It's been a while... a Founder's Life

Last time I checked it was Spring 2017, I was planning and executing a Kickstarter campaign which ran throughout May. It was an ambitious plan, and a risk. 

I knew at the outset that a plan to pre-sell £30,000 worth of bras to women who've been through breast cancer might not work. We raised a whopping £10,000+ but didn't reach the target to raise the funds needed to move onto the next stage of development. We did however create some amazing connections and openings to keep safe for the future. Serendipity played a big role, and ever the magpie in my thinking, I'm storing opportunities away for when I'm ready to maximise the benefits. 

Nonetheless, it was time to take stock, and that's what I've been doing. To make millie happen, I need 100% focus. Nothing else, no distractions. Nada.

During the summer I've been variously freelancing (a girl's gotta pay the bills), selling my home, working through tricky stuff ahead of a divorce, coming to terms with new knowledge that I have osteoporosis and osteoarthritis (that's a double whammy that took me by surprise), and seeing my youngest daughter head off to university. Busy then! I am your classic empty nester now, I mean, the house really IS empty, apart from little old me. So I'm downsizing. I've bought myself a lovely apartment close by, and assuming everything goes according to plan, I'll be moving soon.

Then, and only then, will I turn my attention fully back to millie. I read a lot about what entrepreneurs are meant to be, how we're supposed to relentlessly pursue our ambitions and dreams, but to be frank, there's a lot of nonsense thinking out there. I have always said that I will do this on my own terms, at my own pace, and with my health and wellbeing always first in mind.

During the past two years I have had some amazing conversations with women about the lasting impact of breast cancer, and the pressure that they, like me, sometimes feel to be "better". We desist the language of "survivor" and "warrior"; we're who we are, dealing with what we have to deal with. Sometimes it's straightforward, sometimes it's not. What we have in common is the belief that we're doing the best we possibly can, and if that means facing life's challenges in a different, kinder, sometimes more inventive way, that's what we'll do. It just takes a bit longer.

I did take millie with me to Paris in July, and together we hung out at one of the world's biggest lingerie trade fairs, Interfilière. Together with Laura, my designer, we went to see the Dior Exhibition, which was simply stunning. I have a book of contacts and potential partners for millie to blast through when my "domestics" are sorted. Watch this space...

my Chantelle moment

My lingerie choices for the past two years have been very restricted. Four rounds of surgery, bloating from treatment and lack of exercise, and hey presto, my band size and bra requirements both went up, and my confidence shot down.

I decided to do some bra market research, and see how far I could get past my imposed lingerie restrictions, so off we went to Birmingham, home of the Bull Ring and mecca for fashionistas of the Midlands. First stop, Selfridges.

The lingerie department was discreetly tucked away, good place to start. On close inspection it was tiny; only a few well chosen brands and not much  choice. High on my wish list was non-wired, that’s what I’ve been wearing for two years, and like or it not, feel comfortable in. Calvin Klein won the prize for the only bra in this category. Plain, stylish, but very padded, and I do mean knock yourself out padded. Undeterred, I de-robed.

I should probably mention at this point that I was co-shopping with a fashion expert from Nottingham Trent University, also an experienced lingerie designer (very handy). Sue’s role for the day was to evaluate style and fit, and encourage me to try on things I wouldn’t normally touch with a barge pole.

First up, and CK bra on, I bravely ventured out into the small space outside my rather uninspiring changing room (was I in Sainsbury’s or Selfridges?!). I felt like I’d got someone else bra on, but my cleavage had re-appeared (thought I’d lost that two years ago), and there I was looking down at some serious boost. Now, you might think I’d be mighty pleased about this? Erm, more like uncertain. It didn’t ‘look quite like me’. Regardless, the bra was declared ‘a good fit’ and duly purchased.

Next stop, Debenhams. Now I could bore you with the grim details, but I wouldn’t want to waste either your time or mine. Suffice to say, there were 1000’s of bras, poorly merchandised, and completely underwhelming as a customer proposition (you can take the girl out of retail, but you can’t take retail out of the girl). I tried on two bras, both disastrous, the Triumph was comfortable yes, but gave no shape whatsoever, and a simple Playtex style. Awful. Sue found a tee shirt bra for herself at £15 though, so all was not lost.

After refueling, our next stop was House of Fraser. This is a quaint old store, I bought my 21st birthday party dress there decades ago, and it’s not changed much since (as an aside). Now, I have to say that my expectations were low; my local H of F lingerie department is pretty poor. Thankfully, I was quite surprised when we entered a large, well-stocked, contemporary looking department with an array of brands to choose from. My expectation level rose. Could they live up to it?

Sue was in full flight by now, and she hovered up armfuls of fabulous bras in minutes (see picture). The first few were tried on with Sue’s careful evaluation, and by this time, I’d lost all fear of standing around in my bra and talking about my breasts. An assistant who’d been discretely lurking then stepped up, and suddenly we were in a whole different shopping zone. Sam knew her stock, her fitting, and most of all, how to engage with her customer; she ‘got’ me.

In all we spent 2.5hrs in said fitting room, countless bras tried and tested, and 4 happy purchases made.

But I must tell you about my ‘moment’. Sam brought in what I can only describe as a lingerie vision; a wispy, flimsy, beautifully crafted piece of Chantelle magic. I frowned, my expression conveying the instant doubt in my mind that said lingerie gem would come anywhere close to meeting my specific needs and wishes. Undeterred I tried it on and looked up into the mirror.

Standing there looking back at me was someone I’ve not seen in a very long time. A feminine, sophisticated, sensational looking woman in a glorious piece of kit; ‘is that really me?!’.

That was my Chantelle moment, when for a brief time, all the pain and sadness from what has happened to my right breast disappeared. I stood there taking a slow studied look at myself, as it began to sink in that something inside me had been restored.

Tears in the changing rooms

Tears in the changing rooms

I’ve bought pink ones, white ones, nursing ones, cheeky purple ones, in fact, almost every kind of bra I’ve ever wanted from the UK’s favourite bra shop. They sell £m’s each year to us all and are working smart and hard to design bras for women who’ve had breast surgery, yet still the experience of trying to buy one six weeks after my surgery reduced me to tears...