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Portrait: AnaOno Intimates, Lingerie for Breast Cancer Survivors

lingerie for breast cancer survivors

Change comes in many forms and at many times. It can be forceful or it can creep along incrementally. It can come as the result of a tragedy or as the result of an opportunity. It can also happen for no reason at all. Just a natural evolution. Whatever and whenever the change, you are one person before and another person after. For Dana, founder and owner of AnaOno, change came when she was diagnosed with Infiltrative Ductal Carcicoma (breast cancer) just shy of her 28th birthday and wedding. Following a bilateral mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and chemotherapy, she set out on a mission to help other women recovering from breast cancer surgery feel confident and sexy. She started an intimates line that offers bras and lingerie exclusively for survivors with each design taking into account anything and everything a patient is going through. Just one example, the Pocketed Plunge Wirefree Bra was created in collaboration with radiation oncologist Katie Deming, MD. Made of eco-friendly modal/spandex, all interior seams are enclosed, so no elastic touches the skin.

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Tell us your story, how you got from point A to point B?

It was a quick journey for me. Since the time I can remember, I have been designing and making clothes. I don’t think I was destined or built to do anything else. Now, I can’t think of doing anything else.

What was your upbringing like? How did you learn how to sew?

I’m a middle child. And for anyone reading this, they know exactly what that means in terms of family dynamics and upbringing. Your older sibling becomes your rival, the younger gets all the attention, and you are just stuck in the middle. So I had tons of FREE time to myself. I would spend hours in my room drawing, painting, sewing; whatever I could do to amuse myself creatively, I did. My grandmother was a seamstress, and my mom always tried making our Halloween costumes.  When my recital dance outfits needed an alteration, it was off to Grandma’s we would go. I remember always sitting and watching her work, asking questions and learning. I first learned how to sew on an old school Singer – metal frame and all!

What college did you go to? What was your career before starting AnaOno?

I attended Savannah College of Art in Design, graduated in 2003 and headed straight to the Big Apple. I figured if I could make it there…well you know how it goes! I had to work hard every step of the way. I started out as an assistant designer for a private label knitwear company, then moved on to a juniors brand, and eventually landed myself at KAUFMANFRANCO. That is when I really went to “school.” I learned so much more about what I thought I already knew. I learned how to truly source, tailor and construct beautiful, luxurious and high-end garments. It wasn’t until I met my now husband, and wanted to try something new, that I got experience strictly on the business side of the fashion industry. We moved out to Colorado, and I eventually became the VP of Product Development for a children’s accessory company.

How and why did you start your own line?

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my late 20’s, and realized that my body had been forever changed, I started my line out of personal necessity. Because traditional lingerie, no matter the changing trend or fashion, wasn’t going to fit my reconstruction, I had to create something that would. I also figured I always wanted my own line, and one day it was going to be my name on that wall, so why not now? I also thought I just survived cancer – I can do ANYTHING! And I took it from there. It took a leap of faith, but I started designing beautiful, comfortable intimates that fit my new body.

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Aesthetically, how has your lingerie evolved since you started?

I had a very specific intent when I launched the AnaOno: the basics. I wanted to replace every style for every occasion in a woman’s bra drawer. I knew she probably just threw away, likely in anger, all of her old intimates because they didn’t fit, and this is one speed bump in the road called Cancer I could do something about. So I started with the designs I needed at different times of my day and my life. I wanted the everyday bra (Kelly), the chic gym bra (Jennifer), my boardroom bra (Alejandra), and of course a date night bra (Rachel). It was after developing these staples that I also wanted to make sure there was a post-surgery option for women. I wanted to develop something that would help aid in the healing, and make them feel good about themselves despite being unable to move their arms above their head. That’s what became the Sandi. Once that was established, and I tested all of my fits and styles and found women were LOVING them, I knew I could keep going with AnaOno. Now I am working on my next collection, where I get to play with my alter-ego ‘Ana’ a bit. This collection will have more color, patterns and even more fashion styles! It is very exciting time for me, because my blood runs thick with design. And I am honored I get to play with that a bit more now that our customers are loving what we are doing!

What has been the biggest challenge owning your own business?

Getting the word out about AnaOno. Marketing budgets are tight when you first start a business, so you rely on grass roots marketing, and although it is usually effective, it can be very time consuming. Word also doesn’t always travel as fast as you would like. I’ve also learned if you want it, you gotta get out there and get it! Nothing gets handed to you, however hard work and dedication almost always pay off.

What has been the best moment in since starting AnaOno?

When I really, actually saw what I was doing with AnaOno, I learned I wasn’t just selling a bra or a product. While I knew in my heart, for me, my bras had changed my life, I didn’t realize it had the same effect on other women. It wasn’t until I was at a breast conference, hosted by the Young Survival Coalition, a foundation focused on supporting women diagnosed under 40, when I had my first fitting room experience with another survivor that I saw AnaOno meant so much more than just replacing a bra or having something to wear every day. When I heard the tears coming from the dressing room, I knew instinctively what was happening because I had that same reaction the first time I put on my prototype. But this time was different. I asked if I could open the curtain, and a beautiful woman, with tears running down her cheeks and the biggest smile on her face, turns to me and says, “I haven’t felt this beautiful since before my mastectomy.” That day, that moment I will remember until the very end.

What sewing machines do you use?

Although I love an old school machine from time to time, nothing has power like a good ol’ Singer. I also have recently really became a fan of Husqvarna/Viking. I have both a straight stitch and serger, and although the coverlock machine is a bit much for me, I do hope that one day I can sit at it for longer periods of time and really use it to its fullest potential.

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Have you ever had a mentor and if so, what did he or she teach you?

I have been lucky to have many throughout my career; each for different reasons. But I would say, Ken and Isaac of KAUFMANFRANCO were crucial to my early career growth. They really took me under their wings, taught me the ropes and nurtured my growth, I will be forever in debt to both of them. Isaac gave me the best advice of my career, something I still continue to pass on to my associates: “Never expect a promotion or growth until you are willing to replace yourself.” That was a critical turning point in my thought process in business, because often times I feel people, especially in this industry, can be very protective of their roles and responsibilities and not nurture or support or teach others around them. I have done the opposite. I try to mentor my associates so one day they can replace me. That has always allowed me bigger and better opportunities along the way, while benefiting everyone I’ve worked with.

Do you still find time to sew for yourself?

Ha! I wish! I definitely need to, and I always say I will. I hem my husband’s pants, sew on missing buttons and fix holes in seams when it’s on a pant or a jacket I really love. But other than that, sadly, no I don’t. I want to. Sewing it such a point of meditation for me. I can lose hours and hours to the craft and always did. I miss it, the fun part anyway. Although when you do what you love, it’s more balanced and gratifying.

What is a garment you wished you had time to sew, but don’t. Sigh…

I still have some beautiful burnout velvet my mother bought for me years and years ago in Italy. It will one day make itself into a beautiful dress! I still see it sewing itself together by an army of mice, like Cinderella. But, I have to make it happen.

Favorite fabrics for lingerie?

I am totally 100% obsessed with Modal Spandex. It is so soft and luxurious I love it so much I am transitioning my entire “Carefree Collection” from bamboo to modal. It’s more environmentally friendly, too, which is super important to me!

How does the fit of a bra change after having reconstructive surgery?

The quick answer is under-wire bras don’t often work and can actually cause delayed pain reactions. And if you are lucky to find one that does fit your reconstructed breasts, it is often gaping and tugging in places it shouldn’t. After reconstruction, we can’t push, press or separate what we have and that is what bras are meant to do while providing some level of support. Our support is build in, so we don’t need that as much either. Also, when constructing garments for those who’ve had breast reconstruction, breast cancer or surgery, there are pain points on the body that have to be taken into consideration, and even more importantly, scar tissue and skin sensitivities. That is also why I am incredibly stoked to partner with radiation oncologist Katie Deming, MD. Dr. Deming designed and patented her own style of intimates with engineered seams to help women with sensitive skin feel beautiful and comfortable, which is especially important during radiation therapy.

How long does it take you to sew a bra?

Wow, great question! When I started it took days! I kept screwing up the tension on elastics, and I have to say, I was really great at tailoring, not working with soft fabrics. So I kept messing everything up. Thankfully, I am mostly making my own muslins and first samples, and then I get to pass it off to the professionals for a beautifully constructed finished piece!

What are you working on now?

I am incredibly excited to announce the launch of our MAKEMERRY Collection, a thoughtfully designed line for those with skin sensitivities and pocketed-garment needs. Another exciting up-and-coming launch is the AnaOno RecoveryWear line. The three-piece collection, which includes a robe and lounge wear items, has the option to wear any of them with a removable drain pouch belt we created (shown in picture above). This way, while you are healing after a mastectomy or surgery, you can still feel beautiful and be comfortable. It’s a super important need, and one that is not currently available in recovery post surgery.

What do you hope to achieve in 5 years?

I would love to be a household brand name survivors recognize, know and love. I want to make sure the AnaOno woman is covered, from her back to her front, and head to toe! And in 20 years, I want to be able to graciously close my door because there is NO MORE cancer!

Are you cancer free and if so, for how long?

I was diagnosed in 2010, and came up on my five-year (post-treatment) anniversary in February. It was awesome to celebrate that milestone. I’m here and surviving through this new life I have. Sadly, we are still losing too many women to the disease, and although our treatment is getting better, there is still no cure. I hope to get the opportunity to see one discovered one day.

lingerie for breast cancer survivors

For fun

Best place you’ve traveled? I have to say to Istanbul. Maybe because the food. Maybe because of the amazingly beautiful architecture. Or maybe just because of the good looking men! I can’t wait to get back there one day. It is such a source of inspiration to me. I just fell in love.

Three sewing tools you couldn’t live without? Trimming scissors (for long, loose threads in lingerie making). Clear ruler (I use it for everything). And my very obviously labeled FABRIC scissors (because there is nothing worse than picking up the paper pair and taking it to expensive silk chiffon).

What is your favorite fabric? It was bamboo, but I’m over it. Moving on to Modal from beech trees!

What is on your kitchen counter? Vogue Magazine, hahaha! With the beautiful and inspiring Taylor Swift tearing it up on the cover! I love seeing her grow up into such a beautiful, strong woman.
What is the best gift you’ve ever received? I have a small jewelry container from my very dear friend, Jill Conley, who recently passed away from breast cancer. She had “Dana & Jill, Sisters Forever” engraved on it. I miss her horribly every single day, and this gift is a beautiful memory.

If you could chose anyone to wear your bra, who would it be? 
I love Christina Applegate. She completely embodies the AnaOno woman. She is strong, beautiful, courageous and FUNNY! I grew up with Married with Children. I thought Kelly Bundy was SO COOL!Who is your favorite female heroine? 

Katniss Everdeen. The Hunger Games was such an amazing series, and every move Katniss made, down to protecting her little sister, I could relate too. I felt like she had a fire in her gut. I totally related.Top 5 Instagram accounts to follow? 

I have seen so many great fashion accounts, but I do love following people I support.

Living Beyond Breast Cancer @LivingBeyondBC
Breast Cancer Research Foundation @BCFCURE
Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer @STUPIDDUMBBREASTCANCER – because she says it like it is, real stuff, no candy coating. And she is unbelievably passionate about the community and help other women through their journey.
The Today Show @TODAYSHOW – Cause you never know when AnaOno may pop into your news feed!Favorite lingerie brand right now, other than yours: 

I am loving Only Hearts. They are so incredibly sexy, yet down to earth.

Follow AnaOno elsewhere:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/anaonointimates
Instagram: @AnaOnoIntimates
Twitter: @AnaOnoIntimates

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