This Singapore lingerie maker designs stylish bras for breast cancer survivors
Local brand Perk by Kate’s new line has helped these strong women in not-so-little ways. For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, CNA Lifestyle learns more about their personal journeys, and finds out how the right bra can be physically and emotionally uplifting.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer is life-changing and can affect a woman in many ways beyond physical health. The emotional impact can be equally overwhelming – coming to terms with the diagnosis, as well as finding the courage to battle cancer and the determination to get though treatment takes tenacity.
Learning to embrace the physical changes in one’s body following breast surgery, be it a lumpectomy or mastectomy, is yet another emotional journey. It differs dramatically for every woman, naturally, because everyone’s personal view on body image is different and unique. One thing that’s the same, however, is the fact that it has changed permanently and that, ultimately, a healthy recovery takes priority over everything.
These aside, certain dressing habits are no longer the same, too. For one, it is not uncommon for these women to find that the bras that they used to wear no longer fit well, nor provide adequate support and even flexibility for their needs.
A new lingerie wardrobe is necessary, but shopping for it has become a lot harder for them, as the options that cater to their different needs are few and far between. According to breast cancer patients CNA Lifestyle spoke to, there is a distinct lack of bra choices for them in the current market – a shortage that local lingerie brand Perk by Kate took note of, and for which it recently launched an initiative.
Founder Kate Low set out to create a line of bras designed for those going through breast cancer recovery – a six-piece collection with thoughtful features that would fit their specific needs, without compromising aesthetics.
Women who have undergone breast surgery need ... a front closure for ease of wear; soft, breathable fabrics for comfort; and thicker, adjustable straps that provide high support and a customisable fit.
The brand worked closely with a breast reconstruction surgeon, Dr Chia Hui Ling from SW1 Plastic Surgery Clinic, to develop these bras and identify key features that women who have undergone breast surgery need. Among these are a front closure for ease of wear; soft, breathable fabrics for comfort; and thicker, adjustable straps that provide high support and a customisable fit.
Of course, there’s no feedback better than that from the actual users of the product, which is why the brand also sought the opinions of its customers who are breast cancer survivors.
For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, CNA Lifestyle spoke to some of these women and learnt more about their personal recovery journeys, as well as how finding the right bra, for them, can be so physically and emotionally uplifting.
NG WENYA, 36
Enduring treatment for cancer is trying, and inevitably also a journey of self-discovery. Ng personally feels she has emerged stronger following her diagnosis last year, and going through chemotherapy, radiation therapy and a lumpectomy.
“Interestingly, I’ve become more confident of my body after my cancer diagnosis. I lost all my hair, eyebrows and lashes when I was undergoing chemotherapy, and there was a period when I didn’t dare to look at myself in the mirror. But I realised later that my worth or identity was not defined by my outward appearance and that my friends and family did not love me any less based on how I looked,” she revealed.
She agreed, however, that physically and visually, breasts are one of the first things that women are identified by.
“Before my surgery, I was worried about how my breast would look after the procedure. Truth is, there are still days when I'm bothered that it does not look and feel the same anymore, and when I wear my bra, my breasts don’t look equal. I have to remind myself that they are not the only thing that contributes to my femininity,” she said.
Most post-surgery bras are more functional than pretty, and it would be nice to have one that is a combination of function and aesthetics.
In the first few months after surgery, she found herself trying to find clothes to fit her post-surgery bra. "I couldn’t wear certain types of clothing because they just did not go well with it,” she said. Even so, she still finds herself going back to her post-surgery bra quite often these days, since it wins on comfort and function.
“Most post-surgery bras are more functional than pretty, and it would be nice to have one that is a combination of function and aesthetics. For women who are adjusting to their identity as a woman, following the loss of their breast(s) and hair, this is a nice touch that could make them feel pretty, sexy, or womanly again,” she said.
Ng also wishes to see more inclusivity on the part of bra makers. “Now, it feels like we are excluded, especially for women who did not undergo breast reconstruction surgery and need a bra that can accommodate a silicone prosthesis. It helps to have that feeling of normalcy – that I can step into a department store and shop for bras like I used to,” she added.
SELENE ZHANG, 33
“To be honest, I didn’t really think much about my breasts, and how they’ll look like ever since I got diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year. All I know was that I wanted this foreign thing out of my body and be cancer-free. I was presented with an option of a lumpectomy at first, so that I can still conserve my breast. However, after an MRI found some further suspicious mass in the same breast, I opted for a mastectomy with an implant reconstruction instead,” shared Zhang.
Unlike many other women, Zhang’s confidence wasn’t shaken after losing one of her breasts. “Instead, I feel happy that I am one step closer to getting this cancer out of my body. Our breasts do not define our femininity – it’s more about how we, as women, portray our confidence with what we have, be it with breasts or not,” she said.
She did not know what bra would suit her following surgery. “All I knew was that I needed one that was wireless and with a front clasp. My plastic surgeon passed me post-mastectomy bras to wear after the surgery, but they were, however, pretty ugly,” she said frankly.
It’s awesome – letting breast cancer patients have more options than ugly bras just because we have cancer.
“Eventually, when I had a better idea of what kind of bra I wanted, I started looking around shops in Singapore, but unfortunately, there weren’t really many choices. There may be wireless bras aplenty but it’s almost impossible to find any with a front clasp,” she added.
It wasn’t feasible for her to rely on post-surgery bras, too, as their design makes it hard for her to wear certain types of clothing. “They are cut so high up to my armpits that I couldn’t wear any sleeveless clothing, because the fabric will be peeking out. The lack of pretty post-surgical bras is pretty alarming – given the fact that breast cancer is on the rise. I think breast cancer patients just want to feel normal or pretty, and having well-designed bras made available for us is really important,” Zhang said.
This is why she is so supportive of Perk by Kate’s new initiative. “It’s awesome – letting breast cancer patients have more options than ugly bras just because we have cancer. Most of us just want to feel normal, and not be constantly reminded that we have cancer. I do feel that current options we have just make us feel that cancer patients are not allowed to have nice things.”
VIVIENNE WONG, 36
Wong was diagnosed at age 32, and has had a mastectomy, followed by reconstruction surgery. “It was devastating to be told that I had to lose a breast, and that I would need chemotherapy, radiation and long-term hormonal therapy. But I pulled myself together – I knew I could be well again but I had to do what is necessary,” she shared.
It took time for her to get used to her post-surgery body. “Sometimes, I didn’t feel like I was in my own body. I had to get used to the weight of an implant, the numbness of the whole reconstructed breast, the stiffness in my upper arm and shoulder, changes in my posture (shoulder rolled forward slightly),” Wong explained.
I’ve always thought if there’s a bra that allows me a lot of different spots to slot in paddings of various shapes and sizes, I could ‘customise’ my own shape.
Apart from that, she also found herself no longer at ease wearing certain types of clothing. “The plastic surgeon did a great job with the aesthetics – but it will always be slightly uneven. Padding in bras helps but doesn’t completely fix the problem, so, up till today, there are certain cuts of shirts and fabrics that I avoid because they reveal the unevenness in my torso. I know people won’t really notice it, but I’m kind of OCD like that,” she said.
“It’s hard to find a bra that evens out my shape completely. I have to get creative with where I insert padding. I get the most even shape in padded and wired bras but can’t wear them as they don’t sit evenly on my body and the wire digs into my reconstructed side,” she revealed.
Her idea of a perfect bra now is one that provides “flexibility”: “I’ve always thought if there’s a bra that allows me a lot of different spots to slot in paddings of various shapes and sizes, I could ‘customise’ my own shape. Also, front hooks are easier than back hooks because of limited mobility after surgery.”
Finding a comfortable bra that provides a good foundation for her dressing needs is even more important, since Wong is a wedding singer and has to present her best self when working.
"It’s weird but finding the right bra makes me feel emotional. When I can look in the mirror and see a nice, even shape, it makes me feel understood and seen, even if that wasn’t the brand’s intention at all. I remember tearing up when I found my first well-fitting strapless bra, which is from Perk by Kate, three years after my surgery,” Wong shared.
JESSIE TAN, 46
Tan was diagnosed four years ago, had a unilateral mastectomy, but chose not to have reconstruction. “Today, I continue to live flat on one side and the lack of suitable bras for people like me is an issue that I hold close to my heart. For the past four years, I have not been able to find a single bra that fits comfortably, and to a large extent, I had learnt to accept that maybe I never will,” she commented.
She, too, pointed out a severe lack in availability of post-mastectomy bras in Singapore. “As of today, I am aware of only three sources here. After surgery, I spent (and continue to spend) a lot of time online, searching for suitable bras to buy. Not surprisingly, there are a lot more choices in the US, but the problem with purchasing bras online is the inability to try them on. Being able to put the bras on before purchasing them is actually a critical factor for us,” she shared.
I felt hopeful, because this is a Singapore brand that is interested to explore a possible solution to an issue that I am facing on a daily basis.
Comfort is of extreme importance for breast cancer patients who have undergone surgery, and it’s not something that is easy for others to fully grasp.
“The reality is that only women who have had the same experience are able to truly understand how it feels. The physical discomfort I experience from the mastectomy is perpetual but is something we have to accept and manage on a daily basis. But this discomfort is made so much worse when I wear a bra that is not suitable,” she explained.
This is why Perk by Kate’s breast cancer initiative spoke to Tan. “I felt hopeful, because this is a Singapore brand that is interested to explore a possible solution to an issue that I am facing on a daily basis. I truly hope that this initiative will help to raise awareness among the bra manufacturers and that it will result in more choices being available to breast cancer patients in Singapore,” she said.
Perk by Kate is available at https://www.perkbykate.com/.