For Women, By Women
Comfort is a choice not a compromise, believes Dana Donofree of AnaOno, the first ever lingerie brand for the breast cancer communityBy Rosy Jose
Four years ago, Dana Donofree, 27, was living the life she had envisioned for herself ever since she was a teenager. A fashion design graduate from the Savannah College of Art and Design, she had landed her dream job as a designer for Goldbug, a children’s accessories company in Denver. She met a lovely man and was about to be married in two weeks. In an unfortunate twist of fate, right in the midst of her bridal shower, she got a call that shattered her life.
Donofree was diagnosed with Infiltrative Ductal Carcinoma, a rather aggressive form of breast cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy in order to increase the chances of her survival. She then strengthened her body for double reconstruction surgery and resumed her normal life. However, she needed a complete change in wardrobe, as nothing fit anymore. After an extensive search, Donofree realized that even in this day and age, options, especially in innerwear, were limited and did not suit a fashionable lifestyle. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention; Dana just had to do something about it. She gave up her job to develop and create AnaOno, the world’s first-ever lingerie brand for the breast cancer community.
Doctors are cancer experts, they treat the disease and they do a mighty wonderful job, but what about life post-surgery? How does one deal with the limited range of motion of your arms or the uncomfortable drain? Would you need to shy away from meeting your friends and relatives as you don’t have anything appropriate to wear that would accommodate your needs? Should the desire for elegant, beautiful lingerie and bathing suits be curbed because of the mastectomy?
AnaOno answers all these questions with a firm NO. AnaOno innerwear is designed specifically for those who have had breast reconstruction, breast surgery, mastectomy, or are living with other conditions that cause pain or discomfort. In the past, Dana was focused on making an impact and growing the brand within the breast cancer community. Surprisingly, her bras found customers among women who have had open-heart surgery or who have skin and nerve diseases, besides transgender women and women in wheelchairs.
“Being In Water Was A Low-Impact Exercise That Also Helped Ease Radiation Therapy Burns. I Cried When I Tried On The Cortez Because I Felt Beautiful Again, After A Long Time.”Alicia Morrison-Fagbemi, Breast cancer survivor
Completely aware of the pain and suffering women faced post-surgery, Donofree designed the first pieces for herself. It took her three years to develop, design and fund her idea. In May 2014, she launched AnaOno Intimates with class and aplomb at a couture fashion show with real-life cancer survivor as models and called it Never Alone Runway. AnaOno intimates are designed without underwires, incorporate four-way stretch, hidden seams, and gentle materials to avoid pain points.
In spite of having numerous interns, Donofree ensures she designs every piece. “Unless one goes through the trauma, you cannot understand the pain,” she says. Some AnaOno designs are exquisite, incorporating lace, others are sporty, and some are practical, with front zippers to help with post-surgery soreness and reduce dependability on others to get dressed (women don’t have to reach behind their backs or over their heads). The website even offers options depending on the phase of treatment women are in: radiation, bilateral reconstruction, unilateral reconstruction, unilateral without reconstruction, the list goes on. It has even added an extended line of loungewear and (UVA and UVB protection) swimsuits. “Being in the water was a low-impact exercise that also helped ease radiation therapy burns. I cried when I tried on the Cortez because I felt beautiful again, after a long time,” says Alicia Morrison- Fagbemi, 42, who underwent a double mastectomy.
From its launch in 2014, with 137 customers, AnaOno has grown to serve over 2,500 women. Most of the sales happen online, but Donofree also works with mastectomy and specialty stores that sell the line across the country and is looking at expanding all over the world. She also works continuously with breast cancer charities like Cancerland, Metasurvivors and Pink Warrior Angels.
This year, AnaOno along with Cancerland, participated in The New York Fashion Week (NYFW) to celebrate breast cancer survivors and their scars. Sixteen women from varying ethnicities and ages (the youngest being just 18 years old) walked the ramp demonstrating that breast cancer could affect anyone. Says photographer Amy Lee Mayer, “The NYFW show was not about being nude and exotic, rather it was an effort to show our scars and educate women around us”. AnaOno is built around transforming something clinical to something liveable. They want women to shift the focus from ‘surviving’ to ‘living’. Living, fully and completely.