By  on September 26, 2005

NEW YORK — Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in October, has become a cause célèbre for several intimate apparel companies.

There has been a huge push in the fashion apparel and beauty industries in the last decade for breast cancer awareness and education, as well as promotional events and seminars at major department and specialty stores. The charitable effort has been embraced by only a few lingerie firms, mainly because industry executives, primarily from bra companies, have generally not wanted to connect the image of a bra brand with breast cancer.

"It's a good cause, but we've been afraid consumers would think of breast cancer when they think of our bras," said an executive, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

However, Wacoal America, the U.S. subsidiary of apparel giant Wacoal Japan, is taking a proactive approach that has received support from retailers and consumers. Wacoal will be coordinating its fifth-year anniversary of year-round promotions and special events at dozens of major department and specialty stores to fight breast cancer.

Robert J. Vitale, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Wacoal, which also has the licensed Donna Karan Intimates and DKNY Underwear collections, said the company would stage 900 Fit for the Cure events at stores across the U.S. About 25,000 women are expected to participate in complimentary bra fittings this fall.

Wacoal will donate $2 to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation for every woman who has a fitting in a Wacoal bra and pledged an additional $2 for every Wacoal bra purchased at an event. In addition, the company will donate $2 to the Komen foundation for every pink Wacoal bra and Awareness bra purchased in October during the company's month-long Pretty in Pink events. The Awareness bra has a signature breast cancer pink ribbon and hangtag explaining how to do a breast self-exam.

"We're spreading a lot of great messages that's led to further success of the Wacoal brand," Vitale said. "You get women fitted in Wacoal bras and gain a loyal customer. Sales of Wacoal bras at Nordstrom are ahead 38 percent against a year ago. At the end of 2005, we will have raised three-quarters of a million dollars. Next year will be will be a magic year for us — $1 million."

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