Little luxuries that make a big difference – Essential Luxuries for Cancer (ELFC
By Maria Maung
October is Australia’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This month gives us the opportunity to focus on breast cancer and its impact on those affected by the disease.
Breast cancer remains the most common cancer among Australian women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer). Survival rates continue to improve in Australia with 89 out of every 100 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer now surviving five or more years beyond diagnosis.
We recently caught up with the creator of Essential Luxuries for Cancer Stephanie Devine. A fashion label with a significant point of difference, Stephanie established the brand after her own personal experience as a breast cancer survivor.
After your own personal experience with Breast Cancer you began Essential Luxuries for Cancer, can you tell us the thought process that inspired you to start the label?
I was astounded at the time of my very unexpected diagnosis,that it wasn’t easier to get the things that you need to go through cancer treatment. If one in eight of us will get a BC diagnosis in her lifetime, why wasn’t there one place where you could go and get everything you needed, and where your loved ones could buy you meaningful and practical gifts? For me it was really simple things like pure white cotton PJs for hospital, with pockets so I could keep my phone with me, a cashmere beanie so I didn’t need to wear a wig all the time, impossible to find in a Sydney summer! I also wanted someone to have carefully gone through the labels on the back of the skincare products, to make sure they were safe and natural, so I didn’t have to google every ingredient. The huge thing for me though, and the defining moment, was being unable to buy a bra in my cup size that was unwired and cotton lined, that was not a maternity bra. I was just about to lose my fertility to chemo and it was enormously distressing. I left the experience behind me, but when I reached the five year point and realised I had subconsciously put life on hold not thinking I would get there, I knew I had to do something to make it easier, and less orthopaedic, to create a beautiful place with products that had an aesthetic to them.
q What are the most important factors in designing your collections?
Comfort, practicality and beauty. The aesthetic isn’t important to everyone, but it was to me and many I know, and when so much of your identity is lost with your hair and eyebrows, beautiful things that make you feel like your true self and not a ‘cancer patient’ are so important and heartening. I stick with natural, breathable fibres and have steadfastly avoided synthetics. Where I can buy organic in anything, I will choose that.
The bras without wires range, can you tell us more about the product and the concept behind the design?
The bra were always the driving force behind the site. As above, to have to wear a maternity or a sports bra during radiotherapy was an insult. I was still a woman and even when losing the features that made me feel feminine, I wanted to wear beautiful things, the things i would choose to wear in my normal life. It is almost impossible to buy a bra in a natural, breathable fibre (essential during radiotherapy when your skin is burning) that is non-wired (essential after surgery, during treatment, and a preferred option beyond) and that looks beautiful, in larger cup sizes. If we can do it for maternity, why can’t we do it for breast cancer? 1 in 8 remember!
What inspires your creative side?
I’ve always been a creative person at heart, I’ve just not had the courage to pursue it as a career. Being creative and putting something new out there takes courage, and it’s only my passion for changing the experience for other young women going through treatment, that has helped me find my courage.
What motivates you?
I’m motivated by creativity, positive energy, the endless generosity of friends and those around me. With ELFC and BWW I am motivated to take the taboo out of cancer. It’s bad enough having cancer without having to wear ugly orthopaedic lingerie and nylon wigs! When it feels like your body is public property, and something of a scientific experiment, it’s important to hold on to what is really you.
What has been the highlight of Essential Luxuries for Cancer thus far?
It’s great just getting to 2 years! The business grows organically, we get great word of mouth, and the feedback makes it so worthwhile. People love it when they find the site, it really meets their needs and they feel that someone understands what they are going through. This is as much the clients as their families and friends who otherwise can feel so helpless. In terms of Bras Without Wires, making the final 20 of LIVESTRONG’s first ever global Big C Competition for innovation around cancer, out of 780 entries in 31 countries was a huge win and a real endorsement of all the time, effort and cost. Final judging is on next week and we may still be up for an innovation prize, even though we didn’t make the five finalists.
Do you have any favourite pieces in the collection that are your essentials?
The cashmere beanies are the best sellers, but the linen PJs and the socks are also a winner. It’s just so hard to find these things anywhere in Australia! And of course the bras, I live in the bras. It was an expensive way to get the sort of bras that I want to wear but I hope and believe they will become mainstream before long. I also wish I’d had Scout Cosmetic’s natural mineral brow powder and make up during chemo!
How do you see Essential Luxuries for Cancer expanding?
I think we will refine our product range. It’s nice to expand but you also don’t want to overwhelm. I don’t want 6 face creams, I want the best one. I’m pleased to see more men coming to the site for beanies and would like to focus more on them, as I think they often find it harder to be looked after, and look after themselves. After a friend’s son got leukaemia this year, kids beanies are in the pipeline too. Kids also want to wear these when their mum is wearing one too of course! I aim to develop community too, to have a private forum where people can share experience and emotions. Again, I think this is really important for men, as women tend to mobilise themselves into communities anyway and are ready to embrace and share. For men it’s harder and you need to create an environment where they too can let loose without offending loved ones who may not understand what they are facing emotionally.
As a survivor of Breast Cancer do you have any advice or words of inspiration to share through your experience?
I’m working too hard right now, but the thing that really stays with me is that there should be something beautiful and meaningful in every day. Life can change on a knife edge and you can’t just assume that you have tomorrow to take a break or a walk or see loved ones. Despite my long hours, I am lucky enough to live near the beach and I try and get there a few times a week. I also meditate daily which keeps me on an even keel.
Where can we find Essential Luxuries for Cancer?
Come visit us at www.essentialluxuriesforcancer.com, and during October we have a lovely in-house collaboration with Fivemore, a super health and fitness hub at 396 Oxford St in Paddington, Sydney.