One in nine women have breast cancer procedures. Current rehabilitation products remain overlooked and outdated. Bra+ve results from a two-year practice-based design project in Aotearoa (New Zealand), exploring innovative 3D knit technology and a user-centred co-design process.
The Starting Point
In 2016, my godmother, in The Netherlands, had a breast cancer procedure. The aspect that troubled her the most was the "uncomfortable and unattractive" postoperative bra she was required to wear for a whole year after her procedure. She described it as "ugly and uncomfortable," making her feel terrible during a time when she needed comfort and support the most.
These bras, predominantly functional, lack aesthetic considerations, resulting in limited style choices, visible outlines under clothing, and restricted colour palettes. Moreover, their fixed designs offer minimal adjustability, failing to cater to individual preferences.
Most postoperative bras are constructed from synthetic, plastic-based materials, emphasising compression but neglecting extended wear comfort. Prolonged wear can lead to discomfort and potential adverse reactions. Witnessing my godmother's experience ignited this project and the drive to improve the care available to women like her.
Bra+ve aims to integrate comfort, adjustability, and aesthetic appeal to empower patients during recovery, supporting not only physical healing but also emotional well-being.
Collaboration & User Research
The core value of this design is patient-centricity, putting patient needs at the forefront of design and innovation. Bra+ve results from interactions with over 140 patients, eight healthcare specialists and four lingerie designers.
Following a co-design process throughout research and development, this project emphasised continued primary user feedback to ensure the design developed best meets user needs.
The Breast Cancer Foundation NZ and Cancer Society were an integral part of gathering data. These insights were synthesised through surveys, interviews, design reviews and user testing into product-based solutions. These interactions have provided opportunities for original insights to cultivate design innovation and development.
"You've lost your breast, and then they want to put you in those God-awful contraptions. I'm at that stage where I'm frustrated and have stopped looking."
Interdisciplinary Design Processes
This practice-based design project highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary design incorporating fashion, textiles, and industrial design processes to create a more personalised and effective solution that addresses the complex needs of the user group—combining innovative technologies, 3D body scanning, 3D knitting, 3D printing, and wearable technology, alongside specialised CAD software.
Bra+ve is crafted using sustainable, antimicrobial materials using innovative 3D knit technology. Bra+ve's adjustable compression inserts, strategically placed to target areas affected by lymphedema, provide a massaging effect on the skin and increase overall comfort and adaptability during recovery.
The addition of front fasteners enhances independence, making it easier to use, especially for those with limited hand mobility. The unique cross-over shape allows each cup size to be controlled separately, accommodating uneven breast tissue. Through its antimicrobial materials, innovative 3D knit technology, magnetic fasteners, cross-over shape and adjustable compression inserts, Bra+ve delivers a versatile product that fits you and your needs without compromising your daily life.