Meet Everviolet: An Intimates Brand That Truly Gets Breast Cancer Survivors
Everviolet was conceived by Keira Kotler, a San Francisco based visual artist and marketing professional who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 40. Following surgery, Keira was shocked to discover one of her greatest challenges was finding comfortable and beautiful garments to wear throughout the healing process. After six months and over 200 bras, she began talking to other survivors about their shopping experiences and discovered she was not alone. Today, Everviolet helps women reclaim their femininity. For the fighters discovering their strength, and for patients on the journey of healing. For the nurturers devoting themselves to wellness, and for individuals seeking beauty in times of change.
We chatted with Keira on everything from building a brand from the bottom up to the resilience, grit and strength that having two cancer diagnoses gave her.
Can you talk about your own breast cancer experience?
My breast cancer was detected in a routine mammogram at the age of 40. With no family history or known risk factors, I was completely shocked to receive the news. In fact, I was on vacation with my husband in Santa Fe and ignored the calls from the hospital for a few days. When I finally listened to the voicemails, my heart skipped a beat. They said that I needed to come back in right away. The next several weeks were filled with biopsies, imaging and lots of consultations, the end of which I was told that I had breast cancer, likely invasive, in my left breast. Only surgery could determine how extensive and what stage it was, so I underwent a double mastectomy followed by implant reconstruction. As my surgeon said, the pathology showed “a blizzard” of calcifications, but thankfully, it was still contained in the ducts. In other words, it was not invasive cancer but rather Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS), and due to the surgery I had, I required no further treatment. Having had another type of cancer 10 years prior, for which I received two large doses of radiation, I was incredibly grateful.
What in the process of your own diagnosis led you to creating Everviolet?
Given the intensity of my surgeries, you can imagine my surprise when getting dressed each day become one of my greatest challenges. My old lingerie no longer fit and caused pain, and bras designed for post-surgery were scratchy, industrial and unattractive, adding insult to injury. When I started speaking with other women, I found this issue to be universal, but not only with newly diagnosed women like myself. Rather, 10, 20, 30-year survivors were still manually pulling wires out of bras or cutting into fabric just to avoid pain each day. And that’s when I realized that this issue went so far beyond clothing – that the inability to start each day free of discomfort or the reminder of what we had been through was a barrier to healing on emotional and psychological levels. And it was with this realization that I vowed to pay my good prognosis forward and solve this issue for other women, enabling them to feel like people first and patients last.
Did you have experience launching a brand or in textile design?
I read an article in the New York Times once that said that if you want to know how to run a successful business, speak with a successful artist. While I didn’t have experience in textiles or fashion, I did have a career as a fine artist spanning two decades. As solopreneurs, artists execute everything from making the work to packaging it to marketing it to galleries, museums or collectors. We sell, manage budgets and do our own PR. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my art career had prepared me for Everviolet, and I had become quite adept at many aspects of business. I also have a background in marketing and spent many years working as a brand director. My role was to strategically and visually extend bricks and mortar retailers to the e-commerce space, managing teams of designers, technicians, writers and production. All of the skills I gained from both careers have been immensely helpful in building Everviolet.
How did real women inspire Everviolet specificially?
Before I fully committed to starting Everviolet, I conducted surveys and focus groups throughout the US to better determine what was needed from a style and fit standpoint. Women of all ages, but especially those who were dating or of child-bearing years, wanted lingerie that looked similar to what they wore pre-cancer but with a fit that worked post-treatment. Key requests I received were for softness (to soothe skin and prevent irritation), lace (that wasn’t scratchy), matching sets, cheerful colors – in other words, garments that were classic, comfortable and also feminine. Women simply wanted to feel confident in their own skin again. Oh and no underwires, ever!
What are the biggest lessons you learnt while starting your own business?
Starting a business is an experience in which you learn something new every day, and that is one of the many things I love about it. Someone once told me that I was lucky to be naïve about the challenges of entrepreneurship, or else I might not start. But the truth is that navigating cancer (more than once) has taught me so much about resilience, grit and strength, and the notion that I could turn my experiences into something good for others has propelled me from day one. I have made mistakes along the way, but I’ve learned from them. I’ve surrounded myself with brilliant people with skill sets different from my own, and I’m a huge believer in the power of collaboration. One specific lesson I’ve learned is to trust and listen to my intuition. Early on, any hesitation I ignored or overlooked, due to not being confident or sure of myself in a situation, became a problem. Now I know not to second guess myself.
Do you have any advice for other women who are thinking of doing the same?
Get really clear about which aspects of the business you’re good at and which parts you’re not and build a team around complementing those skills. Do copious amounts of research in advance and intimately get to know the market you’re entering. Count on everything taking twice as long and costing at least twice as much. Don’t linger in failures or mistakes – note them, learn from them and move on. Celebrate every achievement, even the little ones, because the small successes create the big ones. And above all else, believe that you can achieve your goals. No one else will feel as passionately as you do about your business. There will be (many) moments when you question yourself, and many naysayers you encounter. But lean into your passion and don’t give up on your dreams. Even if they don’t come true, you won’t regret trying.
What do marketers and brands get wrong when it comes to speaking to young women with breast cancer?
I think the reason why many women feel that brands “get messaging wrong” is because they simply don’t understand. It’s hard enough for our loved ones who know us well to understand all of the fears, stresses and losses the come with even an early-stage diagnosis. Issues pertaining to fertility, early menopause, weight gain and loss, ongoing pain and nerve damage, fatigue, fear of recurrence, etc. plague us during and after treatment. Especially in this age of COVID-19, I feel strongly that brands need to lead with authenticity and compassion and not pretend to comprehend life experiences they don’t. We don’t want strangers to tell us we’re going to be ok, refer to us survivors when we have metastatic disease, or attach a pink ribbon to something in vacuous solidarity. We want genuine care and concern for us and our fellow sisters.
Any advice for those who are experiencing body-image issues because of a new diagnosis or treatment?
Remember that all women go through body changes, some younger than others, and some not as significant. But in the end, after a certain point, every woman you know will have confronted physical changes that challenge their sense of self and well-being as a female. Fighting cancer is not easy, and there are many losses along the way, but it does not have to define you. Find ways to connect to other aspects of yourself and remember that cancer is only one part of your existence. This is not to minimize how fully cancer can take over life at times, but more as a reminder that even when those other parts of our lives feel dormant, they are still alive. Let your strength, courage and determination define your beauty, not your physical shape or size.
Everviolet is proud to be partnering with Rethink Breast Cancer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month by donating 10% of sales of the Astrid Sustainable Jersey Bralette on October 16 and 17. Shop the Astrid bralette here.