When Angelina Jolie announced that she'd undergone an elective double mastectomy, the world was stunned. Here was one of the most beautiful and sexy starlets voluntarily having her breasts removed in order to decrease her odds of getting breast cancer.
After all, breasts nourish babies but mostly, in the West, they are culturally synonymous with femininity and sex appeal. Yet even as more and more women sacrifice their mammaries to save their lives, there is a dearth of clothing available to make them feel good about themselves.
According to an article in the Huffington Post, this gap in the market was spotted by Patricia Brett. A former architect and breast cancer survivor, Brett designed a "cross-functional swimsuit line" called Veronica Brett, purely to cater to women like her.
"I wanted to create a really beautiful, high-end product that not only met the needs of breast cancer survivors, but was also a really beautiful line in its own right," says Brett. "I wanted it to be fashion."
Like Jolie, Brett also tested positive for the BRCA1 gene and opted to have a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of getting breast cancer. At 29, her niece faced the same fate. This prompted Brett to take action.
"I was thinking, 'This is crazy that [we] struggle with finding fashionable, sexy, sophisticated apparel because of breast surgical issues,'" said Brett. "All of a sudden this light bulb went off. I thought, 'If I can design a building, I should be able to design a better swimsuit.'"
Brett sketched several designs and met with pattern-makers. But she couldn't have anticipated the outcome. Her niece tried it on and "literally burst into tears."
The specially designed suits feature pockets to accommodate a prosthetic breast; they are made of a thicker fabric and modest style to hide scarring and ensure comfort.
Obviously the market for such suits is limited, so Brett struggled to convince department stores to carry her new line. But smaller retailers, like Kimara Ahnert in Manhattan and ShopBop.com, began stocking her suits and, more astonishingly, many women are snapping up the Veronica swimwear, not just those who've beat cancer.
So for Brett that's a real triumph. She also recalls an email from a customer and survivor whose daughter calls it her 'Baywatch' swimsuit. Take that, Pamela Anderson!