Women

02.01.13

How an Online Campaign May Get Victoria’s Secret Into ‘Survivor Bras’

Angered by her mom’s postmastectomy struggle, a Virginia woman’s Web petition went viral—and may push the lingerie giant into the market for breast-cancer prosthetics.

On Thursday morning two women approached the imposing Victoria’s Secret corporate office in windy midtown Manhattan, armed with six pink- and white-striped signature bags. But instead of frilly unmentionables under the tissue paper, there were pages and pages of printed-out signatures and comments. Some 120,000 signatures in all, asking the lingerie giant to launch a “survivor bra,” for a female demographic neglected by many retailers: breast-cancer survivors.

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Allana Maiden and her mom, Debbie Barrett, a cancer survivor, are ready to deliver a petition with more than 119,000 signatures for a “survivor bra” to the Victoria’s Secret corporate office Thursday. (Nina Strochlic)

The two women were 27-year-old Allana Maiden and her mother, Debbie Barrett. Maiden, who lives in Richmond, Va., was inspired to start a petition on Change.org after noticing her mom’s struggle to find a bra that fits her 21 years after undergoing a mastectomy because of breast cancer. In the beginning of January, she posted the petition asking Victoria’s Secret to launch a line of prosthesis-fitting bras for breast-cancer survivors. A week later, as signatures neared 1,000, she told her mom what she had done, and within three weeks, the petition boasted 100,000 signatures.

“It just sort of exploded,” she tells The Daily Beast, laughing. “I told her, ‘Just so you know, I started this petition ...’”

“I was just really proud of her, going out and making a stand for others,” Barrett says, beaming at her daughter.

The day before delivering the signatures, the pair got an invite to meet with Tammy Roberts Myers, vice president of communications for Limited Brands, Victoria’s Secret’s parent company. Afterward, at a nearby coffee shop, they were thrilled with the reception they received. When the company got wind of the petition, Maiden said, it began to look into the issue, and it plans to fly the mother-daughter team to Limited Brands headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, to discuss ideas with researchers and executives.

“I wasn’t really sure what to expect from it, but it’s good to know that I’ve caught the ear of somebody who’s higher up in the company and really seems like they’re interested in finding out more about this,” Maiden says. “It’s really gone along a lot faster than I thought it would,” her mom adds. “I’m surprised that it has, and I’m thankful that they are taking it seriously.”

Victoria’s Secret is credited with mainstreaming lingerie, and women who have undergone mastectomies are hoping for their bras to be similarly accessible. At the moment, they face limited options. Barrett drives an hour and a half from her small hometown of Saltville, Va., to a specialty store for mastectomy bras that run her around $70. “It’s this huge task just to go get a bra, and I wanted her to have a more positive, normal experience with bra shopping like I get to have,” Maiden says of her inspiration for creating the petition. Few department or lingerie stores carry bras outfitted with prostheses. Those that do often have a limited selection, and shoppers complain that they’re often hidden in a back room, available only by special request.

On a Breastcancer.org discussion board, women aired their complaints about the process of finding shops that sell mastectomy bras, that few are covered by insurance companies, and the demeaning feeling of being ushered into private rooms to view the selection. “The shop that is covered by my insurance company is only open weekdays from 9-5, so I need to miss work (read: lose pay) to go buy bras or get prosthetics. This feels so unfair! Why should I have to miss work just to be able to go buy a bra?” one commenter wrote.

Within the bags carried to Victoria’s Secret by Maiden and her mother, printed comments from the Change.org petition expressed similar sentiment. “My wife has had a double mastectomy & the only bras are from medical clothing suppliers so they are pretty expensive and are generally ‘Granny Bras.’ If Victoria Secret [sic] can do this, it will be more economically feasible for many women that have had mastectomies & will be more fashionable,” wrote one husband.

“The shop that is covered by my insurance company is only open weekdays from 9-5, so I need to miss work (read: lose pay) to go buy bras or get prosthetics. This feels so unfair!”
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The bags filled with petitions for Victoria’s Secret. (change.org/survivorbras)

“My job is a custom mastectomy fitter for breast prosthetics and bras. I want a huge corporation like Victoria’s Secrets to stand behind these women. I make beautiful women feel beautiful on a daily basis, imagine how much more fabulous they would feel knowing that a company that is geared at making women feel sexy had their backs!” said another.

For its part, Victoria’s Secret seems to be listening to advocates of a cause they have long promoted. “We celebrate those who champion the fight against breast cancer,” a spokesperson said, noting the millions of dollars the company has donated for cancer research. “Ultimately, we are working toward celebrating the day when breast cancer is a thing of the past. In the meantime, we are listening and learning to understand if there are additional ways for our company to continue to extend its support.”

If their efforts prove effective, Maiden said she doesn’t plan on stopping at bras. Her mom and other survivors have problems finding swimsuits and camisoles that fit correctly as well. But for the time being, mother and daughter are excited to participate in something that will make life a little easier for thousands of women. As Maiden said before delivering her signatures, “An important part of recovery is being able to feel beautiful again. Victoria’s Secret is known for helping women feel beautiful, and I hope they’ll take this opportunity to help women who need it most: breast-cancer survivors like my mom.”