Judy van Rhijn and Rose Olesen have been best friends and neighbours for more than a decade. They have supported one another through the unpredictable best and worst moments of life: career shifts, family loss, children’s accomplishments and health challenges.
Since they co-founded a business together in 2020 - Best Breast Vest Co., they can now add business partners to the ways in which their lives are connected.
The idea for Best Breast Vest came during Judy’s own breast cancer journey and treatment in 2018-19. She had a single mastectomy shortly before a family trip to Australia but discovered that she couldn’t be fitted for a breast prosthesis and bra before her departure. Seeking a better solution than “an old bra and a sock,” Judy turned to her own sewing machine to modify some thrift store vests into an “easy on-and-off external breast prosthesis.” Worn over her clothing so that it wouldn’t irritate her fresh scars the vest made her feel comfortable – and symmetrical – while travelling.
“Isn't it incredible,” Rose chimed in, “mastectomies have been going on for years and nobody thought about how women feel in those first four to six weeks.” There really hasn’t been a dignified early post-mastectomy product, until now.
Support for women’s health options, specifically women who have experienced a mastectomy, is what inspired the pair to develop a business based on Judy’s creative invention.
A more tailored and designed version of her original prototypes, the Best Breast Vest is worn comfortably over regular clothing. It has customizable internal pockets “fitted with light bra cups stacked together to make a prosthetic breast”. The cups are attached by VELCRO® and can be easily adjusted to achieve the alignment and figure unique to each person. Since it doesn’t touch the skin, the vest can be worn much earlier than any other product, post-surgery.
Testing the Best Breast Vest during COVID-19 proved to be a significant challenge. They couldn’t access testers through local cancer support services and groups or retail stores but instead relied on their growing networks and women they met during various entrepreneurship programs and social media. Feedback allowed them to make design modifications, add sizing options and choose a standard colour palette.
To support their business development, Judy and Rose took advantage of the a-la-cart services offered through the Laurier Women Entrepreneurship Centre. Rose attended Soar Networking events, such as Lean In Circles where she was introduced to the Growth Wheel. They also took advantage of the 1:1 Business Consultation time with WEC staff. “The networking we've got from all these entrepreneurship courses has been as useful as the courses themselves,” Judy said.
Judy and Rose are officially open for business as of January 2021. For the time being, Judy and other local seamstresses will sew each garment to fulfill orders using a cotton fabric they sourced in their hometown of Kitchener, Ontario. When they are able to reconnect with clients and local cancer support services - face-to-face – Judy and Rose are ready to grow their innovative idea for bringing “security, dignity and comfort to women on their breast cancer journey.”
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The Women Entrepreneurship Centre (WEC), as part of the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, is dedicated to empowering women entrepreneurs of every age, stage and culture to achieve their business dreams. We believe in fostering leadership. We believe that everyone deserves an equal shot at success. We believe in connecting you with the right people, skills and support to make it happen.
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