This year PIPÉT has chosen Breast Cancer Care as the charity we would like to support through our Luxury Christmas Raffle. With the help of experts, Breast Cancer Care look at topics like treatment, fertility, sex and intimacy, reconstruction, relationships, lymphoedema, healthy eating and exercise. You can read more about the charity here and download their free support booklet PFD.
Thankfully an increasing number of people who undergo treatment are making a full recovery and living their life to the fullest. One of these brave ladies is fellow designer Clover Lewis.
Clover Lewis and I met last year on a photography course at the Fashion and Textile Museum. We instantly clicked and have since been supporting each other through our young businesses. Inspired by the personal challenges she has overcome I wanted to share how Clover is turning her experience into a positive one...
Read our interview below with the founder of post surgery swimwear brand Clover Lewis.
Q - Your determination and positive outlook is a real inspiration. Would you mind sharing a little about your story and how you started your business?
CLS: “Being told I had triple negative breast cancer was the most terrifying moment of my life. I just wanted every bit of the disease gone, but losing a breast felt like losing part of my femininity. After my reconstruction, which didn't go to plan, my body was disfigured and that’s all I imagined anyone else would see. I waited two years for more surgery to “fix” it, and in that time I gained two stone. But although I was desperately unhappy with my reconstruction, I felt like I wanted to start living again.
I’d always dreamt of learning to dive, so my partner Jon and I booked a holiday to Bali – and I was determined not to let me insecurities stop me. I searched the shops for something I felt I could actually walk down the beach in, but most of it left me in tears. So having previously worked as a costume designer, I bought some stretch swim fabric and made my own bikini.
When I got to the beach and took off my sarong, it was the first time I felt like me again. I had the confidence to obtain my PADI Open Water Diving certificate and on the plane home, I said to Jon, “I want other women to feel like this too.”
Q - Your goal is to make women "Look good on the outside and feel great on the inside". Tell us how you combine style and function in your swimwear?
CLS: “There was a long-standing trend for post surgery swimwear to be rather conservative in cut and colour… I compare a lot of what I encountered after my breast surgery with my old school sports swimsuit: function, but ‘none too pretty’! Hardly what many fashion-conscious women wanted, let alone what young women need to boost her confidence after the unexpected impact of cancer surgical treatment. Clover Lewis Swimwear is designed to be a glamorous swimwear treat, which discretely conceals a wealth of technical features to support a woman’s bust area comfortably. This is what makes the pieces so special.”
Q - There are many challenges faced in running a business. What drives you and keeps you going?
CLS: “CLS started off as fulfilling a personal need for fashionable swimwear which helped me feel like myself, and enabled me to go on a much longed for holiday. It soon transitioned into my recovery project: every day I go to my desk, I know in my heart I am creating beauty, and supporting others to feel good about themselves.”
Q - You are an Ambassador for Breast Cancer Care charity. What does that involve?
CLS: “I have been active as a younger woman with breast cancer Ambassador, volunteer and model for Breast Cancer Care since February 2014. I support the charity through fundraising, video and television appearances, volunteering and campaigning. I know from personal experience the real need for psychological, emotional support as part of the recovery process; Breast Cancer Care is the only UK charity with this at the centre of its focused activity. The charity also has focused support for younger women diagnosed under the age of 45, and the charity was a lifeline to me, which is why I support it wholeheartedly.”
Q - What message is most important for you to share to other young women with breast cancer?
CLS: “Before there was the assumption that young women do not get breast cancer, and often when a younger woman was diagnosed, she felt a lot of isolation. Contact Breast Cancer Care to tap into their younger woman services, connect with other women like yourself. You can get support when you need it most from this charity, who can help you better understand and cope with the diagnosis, symptoms and treatment. You are not alone.”
Q - Huge congratulations for being nominated Finalist for 2 amazing awards - UK Lingerie Awards 2015 'Post surgery Brand of the Year' and 'New Designer of the Year'.
This is a fantastic achievement for you and your business to bridge the gap between being a post surgery brand in a fashion arena.
CLS: "Thank you! I am really excited about the way the brand has been received so far… The UK Lingerie Awards are the Swimwear and Lingerie industry’s equivalent to the ‘Oscars’ so my team and I am on baited breath until January 2016 when the winners are announced! I have a good feeling though, so let’s see!"
Q - What exciting plans lie ahead for Clover Lewis Swimwear in 2016?
CLS: “In 2015 my goal was to create a beautiful collection of swimwear that any woman would want to wear, whether she has had breast cancer or not… My 2016 goal is to connect our wonderful product with these women. It’s been an exciting time with orders coming in from brick & mortar and online boutiques! Every day, I am getting closer to my two business dreams: to normalising the swimwear shopping experience for women after breast surgery, and to enable women to look good wearing well designed swimwear when out on the beach or by the pool. To feel great with the softest of fabrics against their skin, and feel greater confidence in a bikini or one piece!”
A huge 'thank you' to Clover for sharing her very personal moments with us. Setting up a your own label holds many challenges and it's been great to see how Clover has gone from strength to strength coping with breast cancer both personally and professionally.
Best wishes and thanks to everyone for your support!