The lingerie that gives back
British brand Hummingbird Lingerie has been changing the lingerie landscape for breast cancer survivors since its launch in October last year. Now, celebrating its first anniversary, the brand is releasing a collection in collaboration with charity Pink Ribbon and donating 20% of the profit from sales on the collection.
Ellen Goldie, came up with the idea for Hummingbird whilst finishing her degree in Lingerie Design at London College of Fashion. Using the support of her tutors and the buffer of a student loan, she used her final major project as a way to gather market research for what would eventually be her company.
"It is hectic and it’s a massive learning curve which for me is great," Goldie says of the past year "I could not be stuck at a desk 9-5. It’s crazy but it suits me quite well." Before the Pink Ribbon collection, Goldie only offered bespoke - something she still does- where she will come to a client's house and fit them herself. "If we are going for something completely bespoke, we do the fitting, I make a sample, we refit the sample and make sure it is fitting how we want, make adjustments and then the final piece. So that can take a few weeks," she explains.
"It’s great to be fitted in a shop but women who feel a bit more vulnerable, it’s nice to be in their own space and have a relaxed fitting with their own dressing gown and their own cup of tea."
After watching her Grandmother battle and survive breast cancer, Goldie was drawn to helping other breast cancer survivors through her own skill set. Passionate about lingerie and empowering other women, partnering with Pink Ribbon was a natural progression for Hummingbird.
"I think, for me, that was always part of my business plan from the beginning," Goldie explains "To get a charity in as soon as possible. The whole reason I am doing it really is to give back and help women that struggle with the reality of breast cancer really."
The collection is a lot more accessible than Goldie's bespoke pieces (which are usually priced around £120), and is comprised of five items ranging from £18 for a thong to £40 for a pocketed bra, ideal for women who are wearing a prosthesis. "I just design the way I would design underwear for anybody. I think that’s where a lot of companies have gone wrong because they go straight into thinking about function and it looks functional. I think if you go backwards and create something pretty and think how can we adapt this to make it helpful, functional and discreet?"
One of the main adaptations for women who have undergone mastectomies Goldie mentions is making sure the bras are made from super-soft, supportive material. This ensures that any scarring that has occurred isn't irritated or rubbed by wiring or itchy fabrics. "Whatever is the most comfortable is what we go by," Goldie says of the quality of her lingerie. "I still use the same high-quality silk as the bespoke pieces, so you get the luxury. The mesh on the inside is the same, soft and lightweight, the strapping is the same. To be honest, the main difference is the lace. The lace I was using before was a high-quality French lace whereas this is a thicker corded lace from Nottingham which is a lot cheaper but the quality is almost the same."
Each bra, although suitable for women post-surgery, also works for women who haven't undergone surgery. And Goldie's approach to designing with aesthetics in mind has drawn many women who haven't had breast cancer to the brand. "When I launched last year, I went to the handmade fair and did a mini-launch to get some immediate feedback on the product and all the women from the get-go didn’t actually realise that it was post-surgery lingerie and that was exactly what I wanted."
Next on the cards is expanding production to a family-run factory in Wales, to enable Hummingbird to produce more. With a few smaller ranges releasing over Christmas, Valentines and Spring, Goldie says she is considering wholesale for next year and swimwear a bit further in the future. "I would love to always have the Pink Ribbon collection as a permanent fixture," she says. "For me it is my dream, it sounds cheesy but it this has always been the goal. As a person, I am a bit of a softie and it’s nice for me to give back and help women in that way. In the only way that I can with my skill set."