Student's aim to empower women post mastectomy



Model Sophie Stevens wearing one of Emily's bespoke bras.

A student at Heriot-Watt University has developed a new sports bra designed to empower women who have undergone a mastectomy.

Emily Dunnage, who graduates from the School of Textiles and Design later this year, is creating a bespoke online service where women who have gone through the invasive surgery can design their own sports bra.

Her brand, For the Girls, aims to give women the choice of colour, print, style, fabric and fastening to create a product unique to them. The 26-year-old has sourced a specialist stretch material that retains elasticity, allowing gentle support during active sports as well as remaining comfortable on damaged skin tissue.

Going through such an invasive procedure can leave someone feeling depressed, even less feminine.

Emily Dunnage

Emily worked on the project as part of Masters course in Fashion and Textiles Design over the past year but explains the idea initially developed from a devastating family diagnosis.

“My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer a number of years ago and subsequently underwent a mastectomy,” she explains.  

“I came to realise that there was really very little on the market that catered for what she needed – it was all the same bra styles and colours. Having since carried out my own research, I know the situation hasn't changed much and that shouldn't be the case.

“I wanted to create something unique for these women, and the idea of For the Girls was born.”

Emily researched her project as part of her studies at Heriot-Watt's Galashiels campus. She contacted the charity, Knitted Knockers, which knits prothesis for women who have had a mastectomy, and spoke to a group of keen female runners to get their views on the what the 'perfect bra' looked like.

She also relied on academic journals and projects that related to breast cancer and sports to identify what was considered comfortable and where extra support was needed.

She explains: “Going through such an invasive procedure can leave someone feeling depressed, even less feminine.

“I wanted to change that and empower women to recapture their confidence and belief. A big part of that is about equipping them with a garment that they can use specifically to stay active, which can have a tremendous boost to someone's mental health. 

“That's important and at the same time I wanted to create something that provides them with the support they need without compromising on comfort particularly on or around damaged tissue.”

Emily, who is from Llanelli in South Wales, went on to create three prototypes of her innovative bra to demonstrate the breadth of commercial options. Each is front fastening for each easy access and pockets inserted for prothesis, if desired by the wearer.  

She is now hopeful of finding a financial support to help launch her venture.

Emily continues: “I would love the opportunity to continue working on this idea or perhaps work for a brand where I can use my knowledge and research to produce a product for this niche market.

“Women can still have stylish, comfortable and fun sports bras that encourages them to feel confident and above all, feminine.”

Professor Fiona Waldron, Head of School at the Heriot-Watt School of Textiles and Design, praised the pioneering project, saying: “Congratulations to Emily on a truly inspiring story.

“At Heriot-Watt we encourage our students to combine what they have learnt in the classroom with the confidence and ability to apply this in today's world. Emily is a fantastic example of someone who has done just that and once again underlines the incredible talent we have.”

October marks Breast Cancer Awareness month, an annual worldwide campaign highlighting the importance of breast cancer awareness.

By Craig McManamon

Communications Officer

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