A Student Makes Stylish Garments to Help Her Professor, a Breast Cancer Survivor

“There’s a psychological aspect to recovery,” Katagiri says, and fashion can be part of that. Nobleza, left, with Katagiri, who wears the reversible bat-wing dress; the other side is purple. The hat is Katagiri’s own creation.

In fall 2017, Yoko Katagiri, adjunct assistant professor, gave an impassioned talk to her Fashion Economics class. A survivor of breast cancer who had undergone a mastectomy, she felt the fashion industry should do a better job of creating clothes for and presenting images of women with cancer. Katagiri urged her students, who were headed into the industry, to find ways to do good. “Fashion can help people in need,” she said.

Technical Design student Sidney Nobleza ’18 took her plea to heart. Breast cancer, she learned, is a common illness. Each year, nearly 240,000 women in the United States are diagnosed. For her spring capstone project, Nobleza designed a compression bra, T-shirt, and dress that could be worn by women recovering from a mastectomy or breast reduction surgery.

Nobleza and Katagiri worked together closely, perfecting the fit and details. After surgery, “some women don’t have anyone to help them get dressed,” Nobleza said. “They can’t lift their arms over their head—it can rip the incision—and they have to wear a drainage device.” The dress has magnet closures along the side and shoulder so it can be slipped on effortlessly, and the bra features a pouch to hold the device. Luz Pascal, assistant professor of Technical Design, found the project remarkable. “Sidney’s bra was made using a special power mesh in combination with a two-way stretch fabric. It was such a great comfortable fit.”

Katagiri, from her Heal in Heels blog, which documents her efforts to stay stylish during her cancer treatment.

For the fashionable Katagiri, who is completing a millinery certificate at the college, style was part of recovery. She keeps a blog, Heal in Heels, about her experience. Medical garments are notoriously unappealing. For example, the compression bra she wore after surgery was pale pink with flowers. “That’s not my style,” she said. She craved sophisticated colors, patterns, and silhouettes. “During recovery days,” she wrote on the blog, “I had basically no social life, no makeup, and no hairdo. I was getting low self-esteem. Dressing up brought back my good energy!”

Nobleza was inspired by Katagiri’s look. “She was always wearing something interesting.” Her design for her professor has an elegant bat-wing silhouette, and can be worn four ways.

image of a top for individuals recovering from breast cancer

After graduation, Nobleza took a position as a product development assistant at Kate Spade. Katagiri is creating a business proposal for the project, which Nobleza supports with design expertise. Katagiri has bold ambitions: “My goal is to eliminate the border between cancer fashion and fashion.”

 

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