Breast Cancer Awareness: Why I'm Ambivalent About 'Buying Bras for the Cure' | The Lingerie Addict: Intimates & Lingerie Magazine
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Breast Cancer Awareness: Why I'm Ambivalent About 'Buying Bras for the Cure'

It's October. And in addition to being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, LGBT History Month, and Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month, it's also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

But you already knew that. Because everything's covered in pink right now. Pink ribbons. Pink shirts. Pink mugs. Pink lipstick. Pink purses. Pink guns. Pink footballs. And, of course, pink lingerie. There's even a name for this torrent of pink that happens around this time of year: pinkwashing.

Now, I'm about to say some things some people probably won't like in this post, so I want to clarify a few things right off the bat.

  1. I don't like Breast Cancer. It's awful, and I think we can all agree on that.
  2. I like non-profits. My previous career was in the non-profit industry.
  3. You should spend your money wherever you want and on whatever you want.

So now that that's out of the way, let me get to heart of what this post is about:

If you want to support a non-profit that focuses on breast cancer, please consider donating directly to that non-profit... instead of using an intermediary like a for-profit lingerie company.

For the last few weeks, my inbox has been inundated with breast cancer-related press releases. And to be perfectly honest, I'm not sharing most of them here because I find the majority to be pretty offensive. I'm getting press releases from brands that are bragging about donating $2 of an almost $70 bra to a breast cancer non-profit. I'm getting press releases from brands who vaguely say a "portion of their proceeds are going to Breast Cancer Awareness" without ever saying which portion or to whom. I'm getting press release from brands who aren't even mentioning donations to breast cancer non-profits; they're simply piggy-backing on Breast Cancer Awareness as a way to sell more pink bras.

And I'm bothered by that. Breast Cancer, an actual disease affecting actual people, has become just another marketing opportunity... one with little-to-no accountability and tenuous ties (at best) to the larger research and support community.

As someone who worked in the non-profit industry for eight years, I understand charitable organizations truly need all the help they can get. Your average 501(c)(3) is not exactly swimming in excess donations. I know every single dollar helps, and I don't want to minimize that. But if only 2% or 3% or 4% of the purchase price of what I'm buying is going to the cause, then I have to ask myself (personal, not pointing fingers here), "Is there a way I can be more effective with those dollars?"

Like I said, this post isn't about telling you what to do with your money. People should spend it how they want to spend it. But if you are going to purchase from a brand or retailer that's using Breast Cancer Awareness language, please do your research beforehand. Look to see if they're actually donating to a non-profit. Look at how much they're donating. Look at who they're donating to. It only takes a few minutes, but it's the best way to make sure your money is going where you want it to go.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, please consider making a direct donation. Even half of the money you might spend on a bra could go so much further if given outright to a non-profit. If you're not sure where to start, The National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund and The Breast Cancer Research Foundation are two of the highest-rated breast cancer non-profits.

That said, there are several lingerie brands disclosing how much they're donating for Breast Cancer Awareness and who they're giving it to. I've listed the ones I know of that are donating at least 10% of their proceeds below. If you know of any others, please include them in the comments so we can make this a resource for everyone. And, of course, if you have some thoughts you'd like to share, I'd love to hear them. This is something worth talking about.

  • Brulee Lingerie is donating 30% of the sales from its pink and black chemise to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
  • Lula Lu Lingerie is donating 10% of sales from their Kallie Lace Bralette to the Save the Ta-Tas Awareness Foundation.
  • Frederick's of Hollywood is donating 10% of sales from their "Cure Collection" to the National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund

Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

15 Comments on this post

  1. I find it deeply worrying that ligerie companies are donating to Breast Cancer Research, given the unproven link between bra wearing and breast cancer.

    There are no controlled studies into this, but old wives tales, rumours and a 1995 book suggest that wearing a bra increases your risk of breast cancer, the more you wear one, the more likely you are to get it.

  2. Ksenia says:

    If the government could properly fund medical research we wouldn’t need charities and we’d be closer to finding a solution. It’s really bothersome. The state of research in America is awful, we need more grants and funding. My parents, a biochemist and a microbiologist(respectively), know this, impoverished and overworked scientists are the ones involved in such research. If you have a post-doctorate you will be begging for funding and it is very easy to lose a grant. So this is kinda why we have heart disease foundations and foundations based on disease, because funding isn’t going to come otherwise.

  3. I agree with you 100%. I hadn’t thought about it too much until a few days ago when I was in a coffee shop and they had pink tumblers for breast cancer. My immediate reaction was to roll my eyes, which made me stop and think about why something that is supposedly in support of something so serious made me feel like that. I realized that it is because the pinkwashing has turned into a giant bandwagon, where companies will make anything pink and claim it supports Breast Cancer Awareness, without specifying how or to what extent.

    Thank you for writing this out. It helped me figure out my thoughts a little more clearly and understand what about the pink cookies, tumblers and socks was making me feel less than charitable.

  4. Zoggi says:

    I’m so glad you wrote about this, I couldn’t agree more. The whole cashing in on cancer awareness is sickening. Just today a link came up in my twitter feed to a porn site that says it will donate to cancer research for every view of one of their videos. The tagline is “save the boobs.” Need I say more.

    I know that’s obviously more extreme than lingerie retailers marketing pink products, but it really brings home the degree of objectification hidden in some of these campaigns, and shows up just how much we have lost sight of the actual people behind the breasts.

  5. Thursday says:

    I’m afraid I put the “pinkwashing” in the same basket as craptivism – whereby people feel that they have “raised awareness” or contributed to a cause by clicking a button or something similarly simplistic. Social media is rife with this stuff, and I have to wonder how many people really feel that they have “made a difference” because some advertising has told them it’s for a good cause? There’s a real danger that people become complacent and don’t fully investigate the end result of their actions. I think it’s great advice that, if you really care to support a cause, go straight to a trusted or reputable non-profit and make sure you know where your money is going.

    Besides the fact that I really dislike the colour pink, for me I can’t help thinking that it really is just an advertising ploy on the part of the “pink” product. It’s more likely to raise my cynicism than invite me to purchase.

  6. Gustav Speed says:

    Breast cancer is the fifth largest killer of women after heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and respiratory illnesses, Would it not make more sense to work on number one and help the most women? Unless of course the reason is to work on a disease applicable to very few men.

    • Thursday says:

      I’m not sure I’m on board with a logic that says we should only support efforts to fight the disease which has the highest body count, as it were, by gender or otherwise. It’s like saying that we can worry about those affected by breast cancer some time later, when we’ve got heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and respiratory illness sorted.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Totally spot-on. I also hate the language that’s used around some of these things – organizations and products both. As someone who loves Panache a lot, I was hugely turned off by their pink “coppafeel” sports bra collaboration – hot pink bra with handprint stickers over each cup. The org is clearly trying to make breast cancer awareness cool and “cheeky” but it really irritated me for a whole host of reasons.

  8. Jodi says:

    Amen! I agree with you and with Claire. The pinkwashing is ridiculous, and one particular charity seems more concerned with PR than with fighting an awful disease. Many times, the donation is small, for a limited time, or has a cap (which is undisclosed or buried in small print).

    Fight the disease and avoid the hype. I’d rather my money went directly to the cause (or to people) than being funneled through several layers of sellers, distributors, and manufacturers.

  9. Estelle says:

    Hi Cora,

    I’m totally in agreement that $2 from a $70 bra is not a fantastic donation (although every little helps, I guess). But then again, if the business is a huge one and set to sell thousands of that $70 bra, that does add up to a decent donation overall.

    I’m working with The Breast Cancer Partnership this month to hopefully raise lots of money, and when I popped down to London to visit the charity and set the whole thing up the woman that runs it pointed out another important point – that a lot of organisations (even the charities themselves!) promote it with pink cocktails, pink cupcakes and the like – which totally go against the message that it’s a healthy diet and lifestyle that reduces breast cancer!

    Anyway, this month, I’m donating 20% of a selection of pink lingerie items to the charity, plus 5% of every sale on my website ( from now onwards – since women don’t just get breast cancer in October, unfortunately!

    And more excitingly, I’m hosting a lingerie auction with between 25% and 100% of the sale price of each item going to the charity. It’s all independent designer stuff and mostly one off pieces especially made for the event, from brands like Lilly Wiggler, Flirty Thirtys, Love Me Sugar and more :)

    Thanks for raising awareness of the brands ‘piggybacking’ off NBCAM and not actually donating anything though – that’s something I totally disagree with.

    Estelle x

  10. Taryn says:

    I was very excited to see that you had written about this! Pinkwashing is something very interesting and problematic to me and I really appreciate you putting it out there.
    Have you seen the documentary “Pink Ribbons Inc.”? It came out this spring and is an excellent resource for more information and forms some excellent arguments.

  11. Laura Mehlinger (Lola Haze) says:

    Thanks, Cora and Claire, for your thoughts on this. I admire that you’ve called BS on the opportunism of some companies who try to capitalize on what should be a purely altruistic event (Breast Cancer Awareness Month.)

    It’s a somewhat complicated set of questions. How should commerce be mixed with charity? Should we consumers get to feel good about buying expensive products for ourselves just because sophisticated marketing has told us that our consumption supports charity (even if it’s only a small amount)?

    I don’t know, but I’m inclined to view this as a matter of degree and scale. For example, if a large company donates $2 of every bra purchase to charity, and sells 500,000 bras (some of which may not have been bought otherwise–or the sale might have gone to a non-charity-giving company), well, that’s a million dollars to a charity, and that’s nothing to sneeze at, even though at first glance $2 doesn’t seem so generous.

    I do agree with your point that if a consumer’s goal is to support charity, the charity and the consumer benefit more by direct donation of an amount larger than $2. But if the consumer’s goal is to buy a bra, she might as well buy a bra that benefits charity (after she’s done her due diligence, as you suggested).

    In general, I appreciate that your article asks consumers to think about their buying behavior and what their money is supporting.

  12. Thank you for posting this, for sharing your views so honestly but respectfully.

    I feel the same way. All the “pinkwashing” (what an apt term) really bothers me! It is really irritating that a lot of breast cancer awareness products are just pink and… that’s it. There’s no associated non-profit or anything. And I know a lot of people who like to buy these things, thinking they’re somehow supporting the fight against cancer, when in reality they’re just wasting money on some poorly made piece of pink trash.

    Plus — and maybe I’m just being picky here — a lot of the companies that do donate a portion of profits will donate them to one particular non-profit that I really don’t want to support! I’m not naming an names, but if part of what I spend on your product is going to this organization, I’m *less* likely to buy your product and I’ll spend that money on another product or on another organization instead.

    It also bothers me that a lot of the focus is on “cute” slogans like “Save the Ta-Tas!” and similar. I mean, yes, breasts are fun and all, but too much of that attitude and we lose the real focus, that this is about women (and men) with cancer, not about beautiful boobies.

  13. Claire Bradbury says:

    Hi Cora,

    I think this is a really good article and a very interesting topic. Everything seems to have turned into a marketing opportunity these days and with Christmas looming we are about to see the world of marketing go crazy. I agree with you that it is really important to think about how best you can support a charity and whether your money would have more impact just going directly to the charity. However if you were going to buy a new bra anyway then I guess it is nice to know you are helping a charity if you choose one of these.

    As an owner of a lingerie brand I do feel a responsibility to give something back and Innocent drinks have a whole chapter devoted to it in their business book (which I am reading at the moment). Big businesses can use their resources to really make a difference and small businesses should help in any way they can. We support a local cancer charity all year round not just in the month of October. We have designed greetings cards, a silk lingerie bag and a limited edition silk nightwear collection for them to help try and raise their profile with our customers and raise money for them. We recently sold tickets to an event we were hosting but rather than give a percentage of ticket sales we asked people to donate directly to the charity through the Just Giving website so they could see all their money was going to the charity North West Cancer Research Fund.

    I think businesses have a responsibility to help charities as much as they can through awareness and fund raising but I agree with you, there is a line between helping and using it as a marketing opportunity.

    I hope your article creates a talking point and maybe even raises more money to help cancer charities.

    Best wishes

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