Now that Linda Lewis, the inventor of The Breast Chek Kit and extraordinary business woman, has been introduced in the previous blog posting, I am please to be showcasing her product and letting her tell her story in getting her product to market. Anyone reading this will be amazed and inspired by her vision, tenacity and perseverance. I am extremely proud to have her part of the Womentorz community.
Q. How did you come up with the idea of your lifesaving invention?
When I was younger, I never knew how to perform a breast self exam and so never did one. When I did learn, I did it as a hit and miss type of thing...touch here, feel there, but never the correct way. Breast Cancer is one of the cancers that run in my family so as I got older and as my immediate family were being diagnosed with breast cancer, I started to take performing an exam more serious. I was to young to get a mammogram so I learned how to do an exam the correct way. Some time later, I found my first lump while doing a breast self exam.
As the owner of lingerie boutiques I provided custom mastectomy and bra fittings as a service to customers. After years of hearing the issues associated with not knowing how to perform a breast self exam from customers, or being afraid to perform the exam, I started showing women how to do the exam along with the bra fitting service. However, it was not until a request came from a customer and hospital administrator for a product that clinicians could use in a classroom setting that the concept for the shirt was developed. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, I worked in corporate America for a fortune 500 company, so I called on a few old friends from various backgrounds to form an exploratory team.
Q. What unique features does your product inherit?
The Patented Breast Chek Shirt is a thin seamless knitted garment that has a traceable & trackable diagram for performing a breast self exam knitted into the garment. Once on, the shirt & diagram molds to fit the breast. It [diagram] covers all of the breast tissue, including lymph nodes under the arms and up to the collar bone areas.
A specialized knitting process causes the diagram to be slightly raised so women who are visually impaired can feel and follow the diagram do an exam; and, the shirt works exceptionally well for women with breast augmentation.
The shirt can be worn while taking the exam standing up or lying down. The characteristics and fit of the shirt, allows for the natural sag in a woman’s breast while standing or lying down, it also accommodates for the breast as it falls to the sides when lying down to do the exam. The kit also contains a special fabric marker so that if a lump or bump is located the wearer can make an X wherever a concern is located to track the movement or growth of a lump or bump. There is also an annual calendar with a place for notes and date of when the exam was taken. All of which makes it easier to remember exactly where the lump was located for the wearer and easier to discuss and share findings with a physician.
The yarn used in the knitting process allows the shirt fit a wide range of breast and body sizes, from bra cup sizes A-KK and above and band sizes 28 & up.
"The shirt is NOT a replacement for having an annual mammogram or seeing a physician." It is a tool for educating women and young ladies starting at the age of 20 to become more familiar with how their breast look and feel making it easier to notice any changes in their breasts.
Since younger women diagnosed with breast cancer often experience a more aggressive cancer, performing a breast self exam is most important. The earlier abnormalities are found, the more treatable. Visit us on the Womentorz website or visit our website for more comprehensive information at: www.bckshirt.com.
Q. What was your experience like in the actual design and manufacturing of your product?
Complex, fascinating & exciting! Going from a retailer to wholesaler/manufacturer was a life long dream. Executing it was something entirely different!
First there was finding a person who could turn my so called sketches into an actual drawing and ultimately a pattern. Then, because the product is not a typical cut and sew product, I had to locate yarn. Not an easy task! Because of my experience in the intimate apparel industry, I knew bra pattern makers, but did not know about the complexity of sourcing and importing yarns or knitting manufacturers. It was only when a yarn specialist from an importer took me under her wings, did I have a crash course in the various yarns, knitting machines and the benefits of all of them.
I envisioned a seamless product from the beginning that would have all of the characteristics the product ultimately has, but getting to that point was another story. Seamless manufacturing is a unique process that is only done by a handful of seamless manufacturers in the U.S. with specialized knitting equipment. Yarn is imported from countries around the world so learning about so many different types of yarns and their benefits was a huge undertaking.
Nonetheless, I began knocking on doors. None of the seamless manufacturers I contacted had ever attempted to create a computerized program for a knitting machine that could knit a shirt with such precise detail in the diagram, so research and development was interesting, time consuming, as was fitting the diagram to accommodate the range of breast sizes needed. That called for many different programs to be created. Once created the testing and color tests began. I had no idea in the beginning that all knit products come without any color, so experimentation and another crash course for me in various dyes and color!
There were so many steps to getting a product as complex as this to market that it would take more time than we have here. However, I must say that every manufacturer I worked with loved this project from beginning to end. As for me the exhilaration of watching the first raw shirt being knitted from a bolt of yarn to a potentially life saving product is one that I will never forget. With the help of these manufacturers, the product came to life in record time.
The Breast Chek Kit Shirt just received its first of 2 U.S. Patents on April 13th. a process that was 4 years in the making. Going through that process while also trying to get the product to market has been a test of faith and patience. We hope to have the 2nd Patent in 2011 or 2012.
"There were times when I was so tired that I wondered what and why I had taken on such a project. But each time I had those thoughts, I would meet someone at a trade show or a health fair where women would share their story with me on how the early detection of breast cancer saved her life. It was those types of stories that kept me going and knowing that this product is much bigger than me and that it could truly help women."
Q. How do you balance launching a new business with family?
It's difficult for me at times because I am driven and passionate about my businesses and can become immersed in work so I tend to work very long hours and travel frequently. My husband knows this and some years ago as a joke he started putting up a "Closed" sign on my office door and tried to lock me out of it. As he stood there with the keys and a smile, I got the message loud and clear. So when it looks like I am burning the candle at both ends he keeps me grounded from going over board by placing that "Closed" sign on my door! I have come to count on it. At the end of the day though, it is the love I have of my faith, my husband and family that keeps me balanced.
Q. What did you do prior to your invention?
I owned a designer lingerie boutique with 2 locations and an online store of the same boutiques and worked in corporate America for over 20 years.
Q. What fact would readers find interesting about you?
That I love antique car shows, I am a huge fan of Formula 1 racing & drag racing and I am learning how to ride a motorcycle so I can ride with my husband