Why shouldn’t functional clothing be fashionable? Speciality clothing has a tendency to focus on function first, and fashion as an afterthought. While it is extremely important to get the technical aspects of a garment right, the people wearing the clothes still wantÂ something to make them feel special. Luckily, designers and listening. The Monokini 2.0 project designed stylish swimsuits for breast cancer survivors and lingerie brand Vanilla Blush is designing cool retro lingerie for people with different types of stomata and ostomies.
We interviewed Vanilla Blush founder, Nicola Dames. Read on to find out how the brand turns “what was considered a medical problem into a fashion challenge.”
Q. How difficult was it to balance functionality and fashion?
A. If I had to be completely honest, the balance between functionality and fashion comes naturally to me. I think it must be my background – I used to be a fashion consultant in one of Europe’s top department stores, Brown’s, in Dublin. But I left fashion consultancy, to train as a nurse, after which I specialized in Intensive Care.
In 2005, myself and my husband left our very successful careers in London, with a one-way ticket to Spain, to set up a business.
This wealth of experience all came together in 2006, when Vanilla Blush was conceived. It resulted in a two-year business pregnancy and the birth of the company, live on ITV‘s flagship programme This Morning Show in 2008.
Q. Why do you think speciality clothing in general tends to focus primarily on function?
A. It would be unfair for me to be harsh or critical on other specialized producers, that is not my role, nor my wish. But I can speak for myself and Vanilla Blush, and one thing is clear, Vanilla Blush is inclusive lingerie, swimwear and menswearâ€“not exclusive. We ensure we are fulfilling our philosophy and vision by making sure that our products are also desired and purchased by customers who do not have a stoma. Ultimately, Vanilla Blush produces lingerie, swimwear and menswear which is for everyone and also includes those needing a wee bit of extra support for their stoma.
Q. Can you tell us more about your philosophy: “I am still 100% woman, 100% sensual and nobody can take that from me?”
A. It is best to deal with this from the personal experience. I had only been married for one year when I went back into hospital, in early February 2006, and I was informed that I was to have a stoma.
Honesty on an individual [level] and a couple level is required. And it is okay to shed a tear and grieve. It is okay to say that having a colostomy, ilieostomy or urostomy is, to put it diplomatically, not what one dreams of, or fantasizes about! It’s that my husband was honest that he instinctively was aware that it may, even subconsciously, have an effect on being attracted to me. It’s okay to say that I don’t particularly want a poo or pee bag on my stomach. Once you’ve done this, then you can start to put it into some perspective.Â Because we were honest in this way, and we suspected that the psychological response could be the most damaging, that, ironically, enabled and empowered us to rhetorically ask, “hey, who’s life is perfect?”
And this is what I mean. The major impact on people with an ostomy is how they view themselves. We live in a celeb media saturated culture which bangs out false images which claim to have reached the utopia of body perfectionâ€“nobody, absolutely nobody, is perfect – and thank goodness nobody is perfect!
Once you have this in mind, that everyone has individual needs and wants, then it doesn’t matter whether it is a small birthmark on the stomach, or a stoma on the stomach, it is how a person sees that fact of life.
It is safe to say it’s not about a medical issue, but a fashion challenge. And this is where we came in. All underwear and swimwear, as with all clothing, is functional. But humans are more than simply being physical creatures, we are also creatures of ideals, beauty and vision. This is at the heart of the Vanilla Blush philosophy.
Q. You use very fashionable, pin-up models. What was your decision to do so?Â
A. Name me one other leading High Street lingerie, swimwear and menswear company which doesn’t use very fashionable pin-up models? Why should someone, who so happens to have a stoma, not be able to look and think, “hey, that’s sexy!”?
The message is the same, time and time again – stoma or no stoma, who doesn’t want to look good, feel good, and have others think you look good?
Q. You recently opened a flagship store in Glasgow. What was the reasoning of opening a bricks and mortar store?
A. It is another reflection of the Vanilla Blush philosophy. Up until Vanilla Blush hit head on the taboo in 2008, live on ITV‘s This Morning Show, what I experienced was that having a stoma was something, largely speaking, to be embarrassed about. It was not unusual to attend an event in a hospital room.
Right from day one Vanilla Blush has said to the world, “I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of, have you?” Â We’ve always been the first to go into mainstream media and be interviewed discussing having a stoma.Â The Vanilla Blush showcase shop is just another step in showing everyone that, while there are additional support needs, there is nothing shameful about a stoma.
Q.Â What are your future plans for the brand? Are there any other areas you’re looking to expand?
A. Of course I can’t say too much, as I don’t want to let the proverbial cat out. However, when we launch more, it’s safe to say, everyone will know!
Check out the Vanilla Blush website, to see more gorgeous lingerie.
(Photos: Vanilla Blush)