Surviving Breast Cancer is a challenging and scary journey for anyone either going through it or watching someone go through with it. Fashion designer Dana Donofree used her own experience of battling cancer to create her own fashion line called AnaOno. AnaOno is a clothing line to help women with breast cancer feel good about themselves.

Q: What was the inspiration for Ana Ono?

A: I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 27 – 10 years ago! It was then that my life changed on many levels for many reasons, one I didn’t expect… was just how incredibly “different” I would feel after losing my breasts to the disease and rebuilding them. I felt like I was catapulted into a world that was designed for a much older woman, and no one was looking at the differences that young women with breast cancer face. Crazy to say I am now turning 38 in February, and although still under 40, I am now a veteran in the breast cancer space. 

Q: How did Ana Ono get started?

A: When I underwent my mastectomy with reconstruction, my body changed in ways I didn’t initially expect. I no longer had a natural slope of a breast, my nipples were gone, I couldn’t wear an underwire, and all that was available to me was sport bras and camisoles, none of which are “bedroom appropriate.” So, I went out searching the world for what would fit my body, came up empty time after time, and had way too many tears in dressing rooms, more than any person should ever have to deal with. My breaking point was when I visited a mastectomy boutique. It was my last-ditch effort to feel “normal” again, and I was delivered armfuls of beige, matronly, utilitarian mastectomy bras (none of which I wanted and/or needed). So, I set out, not just to disrupt the mastectomy industry, but to actually change the way we SEE mastectomy. 

Q: Did you think with the perceived great need from your own experience the business would easily take off? 

A: HA! I love this question because when I launched AnaOno I didn’t think there was anyone else out there like me. I figured if there were other young women getting diagnosed with breast cancer, someone would have absolutely made sexy lingerie for us to wear when they learned they had nothing. But I came up empty, so I decided to take my fashion industry experience and design expertise and make bras myself. I thought I would just sell them on Etsy for those that randomly would find me in search of having the same heartbreak I did. However, I learned I wasn’t alone. NOT AT ALL. We just weren’t being looked at, which had to change, and I would be the one to do it. 

Q: How long have you been on this journey?

A: The start of AnaOno came right after my mastectomy, the idea was looming around me, and then one night I woke up with a hot flash, and it dawned on me. I had the right skills and passion to do something to not only change my life, but also the lives of others like me. I immediately pulled out my sketch book and started first with what I needed to fix, and then started to solve the problem. It took me three years to get the first designs right and launch, because I knew surgery outcomes varied and I wanted to support as many patients and survivors as I could. I officially launched AnaOno in May of 2014, with a beautiful premier of breast cancer patients, and my dear late friend Jill Conley. 

Q: When did your product debut?

A: Our debut at NYFW in 2017 was a pivotal point on many levels. One, I realized a challenge in starting AnaOno was that the world horribly misunderstood what was really happening to those diagnosed with breast cancer. That our bodies were mutilated under our clothes, we were nipple-less, we were missing our breasts completely following the amputation. These were not things that came to mind when talking about breast cancer, and I knew we needed to show the world what breast cancer ACTUALLY looked like. We partnered with #Cancerland, founded by the late activist Champagne Joy, and took the runway by storm. Each model that walked was affected by breast cancer, from preventative surgery, just like Angelina Jolie, to those with early stage, and a third with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer. We raised money for METAvivor that day and continue to year after year. I have viewed our opportunity at NYFW as a way to help shift and change the conversation in ways that will ultimately empower and educate the breast cancer community. To date we have raised over $350,000 to fund Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer research. 

Q: What was that like?

A: I was so nervous. I felt this was a make or break moment. I knew it needed to be done. I believe in representation, diversity, and inclusion. The hardest part of getting diagnosed with breast cancer, was every brand selling bras to “breast cancer” were using healthy models, with healthy lives, with healthy breasts. This was such a slap in the face to someone that lost all of that to a diagnosis. I wanted to the world to see that we are still beautiful, strong, and empowered. And we did. Our show went viral that night, we had tons of emails and messages that gave us words of encouragement to keep going, keep advocating. I knew then that we were ready to shift the conversation to show the reality of breast cancer, and to stop sweeping the hardest topics under the rug. We set out to shine a light on our disease and how it knows no boundaries and we did it! 

Q: You appeared on the Today Show a few years back, what was that like?

A:  The Today Show piece was a real defining moment for myself and AnaOno. The exposure was huge of course, and we were posted in several major outlets following it, but more than just that, it told me that what I was building was important, well beyond just the bra. It is never okay to feel broken, to feel less than, or subpar. Yet that’s how so many patients were feeling, and when the Today Show said, we are “bringing sexy back” to breast cancer patients, they were right! It is more than just a bra, it is about how you feel about yourself and how you have to learn to celebrate your new body! It’s an important part of the healing process. 

Q:  What are your future plans for AnaOno?

A: AnaOno is setting out to ensure that no one diagnosed with breast cancer is alone in this story, and that with AnaOno, you are Never Alone. We have loads of work to do to support our community around the world. We get emails daily about how a country is lacking resources, support, and of course beautiful and comfortable garments following a surgery and diagnosis. I don’t want to leave anyone behind. Reaching out globally is a huge feat for a small business, but we don’t give up. I don’t ever want to meet a breast cancer patient that says to me, I wish I knew about you when I had my surgery. I want to be there from the moment our community needs us! We are there to support, every step of the way. 

Q: Is opening stores in the future or continuing to sell online?

A: Our reach online is so important because we can help others around the globe. I was the first mastectomy bra sold online to the customer. People told me it could never be done. I didn’t listen (thankfully!) – but I would LOVE to open a store. One that is really focused on changing the experience of the patient, from inside and out. Because the work is so much more than just your physical presence. We would love to have a safe space, where our community can come together, feel beautiful, feel supported, and share in their story with others that can relate. 

Q: Will you do more runway shows post- COVID?

A: I am so sad to know that Covid has reach well beyond its current war path. In-person events is how so many non-profits raise money, especially the important work we do for Stage IV research. It also has a massive effect on diagnosis overall. They are predicting more cancer deaths due to delayed screenings, and follow-up appointments. I already have had friends that have passed because their clinical trials were delayed, people will receive later stage diagnosis. We will take back the runway as soon as it is safe to do so. When you support a compromised community, we will have to find a better way to continue the support so desperately needed, especially when we have Covid affecting our lives on every level. 

Q: What are your near term goals?

A: My goal is also my dream. I hope one day I graciously close the doors of my business because I am no longer needed. That we have found an alternative way to treat breast cancer that does not include the amputation of a body part. That treatments can get more targeted and aggressive where we are eradicating the cells and slimming the chance of progression so we have longer lives to live with those we love, and I get to take a bow, and thank the community for their support for decades upon decades and go down in the books of something that is no longer needed in our world. 

Q: Any words of wisdom for those with or survived Breast Cancer that want to break into fashion or become entrepreneurs?

A: I don’t know if this is wisdom or not. But, all I can say is that when your life changes because of something as traumatic as cancer, fear becomes less part of the equation. I believe many people don’t start something they dream of because of many worries, like failure, or money, but really when the “fear blanket” has been ripped off you, what’s the worst that can really happen? So, I am the last person you want to call if you do not want to be encouraged to follow your dream, because you only have one life to live, you better make the best of it! 

Q: Where can people find out more about AnaOno?

A: Would love for you to visit, where you can see how we design intimates differently. You can shop by your unique body type and see someone that is living your same experience, I am so incredibly proud of this advancement, because I know what it feels like to have someone looking back at you that isn’t who you are. And of course, on all social channels via @AnaOnoIntimates, be sure to join into our conversations as we want your help to shine a light on the important topics that support our community. And tell someone you love about AnaOno, you really can help change the life of someone else when doing so! 

Ms. Donofree is changing the world and helping those with what she does best, creating fashion! You can learn more about AnaOno at the following links below!