Everyone knows that coming out of surgery is difficult, and it can be a long road to recovery.
For women undergoing mastectomies or breast reconstructions after a breast cancer diagnosis, it can be even harder, for a myriad of reasons. You’re waking up to a whole new body – and your confidence and self-image can take a real blow.
And it makes one of the most basic things a little bit trickier. Finding post-surgery underwear that fits and looks good at the same can be challenging – having a breast removed or reconstructed doesn’t mean you’ve got to give up your right to pretty pants. And all of this is changing thanks to one savvy Glasgow-based retailer. Mandy Tsang, owner and founder of Sense Intimates is changing the face of post-surgery underwear one bodice at a time. We spoke with Mandy to find out more.
Where did you get the inspiration from to start Sense Intimates?
The inspiration came form my mum and her experience with breast cancer. She was diagnosed in 2002 and she had to undergo surgery as part of her treatment. After her surgery, as her only daughter, I had to help her getting new underwear and new bras and it was a really difficult experience for her. It was really frustrating, the lack of information on what kind of products to buy, where to go to get fitted – we were left to our own devices. Those frustrations stayed with and I just always felt things could be done better.
How did your experience working in new product development help you starting the business?
I worked mainly in the hair and beauty industry in new product development and I was essentially a project manager. I took products from concept to shelf and it involved so many different aspects, from marketing, dealing with packaging, dealing with suppliers, negotiation with suppliers and working with the laboratory for formulations, to pricing, costing and finance. Having that sort of exposure was brilliant experience and that’s definitely helped me with getting things set up.
The products available on your website are beautiful. How do you decide what brands to stock?
My train of thought is always, if I wouldn’t wear it – in terms of style, fit, quality, everything – then I wouldn’t stock it. What I’m trying to get away from is the traditional thinking that post-surgery bras are not pretty and they’re old-fashioned. Yes, some of them are and that might be suitable for some ladies but not for everyone. There are a lot of younger women being affected [by cancer] and that’s who I’m trying to take into consideration as well. What I always try and do is put myself in their shoes as much as I can and I think, ‘If that was me, what would I want and what would I like?’ That is how I always try to come at it.
What has been the response from customers?
Everything has been really well-received so far. Obviously, I’m still in the very, very early stages and I’ve only recently launched so I don’t have a huge number of styles [on the website]. I’m hoping to get more feedback from people and I’m in the fortunate position where I can still adapt to my customers and if they want certain styles in or maybe there’s one that’s not selling then obviously I can adapt to suit them.
Explain how your home fitting service works.
Currently I go to people’s homes and fit them there. Before I go to meet them, I will have an initial discussion with them on the phone and I will discuss what treatment they’re having and what surgery they have had. I will then ask about their sizing, style, what they’re looking for. I will then go through the stock I have in catalogues from suppliers and look out certain products based on what they’ve told me.
If there is something I don’t have or can’t provide I will try and source that for them so if I can’t personally provide something I will direct them to somewhere or somebody who can. For me, the most important thing is that the customer needs to get what they want and the post-surgery market is such a difficult one. A lot of people really don’t know where to go and I want to be that person to give advice and not just sell products. Selling products is important but for me, first and foremost, it’s about making a woman feel better about herself and giving her confidence back – and I will certainly try my best to do that.
Would you ever consider designing your own range?
Absolutely – to be honest, that is the main goal. It is something I would love to do that, and ideally in the next five to ten years. Ten years is a long time but with the capital needed to be able to go into production and having my own line – but that is something I would love to do. I like taking inspiration from different brands and sometimes it will be a certain type of lace or certain patterns, there’s always certain things that stick in my mind.
Where do you see Sense Intimates in the future?
In the future I would love the brand to be known nationwide and to be known for service first and foremost. I would love to open stores within the next few years. I would love to stay in Glasgow – I was born and bred in Glasgow, it is my hometown so I would love to start here and see where it goes.
You can shop the post-surgery collection on Sense Intimates’ website and arrange a home fitting service online