A natural post-mastectomy solution: CNY entrepreneur creates organic breast-form inserts
SHERBURNE — There was a demand in the breast prosthesis market, and a Central New Yorker is now looking to fill it.
Jill Nelson, of Sherburne, was a prominent massage therapist, practicing through her business, Helping Hands Muscular Therapy, in Hamilton for over 15 years, with a specialty in oncology massage.
About five years ago, a patient voiced her frustration with the breast prosthesis products available. Breast prostheses are artificial breast forms that replace the shape of all or part of a breast that has been removed or altered, such as after a mastectomy as a result of breast cancer.
For the most part, Nelson found, they were all made of polyurethane or silicone — synthetic, toxic chemicals, she said.
“After going through surgery, and chemo, and radiation, the last thing that [my patient] wanted to do was to put something toxic up against her body again,” she remarked.
She knew there had to be a better way.
Over the last five years, and with a lot of self-teaching, trial, and error, Nelson created Natural Beauty Breast Prosthesis, a company specializing in organic, all-natural breast forms designed for people who have had mastectomies without reconstruction.
The products are made with materials like cotton and cotton fill along with wool (or alpaca, if wool is an issue) and come in a variety of sizes.
Thanks to a patent-pending attachment system, the “Natalie” breast form can be worn with any bra. This means that you don’t have to buy a mastectomy bra, which is a big plus for women who want to keep wearing the bras they’ve always loved.
The “Jane” form works great in any post-surgical mastectomy bra.
It took a lot of work to get her company to where it is now, with a 3,200-square-foot manufacturing facility in Sherburne.
“I do have experience with quilting and making quilts, so that’s where the sewing part came in, but I self-taught myself about felting and wool, and then it’s just been a matter of taking courses, [and] having advisors in business and in manufacturing,” the entrepreneur shared. She has also collaborated with Fuzehub, a New York-based organization that provides manufacturers and technology companies with guided access to its network of industry experts, programs, and assets to help them grow, as well as Colgate University’s Thought Into Action (TIA) program to turn her idea into a real product.
“It took a long time to develop a product that addressed all the pain points that women have with the current forms,” she shared. The synthetic forms are known to be too heavy, cause pain, move around, make noise, make you sweat, irritate the skin, and feel unnatural, Nelson said. “All of those things we were trying to incorporate into our design and at the same time be able to keep it handcrafted but still be able to mass produce it.”
After trying an outside contractor, Nelson decided to keep product creation in-house for quality control. She hopes to grow her team to 50 people and is currently hiring for production, social media, and more.
Currently, Natural Beauty Breast Prosthesis is taking pre-orders via its website, organicbreastforms.com, which can be shipped all over the United States.
Those interested in employment should visit the website as well. Questions can be forwarded to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’ve had a few sales and we are looking to do outreach to any breast cancer support groups and oncology centers as well as breast-form fitting boutiques,” Nelson said.
As her product launch rolls out, it’s a little bittersweet for the business owner. “Our product is like a double-edged sword: it’s needed, but we don’t want it to be needed.”
She continued, “We have almost 4 million women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and have been breast cancer survivors, and each year we have about 350,000 new cases of diagnosed breast cancer each year. That’s just in the United States. If we can just help their path to healing just a little bit, that’s our goal.”
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