. A doctor diagnosed her with Stage II breast cancer, and Joie had a lumpectomy to remove it. A week later, her chest and one side of her body was bruised and she discovered her first surgery had been botched and that the cancer was still there. Over the next year, she had two more lumpectomies, followed by a mastectomy, chemotherapy and an implant. After four surgeries, her breast was severely disfigured. Throughout her struggle, Joie met numerous other women who shared her feelings. Last year, Joie, now cancer-free, left her job as a hotel industry sales consultant to pursue the idea full-time, attending fashion shows, traveling to Los Angeles' Garment District and researching extensively. Joie said she hasn't come across any lingerie companies that design garments specifically for breast cancer survivors. Executives with Victoria's Secret on Thursday met with a Virginia woman and her mother who had gathered 118,000 signatures petitioning the fashion giant to produce a bra specially made for breast cancer survivors, ABC News reported. The company said in a statement it was open to the idea, but did not commit to making the bra. Joie says her garments are made with high-end materials. They are currently being made in the Tampa home studio of designers Carlye Starr Midence and Nya Tanaka. As demand grows, Joie plans to have the garments manufactured elsewhere, though she is committed to keeping them in the United States and is looking for a way to produce them on a larger scale in Pinellas County. The first five designs highlight areas such as the shoulders and neck, while covering one or both breasts with subtle floral designs. The pieces will be sold initially online and can be ordered to cover the right or left breast. Prices start at $100. For Midence, the project is personal. "Those women go through so much, and they lose something that they tie so close to their femininity that we have to find a way to give it back to them," said Midence, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor. "If this is one thing that can make them feel more comfortable in their own skin, then I feel so good about the entire project." For information, visit www.clothingwithakiss.com.
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