Post-surgery underwear should be both comfortable and empowering, but founder of LoveRose lingerie Caroline Kennedy Alexander and designer Sarah Bell Jones explain that was far from the case – until they came along…
Slowly but surely, things are starting to change in the fashion industry. More diverse models are being cast, adaptive fashion is growing and plus size women are finally being considered – but despite the move towards a more inclusive industry, there’s still a serious lack of post-surgery lingerie with personality.
Designer and former gallery owner Caroline spotted a gap in the market after overcoming breast cancer twice and undergoing a double mastectomy in 2015. As a self-confessed lingerie addict, Caroline was devastated at the lack of beautiful underwear she could wear after surgery – so she decided to take matters into her own hands.
After meeting fashion graduate Sarah in a vintage shop in Edinburgh, Scotland, the passionate pair joined forces on LoveRose lingerie. The result is a luxurious, feminine and elegant capsule collection of post-surgery underwear that’s fit for a queen.
While most mastectomy bras are beige and boring, LoveRose is anything but. The small but mighty collection is made up of luxurious green, lotus pink and midnight navy lingerie, with the aim of helping women feel confident and sexy again after surgery.
Wear Next sat down over a Zoom call with Caroline and Sarah to hear about their story, how they’re making a difference to their community and what goes into creating the perfect post-surgery bra…
See You at Nine Bra, £90 – buy now
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What inspired you to start LoveRose Lingerie?
Caroline: I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. We don’t have the gene, but my sister Rose had already passed away from breast cancer and my sister Mary was going through it too. I went through all of the ops and had radiotherapy, but it came back in 2015. I had to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction.
Lingerie is such a big part of how you dress and for me, it was my foundation and my confidence. Before I had cancer, I’d wear matching underwear under a tracksuit! It was when I was recovering and getting back to life that I became conscious of these awful bras that were available and I just felt rubbish. I thought, ‘I’m not accepting this anymore. I’m going to design it.’ Then I met Sarah, we got chatting and hit it off.
Sarah: Caroline mentioned what she was doing. I studied fashion and had just graduated, so she asked me to help her do some prototypes. The rest is history.
What makes LoveRose so unique?
C: LoveRose is post-surgery lingerie that looks more mainstream than it does medical. It’s a little bit sexy, with matching robes and suspenders available too.
It’s about offering choice in a market that at the moment doesn’t have it. We didn’t want to be just another brand using all sorts of nasty bits, so we use recycled lace and mesh, put together with natural soaks. All of our materials are luxury.
S: There’s so many women going through breast cancer or who have been through it, it’s shocking when you realise what’s out there.
Green Satin Assassin Robe, £250 – buy now
Pink Satin Assassin Robe, £250 – buy now
What is the standard of post-surgery lingerie in the current market?
C: If I was to describe it in a word, it would be beige.
If you were to shop on the high street, generally the post-surgery lingerie would be in a corner, stashed away, probably under a broken light! And if you go to get fitted, most brands aren’t resourced enough to have people there to know how to help someone like me. I once ran out of a store crying because the shop assistant was like, ‘I don’t really know what to do with you. I wouldn’t know how to fit you.’
All of the medical brands make prosthesis and the bras are secondary. They’re all run by men. It’s grim, especially as it’s affecting so many women.
S: We met a gorgeous young woman last week, who is going through it right now. Imagine being a 31-year-old and thinking, ‘I’ve got this massive thing to contend with. Cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy, thinking about freezing my eggs…’ and you come out the other end and all you can wear is this beige sports bra. Sometimes brands put some lace or a bow on the bra and it’s just tasteless.
See You at Nine Bra, £90 – buy now
Feisty Pant, £50 – buy now
How does the lack of post-surgery lingerie impact women?
C: Even before having cancer, I’ve always dressed in lingerie for myself. It makes me feel empowered. After my diagnosis, I felt I needed like soft bras because I wasn’t ready to wear an underwire. I sent off for bras and what I got back was just formed sculptures. I’m 5’2, so they started at my neck and they finished at my waist. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is like a full top for me.’ They were so big and formed, like pieces of sculpture.
S: We did loads of focus groups with post-surgery women to find out what they wanted and what problems they were coming up against when it came to lingerie. Everyone was having such similar issues; everyone spoke about running out of changing rooms crying, or feeling like there were no options for them anymore.
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What do you need to take into consideration when designing a post-surgery bra?
C: My breasts have been reconstructed and I had to have implants, so your breasts are slightly wider apart and they wouldn’t fit in a wire for instance. Then of course, you have to contend with your scars. Some ladies don’t have their nipples back on after surgery, some just get their breasts scooped out and some have what’s called wide incision, which is reconstruction with their tummy and can be quite heavy on the breast. If you’ve had your lymph nodes removed you could have lymphedema, which is a swelling in your arm and your breast. It doesn’t happen every day, but you’ll need something that will offer some movement.
We’ve designed bras that take into consideration all of the different outcomes. Our bras give movement as they’re lace and we’ve got a matching night set that can be worn straight after surgery too.
Post-surgery lingerie is rarely spoken about – why is this?
C: It’s still considered a niche market. When I was trying to raise funding to start LoveRose, a lot of male investors couldn’t comprehend the emotional and psychological link to what we were trying to do. You’d mention the word breast and they’d be out the door. But breast cancer is present and there are over 50,000 women diagnosed every year. Next year is going to be even worse, because unfortunately a lot of women will have missed screening this year. The numbers are ever increasing.
Haven’t Got a Stitch to Wear Bra, £85 – buy now
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Lucky Pant, £45 – buy now
How does LoveRose lingerie offer post-surgery women hope for the future?
S: We’ve had amazing feedback from loads of women, but our best was from our lovely 27-year-old model Lisa who cried after she put our bra on. She came to our focus group braless because she didn’t know what to wear, and she emailed us afterwards and said, ‘Today I felt like Lisa before surgery again.’
C: We’re offering women a choice after going through probably one of the most harrowing experiences of their lives, and we’ve created a community.
How do you help and harness your community?
S: We were meant to be doing pop-ups all around the country, but for the time being everything is online due to COVID-19. We have resources in the Community section on our website, which is an amalgamation of everything we found that has helped our ladies. We also do at least one LoveRose talk a week over on our social channels, whether that’s with sex therapists, brands, prothesis designers, wig makers, or anyone else that can help the community and who aligns with our principles and ethos too.
C: We have conversations that can be uncomfortable. A lot of our young ladies will go through early menopause because of their treatments and medication, so not only do they have to deal with getting back to life and all the changes happening in their bodies, but also telling someone they’re newly dating that they’re going through the menopause. We speak to experts and these resources stay on our website, so we can support women in more ways than just through our lingerie.
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