“When you look good, you feel good. I think that is one of the strongest mottos that exists,” says Megan Sullivan, founder of the burgeoning fashion line With Grace B. Bold. Inspired by her mother’s breast cancer journey, Sullivan designs elegant garments for women with breast cancer.
Sullivan’s mother was in treatment for breast cancer when Sullivan was just nine years old, but it wasn’t until her early 20s that she sat down with her mother to talk about the experience. “Later in life, becoming a young woman, I realized how impactful and just kind of horrible a lot of her experiences with cancer were, and it still to this day absolutely blows me away what she went through,” she says. Sullivan’s mother struggled with finding clothing that would allow her to take care of her surgical drain with ease and grace. “She said that the fact that she wore this [drain] home from the hospital that she didn’t know she was going to have to wear home, just completely altered how she saw this experience,” Sullivan says.
She shopped with her father to find clothing for her mother to feel comfortable in her new body—this is when Sullivan first took note of space in the fashion industry for her designs. “Eighteen years ago, there was nothing,” Sullivan says. “Other than putting her in one of [my dad’s] oversized button down shirts and having her kind of feel as comfortable as possible, there wasn’t anything that was elegant, that would hide the drain and that would be easy to put on and off.” Sullivan says.
Her eye for design and strong business sense supported her mission and helped her create her first piece as a student in the University of Cincinnati’s fashion design program. “I was looking at different draping mechanisms and I was following the runway shows and I was looking at ways that artists were manipulating fabric and making it fold and drape and hang in really beautiful ways around the body,” Sullivan says. “I had a drain [provided by] a local breast center at U.C. Health, [that] I actually pinned to my dress form [and] I eventually came up with this system […] which made the fabric sort of drape and cone and make these pillars that became these really beautiful spaces to hide this drain.”
I had this epiphany: Why don’t I make this part of the brand, where everything I design that’s pocketed and intended for immediately post-surgery [wear], I design the same garment without those pockets.
During college, she was able to devote time to conducting market research and creating a business plan for her company, eventually launching in January 2019 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. “I have a million other ideas,” Sullivan says. “I have ideas for helping women [going] through hot flashes, lingerie that’s really beautiful. I did some experimentation in other areas but I just kept going back to this clothing line that was a post-surgical, very elegant clothing line.”
One of their tops, the Anne Elizabeth (named after her mother), is intended to help ease the transition from hospital to home after breast cancer surgery—it provides a pocket to hold a surgical drain—but that is just the beginning. Sullivan has released two near-identical tops—one that is adaptive, allowing for a surgical drain, and one that is not.
The Eileen looks like the Anne Elizabeth, but does not include a pocket. Sullivan designed the Eileen after receiving compliments on the design of the Anne Elizabeth. Many women said they would love to wear the shirt for it’s beauty and elegance, regardless of its adaptive nature.
“I had this epiphany: Why don’t I make this part of the brand, where everything I design that’s pocketed and intended for immediately post-surgery [wear], I design the same garment without those pockets,” Sullivan begins. “It makes it so you don’t have to have breast cancer to wear this clothing line.”
Making women feel comfortable comes first. In designing her first piece, Sullivan thought back to her childhood when her mother was undergoing treatment. She considered the clothes women would turn to post-surgery that make them feel comfortable. “There weren’t necessarily options that were really available,” Sullivan says. “I was noticing that clothing that was adaptive, whether that buttons or zips or somehow wraps, something that was not required to be put over the head was very important.” Post-surgery, mobility is limited, and Sullivan knew the fabric should be soft and easily laundered but still with that luxurious feel. “It was really important that the clothing accentuated and just beautifully concealed the things that were happening underneath,” Sullivan says.
Her designs are intended to help women regain a sense of normalcy despite exhausting chemotherapy treatments and a changing physique. “I don’t want women to feel like they’re labeled [when] they’re out in public, [worrying about people thinking], ‘Oh, she’s wearing a With Grace B. Bold top, she must have cancer,’” Sullivan says. Once her customers no longer need the pocketed top, many will buy the Eileen. “They feel like they can kind of cleanse themselves of the time in their treatment when their drains were in,” she says.
Sullivan is also passionate about founding a brand that, at its core, is charitable to everyone on their cancer journey. She collaborates with brands like J. Crew and Kendra Scott on charitable events that give back to the breast cancer community. When her company becomes profitable, Sullivan hopes to donate a portion of all proceeds to organizations like Pink Ribbon Girls and other nonprofits whose missions directly impact women in treatment. Currently, With Grace B. Bold runs a “giveback” program, where those who are no longer in need of post-surgical clothing can return their gently used garments to Sullivan, who will have them professionally cleaned, then donate the tops to local hospitals and clinics to provide women with stylish, adaptive clothing free of charge.
And Sullivan is just getting started. With a company that is just five months old, Sullivan hopes to expand her clothing line to include both adaptive and non-adaptive versions of pieces like pants and jackets. “My mission is rooted in helping women that are going through breast cancer,” Sullivan says, but she recognizes there is a market for adaptive clothing that goes far beyond breast cancer surgery. “There are people that go through things every day that require different needs in clothing that the typical industry does not meet,” Sullivan says. “I would love for this to be an all-encompassing brand that helps meet these unique needs and continues to be a luxury-driven, very sophisticated fashion line.”
Sullivan hopes her brand offers more than just elegantly designed pieces to people during a difficult time. “I hope to offer a message of helping women reinvigorate their self-esteem, their confidence, feeling beautiful,” Sullivan begins. “I feel like that’s something cancer tends to strip of people, not just women.”
Driven by a design aesthetic of neutral classics with an eye for beautiful lines and shapes, With Grace B. Bold will have something for everyone—which is something Sullivan feels good about. “If I, as a fashion designer, can devote my life and my career to designing clothing that helps women who are facing these challenges and makes them feel beautiful and makes them regain a sense of control when they’re going through these things, that would be the absolute win for me.”