I feel incredibly honoured to have the opportunity to shoot pieces for such an wonderful company. The work that Essential Luxuries for Cancer does is nothing short of incredible. I've also had the opportunity to ask Stephanie Devine, founder at ELFC a few questions about how and why she started up her company. At the time when i was asked to do this post I was actually quite nervous and a little worried that I might say something that would offend Stephanie. I was only quite young when my aunty was diagnosed with breast cancer so i was far to immature to understand. Though Stephanie's response was not only informative but also incredibly honest and inspiring.
W: Firstly, I would just like to commemorate you on the wonderful work you’re doing for those suffering from cancer. As I'm sure this is true for most people, cancer has touched the lives of those I love also. I'm certain that if my loved ones had of seen your site and known about your business and the work you do it would have greatly benefited them. So I'm absolutely honoured to be spreading the word for not only your beautiful luxury items but also the hard work that has clearly gone into your site.
S: Thank you for your kind and lovely words!
W: Firstly, can we have a short introduction about yourself?
S: I am a corporate headhunter turned bra and cashmere beanie vigilante! I was born in the north of England but have lived and worked here for 20 years and am happy to call Bondi Beach home. I continue in my corporate role which helps me fund and develop www.
essentialluxuriesforcancer.com which I launched 30th October 2012, and Bras Without Wires which launched January 2014.
W: For those that haven't had a chance to read your 'about me' section on your site, can you tell us a little about your website and what lead you here?
S: I was diagnosed with breast cancer out of the blue in 2006. I was fit, healthy and very successfully running my own business when I found the lump. I had a biopsy on a Wednesday afternoon, got a call back on the Thursday am, and I was in hospital 7am Monday morning. There were lots of things I was told I would need for my 7 months of treatment, and I had so little time, so I did what every girl would do, I googled ‘what to wear during cancer’ and there was nothing there!
I started with trying to find plain white pyjamas in a natural fibre with pockets, for hospital, and progressed to trying to find a cashmere beanie to wear on my bald head during a Sydney summer. I just couldn’t get what I needed. The worst thing was finding the only cotton lined (a necessity during radiotherapy), non-wired bras in my size where maternity, when I’d just been told I would never have kids after chemotherapy. That was a real ‘moment’ for me and one that never left. I also had lots of friends and family in the UK who had no idea what to buy me and how to support me. With one in eight of us getting a breast cancer diagnosis in our life time, it really struck me that it should all be easier, and less ‘taboo’. Everyone is so afraid of saying, doing or buying the wrong thing around people going through cancer and that’s not right. When I reached the five year mark and realised I was going to make it, I decided to change things and www.
essentialluxuriesforcancer.com was launched 3 months later. Above all, I wanted to change the ‘aesthetic’ around going through treatment. When you are robbed of your identity with your hair and eyebrows, you just want something to make you feel good, be that something natural and beautiful to wear, or a fantastic organic skin product. It seems superficial, health is the no 1, but preserving a sense of identity when you feel that so much of your life is in the control of others, is very important.
W: What has been the most rewarding experience of your business journey so far?
S: I have not had one piece of negative feedback on the site or product. The relief that the newly diagnosed feel when they find it is palpable, and they love that there is a site that understands them and specifically meets their needs. I also love the feedback from friends and family, they are almost more thrilled about the site, and being able to give a meaningful gift to someone they care so much about, when they can otherwise feel so helpless. I am humbled and heartened by the lovely feedback I get.
My biggest win is Bras without Wires making the final 20 out of 780 entries into the LIVESTRONG foundation’s inaugural Big C Competition this year. It was amazing to have the idea recognised and seen as important. It involved lots of work and crowd funding, but it was a huge win for our fledgling label.
W: How would you describe a typical business day and the people you help?
S: I sell through the site most days, and cashmere beanies remain our no 1 seller. However, our recent press for BC awareness month has resulted in a huge run on our Annie Bras. This is great, but also leaves me juggling a new production schedule with my day job, as well as running our in-store collaboration at Fivemore’s shop in Oxford St Paddington. This runs during October and has been a great way to actually meet clients, for them to try product, and to get their feedback. I am in contact with up to 15 customers a day at present via email or phone, and that is always a really happy component of my day, being able to provide advice and solutions. Our clients range from the very young, in their 20s and 30s, to more mature ladies. We also have clients who are untouched by cancer and just want organic cotton non-wired bras, or organic skincare, and we have increasingly more male clients. It’s tougher for them because there is less in the way of support networks, women tend to naturally form communities in a different way.
W: What are your future hopes for Essential luxuries?
S: My hope is to just reach more of the people who need us. It’s always interesting to learn more about how people connect with, and find us, and I’d like to explore new avenues to do this. I would also like to create more of a community around the site, forums where people can actually voice their issues and experiences – emotional and physical, in a safe, private place, and particularly men who as I say above, find it harder to open up. We will continue to broaden our range, and also introduce some services as time goes on.
W: Finally, how would you say your life has change since cancer and chemo?
S: My life has much more meaning now. If I’ve learned one thing it is that every day counts and we have to do things that spiritually make sense. I earn a lot less money and have a lot less ‘things’ than I used to, but I feel such joy in making even a little difference to people going through what I went through. When you’re in it, all you can think of is getting through that day and I appreciate so much now, what my body and mind can actually get through with everything behind me.