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."Meanwhile, Gwen Widell, vice president of merchandising, said Wacoal's newest bra style, the iBra, has had strong sell-throughs at retail.

"Each [cup] size is a different mold, nothing is cut and sewn," which leaves less differentiation between sizes, Widell said. "No matter what color skin a woman has, there's a flattering shade from nude, suntan, chocolate and black, and the fit is universal."

Richard Murray, president of Wacoal America, attributed a year-to-date 14 percent gain in corporate sales to the iBra, as well as a Donna Karan Intimates Solutions program of bras and daywear. Wacoal America generated annual wholesale sales of $109 million in 2004.

Another strong advocate of breast cancer awareness is sleepwear designer Karen Neuburger. The KN Karen Neuburger brand is celebrating eight years of its Pink Ribbon Signature Collection with an increased line of 14 "comfy, cozy products" that will be available this October and throughout the year.

The Pink Ribbon line includes pajamas, robes, lounge socks, slippers, intimate apparel, decorative scrapbooks papers and home accessories. The newest items this year are quilting fabrics by the yard, an embellished sweatshirt, stickers, rubber stamps and a line of pink totes. Many items incorporate the words grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, nieces and friends into the design.

"We felt it was very important to offer this line of products year-round because breast cancer is a disease that can strike any time," Neuburger said. Our current partner is Evelyn Lauder's Breast Cancer Research Foundation."

Neuburger was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she had just finished speaking to a group of breast cancer patients and survivors at St. Luke's Hospital. She said her visit, which included reading an excerpt on wellness and breast cancer from her book, "The Secret Language of Girlfriends," is part of a program called Spirit of Women. The program is conducted at 150 partner hospitals nationwide.

Neuburger said she anticipates donating more than $75,000 to the research foundation this year, generated by a portion of the proceeds from the sales of the Pink Ribbon collection.

Nautica is a first-time participant in raising awareness of breast cancer and will launch a limited Pink sleepwear collection in October at select department stores, including Dillard's, Macy's, Filene's, Hecht's and Foley's. Items will include soft, shawl-collar robes, floral-printed sueded jersey pajamas and a pink-and-white striped cotton pajama set.Consumers will receive a complimentary pair of pink socks with any $49 or more purchase of Nautica's Pink collection. All items will feature pink hangtags as well as educational how-to breast self-exam cards.

Nautica will make a $25,000 donation to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, said a company spokeswoman.

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