Dana Donofree was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 27 years old. Actually, it was the day before her 28th birthday, and two months before her wedding. Until that moment, she felt like she had everything going for her, including a successful career in the fashion industry. After her bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, her beautiful lingerie didn’t fit her anymore. Dana went shopping and couldn’t find a single pretty bra that comfortably fit her surgically-altered body. That’s when she knew she had to do something! She took her years of fashion design experience and launched AnaOno so that no other woman had to feel alone and go through the frustration she did.
Dana, when you started your business you just got diagnosed with cancer. What made you stick to the plan and how did you manage the emotional and physical stress?
I am a self-described workaholic, and I wasn’t going to let cancer stop me from doing what I love most. I also kept my full-time job for several years, which gave me time to figure out if there were other people living with breast cancer who were looking for beautiful and comfortable lingerie just like I was. I knew I couldn’t be alone.
How did you come up with the concept of AnaOno?
It was a classic case of discovering an unmet need and having the desire (and skills and experience) to meet it! The company name is a version of me, Dana Donofree, without the double Ds.
You design clothing specifically for women who deal with Recovering and Reclaiming. Please tell us more about the specifics your customers look for in your fashion.
At AnaOno we are about healing. Just like everyone else looking for a bra, previvors, survivors, and thrivers look to their lingerie drawer for bras that make them feel beautiful and sexy and are also comfortable. We design bras for those with two breasts, one breast or none at all because we know the breasts don’t define us, the way we express ourselves does. There are certain specific features that our customers love: front closures for when your mobility is limited post-surgery, adjustable straps for a customized fit, super-soft modal material that won’t irritate the skin are a few examples. All of our bras are also wire-free and do not have molded cups, so they mold to you, not the other way around which is important when dressing those faced with asymmetry.
Does Insurance cover bras like yours?
Yes, for those who have Medicare and Medicaid and most of the private plans as well. There are co-pays and deductibles, so it’s worth checking in with your insurer for details or pop into our FAQ page about how to leverage your coverage.
How challenging was it for you to get insurance companies on board with this? What were the requirements?
A national law was passed in 1998 to protect patients and provide this coverage following mastectomy surgeries. One of the things we are always working on is getting the word out to women that their bras may be covered because sadly not all women are informed of this benefit after surgery.
You also keep your community close to your heart and help them on an emotional level to deal with tough times like this. What are you doing and why is this so important to you?
I’m on the board of Living Beyond Breast Cancer and I am also a METAvivor advocate and Breasties Ambassador. Staying close to the community is important to me because I will never forget how alone and uninformed I felt after my own diagnosis, mastectomy, and reconstruction.
You said once in an interview that founding AnaOno has been one of the scariest, most stressful, and most rewarding thing in your life! Tell us more about that.
Let’s start with the rewarding piece: running my own fashion brand is a dream come true. Before launching AnaOno, I had a very successful fashion industry career. I worked with couture brands, dressed celebrities for the red carpet, and led a company division that did loads of business with Walmart. Shifting from a powerful position with dozens of people reporting to me, to the life of a solo entrepreneur designing a niche-busting product as I was recovering from cancer surgery and treatment was definitely scary but one of the most thrilling things in my life.
You were also able to showcase your work at this year’s New York Fashion Week. How was that for you?
This year’s show, #fearLESS was amazing! We had more patient-models than ever before, 32 people who came to New York from all over the world. We intentionally included early-stage patients and previvors as well as metastatic patients to bridge the gap that can exist between those groups. It’s so important that we tackle cancer as one community. Thanks to our incredible sponsors and the hundreds of people who attended the show in person or watched online, we’ve raised close to $250,000 for METAvivor this year alone (you can donate here).
You also said, “if you can make a difference in just one person’s life, it has made all this worth it!”. Many business owners want their own businesses for the sake of freedom, being independent and financially free. What values are your top priority nowadays?
For me it is about making a difference, about filling a real need, empowering women, and starting conversations about important topics that many people avoid. As far as independence and financial freedom, if those were my main goals, I probably wouldn’t be designing mastectomy bras! Hearing from customers how our lingerie has affected their lives and the way they feel about themselves, that makes all the hard work worthwhile.