Kathy Conway invented her product out of necessity, and she estimates another 300,000 U.S. women have the same need.
Conway recently appeared on entrepreneur pitch show “Project Pitch It” on WISN-TV Channel 12 to present her company, Complete Shaping LLC, which sells prosthetic tops and swimwear for women who have undergone bilateral mastectomies.
“In 2009, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a bilateral mastectomy, the removal of both breasts,” said Conway, 61, chief executive officer of Complete Shaping. “This has left me flat-chested, with an enormous scar across my torso. I also had multiple lymph nodes removed, increasing my risk for lymphedema, which is a swelling of the arm that is lifelong and not curable.”
One precaution to prevent lymphedema is to not wear tight clothing, Conway said. She tried numerous pocketed garments with insertable breast prosthetics designed for breast cancer survivors, but couldn’t find any that were comfortable. Several had heavy elastic supports that lay directly on top of Conway’s scar, irritating it.
Conway developed a prosthetic top for herself and wore it so her clothing would fit better, and then her friends started asking about it.
So in 2017, with the encouragement of her son Sean, 29, Kathy formed Complete Shaping. The company is incorporated in Wilmette, Illinois, but most of the partners are in Wisconsin.
Complete Shaping has a patent pending on the design of the tops.
With the assistance of a $5,500 Kickstarter campaign and a contract manufacturer, Complete Shaping received its first production run in February. Its tops and suits are now sold in eight mastectomy shops in four states, and on Complete Shaping’s website. They retail for about $160, which is the amount Medicare covers every six months for prosthetic shaping.
“We’re just trying to get this out to as many women as possible,” Sean said. “We know we’re probably not going to be billionaires from this.”
On “Project Pitch It,” Complete Shaping was awarded investment advice, mentorship, introductions to local investors and strategy development from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Lubar School of Business and Stuck LLC.
A meeting with UWM business professors helped the Conways get advice on potential avenues of growth for Complete Shaping, Sean said.
Kathy said she hopes to improve the lives of women who have undergone a traumatic experience.
“This top has really been wonderful for me and I hope it can help other women,” she said.
Leadership: Kathy Conway
What it does: Makes garments for breast cancer survivors