NOTEW YORK — When Dana Donofree underwent a bilateral mastectomy and implant reconstruction after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2010, the then 28-year-old fashion designer found nothing but uncomfortable medical bras meant for women suffering from the disease.
These frustrations led Donofree to launch her lingerie company called AnaOno in 2014, aimed primarily at women with breast cancer who had undergone some type of surgery. The Philadelphia company now offers a variety of wireless bras for women who have had breast reconstruction, mastectomy or lumpectomy, as Donofree says each surgery yields different results. The collection also includes post-operative indoor clothing.
While the designs were initially sold on its website and in medical supply stores, AnaOno can be found in mainstream online stores including Soma, ThirdLove, and more recently Nordstrom and soon to be Target.com. His creations are also sold abroad in countries such as Spain, Israel and Canada. Its products incorporate four-way stretch, hidden seams, and soft fabrics like imported modal that don’t chafe against scars. Other brands like Athleta now offer mastectomy bras, but Donofree said overall the selection is still limited.
Donofree, who has served on various nonprofit breast cancer boards, is also breaking taboos about women and breast cancer. She has helped to embolden the breast cancer community, using breast cancer survivors of all shapes and ethnicities in her campaigns. Her parades, which were halted during the pandemic, have raised more than $500,000 for metastatic breast cancer research.
Donofree is one of many breast cancer survivors who create their own products, from beauty items to fashionable headbands to help others, says Melissa Berry, founder of Cancer Fashionista, an online resource offering beauty tips , fashion and lifestyle to women treated for breast cancer. and beyond. AnaOno expects to have 30,000 customers and nearly $3 million in revenue this year, nearly double last year’s numbers. Donofree says its goal is to reach 100,000 women and plans to expand into swimwear next season.
AP recently interviewed Donofree about how she fills the lingerie gap for breast cancer survivors and how she champions the breast cancer community. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What types of bras were offered to breast cancer survivorsrs before starting AnaOno?
Matron, utilitarian… the ultimate grandmother’s bra. So where there are bedpans and wheelchairs there were also your mastectomy bras and being a young woman who had just completely removed all of her breast tissue including my nipples it was just a very shocking experience that felt like the world was telling me that I had no right to act or look like a woman anymore, that something inside of me was now broken. But that’s not normal.
What is the design process?
AnaOno is inclusive of boobs. So if it’s two boobs, one boob, no boobs, or new boobs, we’ve got your back. And the way we can do that is to change the design and practicality of what a bra is supposed to do. So I removed the frame. I took the traditional cup kind of design away from a bra. So all we have is multiple stretches, multiple different directions. We use this amazing and beautiful modal material, which is not typical for bra design.
What was the first reaction from stores?
Every time I went out and traveled I searched for every specialty lingerie store in this town and I searched for every plastic surgeon specializing in breast cancer reconstruction. And the reason was that I had to put my feet on the ground. I had to go boots out in the field, knock on doors, give my sales pitch. And in doing so, being exposed not only to stores and specialty shops, plastic surgeons and medical offices, I realized how disjointed the conversation was about what kind of surgeries we had and what they were doing at our body and then what the solutions were on the other side.
What was your defining moment?
We had the opportunity to go on a global stage at New York Fashion Week (in 2017). You could see what a body without breasts looked like, or you could see what a body without nipples looked like, because it was this harsh reality that people just didn’t understand unless you had experienced it. And the use of art, fashion, conversation and advocacy really helped spark a different kind of conversation. We can show the world what cancer really looks like. And that was a pivotal moment where we started to change the conversation.
What kind of progress has the lingerie industry made in catering to breast cancer survivors?
I think there has been a big change in our movement, especially over the last decade. We became one of the first lingerie brands to use real people, bras and underwear. This is probably the hardest thing to highlight in a model. I think what we’re still missing is absolute inclusion now. The reality is…one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. This is a significant number of people who have no or only one breast or who have had their breast reconstructed.