By Bianca Moragne You’ve heard it before: mother knows best. An Austin mother’s simple invention might just prove that saying correct and even contribute to the fight against breast cancer. Allison Schickel invented “The Brobe”—a unique robe with a built-in bra that offers relief from the discomforts that breast cancer surgery brings to patients and survivors.
Schickel, now a third-party vendor for Susan G. Komen of Austin, is committed to donating 10 percent of all Recovery Brobe sales to Komen Austin. “Allison has created a thoughtful, gentle product that ease women through the recovery process of surgery from breast cancer,” says Christy Casey-Moore, executive director of Komen Austin. “We are fortunate to have her as an advocate and partner in the local fight against breast cancer.”
The idea came to Schickel in 2004, as she was getting ready on a hot summer morning. Notorious for getting ready in her robe, she always found it a hassle to put on bra to avoid sweating in “places you don’t want to sweat.” “It was always a chore to get ready, and I remember having this idea: ‘why won’t somebody just build a bra inside of a robe?’” Schickel says. “I thought for sure someone had already thought of this. It was ingenious.”
She searched high-and-low for one but finally decided to make one of her own. One night while out running errands, Schickel pulled into Target and grabbed a slew of cheap bathrobes and sports bras. Once at home, Schickel took each bra, cut it up the front, stuck Velcro down the front, sewed the shoulders and back of the bra to the robe and put it on: “I fastened it and put it on and thought ‘Oh my god, it does it! It lifts. It covers. It does everything it’s supposed to do,’ but I kept that to myself for a good couple years.”
Despite her “Aha!” moment, creating the Brobe wasn’t feasible for Schickel at the time. In 2007, her husband died and was a widow at 29. “When you go through an experience like that at such a young age you think, ‘well I’m not going to waste another day,’” Schickel says. “My priorities were different and so was my outlook on life. I didn’t want to spend another day doing something I wasn’t passionate about and completely loved.”
In 2010, Schickel decided to start pursuing her idea. The same year she contacted a local seamstress with her idea. It took three months to design the Recovery Brobe, which launched her company. With a couple of prototypes in hand, Schickel contacted Komen Austin, who brought a breast cancer patient in to try on all the Brobes. “She tried them all on and turned, with tears in her eyes saying, ‘you absolutely have to do this, it makes me sad for all the women who haven’t had this in years past.’ I said OK,” Schickel recalls.
After learning about the trials of having a double mastectomy and three reconstructive surgeries from a close friend, Schickel took it upon herself to make women affected by the deadly disease feel beautiful again.
Patients have drains protruding from the sides of their breasts after surgery. The drains gather into a grenade-shaped vial to collect the fluids. For Lisa Youngblood, a faithful customer of Schickel’s who is a stay-at-home mother and breast cancer patient, there was no feminine or flattering way to hide those drains until the Brobe. “The drains I had after surgery were on both sides and the Brobe was so nice because it had a built in bra and pockets to hold the drain tubes,” Youngblood says. “It was functional and it was pretty which was huge. I wore it for six weeks.”
Austin-native Kendra Scott, a local jeweler, says the Brobe makes the perfect gift for breast cancer victims. “It’s unlike anything out there on the market,” Scott says. “Schickel’s product provides comfort for the healing woman and is a very cute robe, too. I bought them for both of my friends and they absolutely love them.”
The Brobe makes it easier for women to hide their drains comfortably while out and comes in an assortment of colors. “I wore it to lunch with my friends with leggings and flats on with it. I didn’t feel weird going anywhere having to pin my drains to a shirt or anything,” Youngblood says. “The Brobe had everything or it. It made a bad situation better, made me feel feminine and pretty, at a time when I wasn’t feeling so hot.”
The mission of the Brobe is to give breast cancer patients and survivors dignity, Schickel says. But Youngblood sees more than that. “Allison never went through breast cancer but despite that she did an awesome thing for those of us who go through it,” Youngblood says. “She has a big heart and a creative side and put those two together to make a product to help people get through a bad situation. I really can’t thank her enough.”
Schickel has committed to donating 10 percent of all Brobe proceeds to Komen Austin. In May 2012, Schickel and Komen Austin put on a mother-daughter brunch and fundraiser, “Bubbles & Brobes,” to raise awareness for breast cancer and launch the Brobe. In celebration of Komen Austin’s 15th year, Schickel has partnered with them to sponsor the “Project Pink Fashion Show” that will take place Sept. 21, 2013 at the W Hotel.
Fashion students from the University of Texas, Baylor and Texas State interested in getting exposure in design, will create one-of-a-kind looks that are inspired by breast cancer patients and survivors out of extra Race For The Cure marathon T-shirts. Other materials may be used to create the outfit but a T-shirt must be used. Breast cancer survivors will be the models.
Allison Schickel, Kendra Scott and Ross Bennett, a clothing designer and former Fashion Star contestant, will judge the fashion show. The winner will receive a one-on-one entrepreneurial meeting with each judge. “My dream is to make the Brobe as big as Sara Blakely has with Spanx. I want to be able to manufacture and distribute here in Austin and create undergarments, pajamas and make the Brobe a brand, not just a business,” Schickel says.
Schickel’s compassion has helped women move towards recovery even after the scars have faded, Youngblood says. She hopes more will follow her lead.