While retailers are putting away their pink products for another year, Hilary Boyajian, the designer and proprietor of Chikara, will continue to do what she does year round: create fashion for breast cancer survivors and women who appreciate beautiful, well-made clothing.
“Breast cancer affects women all year,” Hilary says. “Not just October. It’s important to recognize that although the breast cancer community and publications respond to it in October, breast cancer is 24/7, 365 days a year.”
Hilary grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania and attended Ithaca College in Upstate New York, majoring in English. After college, Hilary moved to New York City for a couple of years and worked at a media company where she developed a keen interest in design. A move to London prompted her to take classes at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design before returning to New York to continue her studies at Parsons The New School for Design.
The idea for Chikara was born when Hilary was assigned “A Good Life” as the theme for her thesis at Parsons The New School for Design. The challenge was to address the mission of “A Good Life” in a way that resonated with each designer’s personal objectives. Hilary knew she wanted to design for the body and somehow, address women’s health issues and body image at the same time. While researching non-profit organizations, Hilary came across a group called Shop Well with You, an online fashion resource dedicated to female cancer survivors.
“That triggered everything for me,” Hilary says. “I’d never seen a non-profit organization that was fashion driven. The site addressed the needs of women who’ve had all types of cancer. When I did more research, I found that, although breast cancer had a lot of products on the market, most of those were post-surgical medical products, like bras that support the use of prosthetics. I felt like I’d hit on something. I have breast cancer in my family but I knew that it’s in everyone’s family. We all know someone.”
In creating Chikara, Hilary thought a lot about women living in a post-surgical body and considered women of all ages and stages of life. “Women who can’t or who choose not to have reconstructive surgery as well as those women in that interim period of anywhere between six months and two years waiting to become eligible for reconstruction have been left to their own creative devices in terms of finding clothing that would work for them,” she explains. “Plus, many women didn’t like wearing prosthetics. Creating a prosthetic, externally, through draping and three-dimensional manipulation of materials was a new way to design for that specific body type. While breast cancer clothing had been considered as a t-shirt with a pink ribbon, it hadn’t been considered in any other way.”
Chikara was launched in 2007, two years after Hilary graduated from Parsons The New School for Design, the same school that produced such talent as Isaac Mizrahi, Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan and most recently, hosted the first six seasons of the popular reality series Project Runway. In the two years between Hilary’s thesis project and the launch of Chikara, she worked on the development of the line by testing fabrics, working with a pattern maker, researching factories and holding focus groups with breast cancer survivors.
This spring, Hilary will expand the line to include ready-to-wear, swimwear, active wear and lingerie with a line of bras developed for the three specific yet varying post-surgical body types: no breast support, one breast support and a pocketed bra that would hold prosthetics. The clothing is designed in left, right or bilateral orientation to accommodate a mastectomy on either side or for those women who’ve had double mastectomies. The placement of three-dimensional design elements creates the aesthetic. “The pieces balance asymmetry. A woman can feel comfortable and confident if there’s no breast or with a prosthetic in place,” Hilary says. “The fabric flows in a way that creates volume. The intention is for this specific body type, post-surgery, but anybody can wear it. The idea is fashion first.”
Hilary’s clothing can be seen and purchased through the website www.chikaradesign.com or by visiting the Chikara boutique inside Mixona at 262 Mott Street in New York City. All of the clothing is available in sizes XS to XL, in right, left and bilateral orientations.
“It’s important, psychologically, for breast cancer survivors to have something available when they shop. And, there’s beauty in that any woman can purchase a piece from the line and support other women recovering from breast cancer,” Hilary says. “I would love to see these designs sold in mainstream retail stores in the future.”
Chikara is the Japanese word for strength, power and energy. Hilary’s designs are about life and moving on after cancer. Many of the survivors Hilary has met over the last few years feel that cancer has given them a new appreciation and passion for life.
Hilary donates 10 percent of the proceeds from the sale of Chikara to Komen Greater New York City for breast cancer research and program initiatives specifically designated to the Greater New York City area.
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
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