photo credit: Huffpost
Dana Donofree, founder of AnaOno Intimates, had a successful career in the fashion industry. She was launching lines, dressing and styling celebrities, managing multi-million dollar accounts, and handling merchandising and distribution. But at age 27, Donofree was diagnosed with infiltrative ductal carcinoma, the most prevalent form of breast cancer.
The journey that followed impacted far more than her health: It transformed her into a business owner.
Borne of necessity
After a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction Donofree says, “I realized, even after healing, that none of my bras fit me anymore. Nor did anything, in any store. The simple act of getting dressed for work every morning became overwhelming and defeating.”
Donofree had a full-time job in the fashion industry at the time, but she needed to create a bra that would fit her new body.
“I knew it was worth it to give AnaOno a real shot as a business when more and more women told me they had the same frustrating experiences, ” says Donofree.
She founded AnaOno Intimates, a lingerie and lounge wear company. It’s mission is to design and manufacture products exclusively for those who have been affected by breast cancer, mastectomy, breast surgery or chronic pain.
Becoming an entrepreneur
Donofree prepared to bring AnaOno to launch when she wasn’t occupied by her full-time job. It developed a little slower than she’d originally hoped. “Once we launched in 2014, I transitioned out of my lucrative full-time career into the unknown,” says Donofree.
The product research and development, sourcing, prototyping and creation processes were fairly seamless. That was due thanks to her education and years of professional experience in fashion. “It made creating my own lingerie and lounge wear line much easier. It gave me a head start over those who may not have all of the knowledge of the industry and how it works,” says Donofree.
Educating the market
Donofree says one her biggest challenges continues to be the fact that she’s serving a niche customer base that isn’t understood — or embraced — by many mainstream retailers and investors.
“Part of the delay in the industry response is the lack of education surrounding the lingerie needs for those who’ve had a mastectomy with or without reconstruction; and/or those who choose not to wear prosthetics/breast forms, and remain flat instead,” says Donofree. There’s also a misconception, she says, that there are enough products available to suit the demand. There’s a misunderstanding that there’s a “one size fits all” solution for women who have had mastectomies.
Since she lived through the experience first hand, Donofree felt compelled to do this. Not only is Donofree is committed to providing solutions for women that many in the industry aren’t aware of, but she also those people aren’t able to address.
“At AnaOno, we engineer bras, we don’t just sketch them. We’ve fit and wear-tested on individuals who’ve had different surgeries, have different body types and different needs — from lymph node scar tissue to nerve damage, to radiation burns,” she says. “They are cut and constructed to avoid pain points or scarring. They are underwire-free, and glide over and fit to the body, no matter what that body may look like.”
Overcoming funding road bumps
Donofree admits there are times when managing finances feels like a full-time job in its own right. “As a solopreneur, the juggling act of running operations and making sure there is money in the bank to continue operating is a challenge, ” she says.
“I wish we could ramp up size expansion overnight, or build new styles and collections every season. Or even fall in step with other lingerie lines that have such broad ranges of offerings. But that isn’t feasible for us right now,”says Donofree.
“Part of what goes hand-in-hand with that is getting people who are not in the breast cancer community to understand how vital it is to create and sell the collections. The market share is worth the investment.”
One recent win: a feature in 2017’s New York Fashion Week, along with #Cancerland and Art Hearts Fashion. It garnered considerable attention for AnaOno.
“We knew we were doing something bigger than ourselves and bigger than just bras and panties on a runway. The noise we made was surprising. There was such a whiplash of love that came from those eleven precious minutes,” she says.
Donofree knows her company’s mission is not “a layup business to be in.” The struggles of educating retailers and investors will continue. However, she has no intention of slowing down, “So many people benefit from our products. That’s what makes it worthwhile.”