By Monica Kast
After Bonnie Strode’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990 and had a mastectomy, they began shopping for post-mastectomy products, like mastectomy bras and prosthetic breasts. Strode and her mother soon discovered that there was nowhere to buy these products near their hometown, Owensboro, Kentucky and had to travel out of the state to find these products. Several years later, after visiting Confidently Yours, a mastectomy boutique in Champaign, Illinois, Strode was inspired to open one of her own.
Strode opened Tomorrow’s Woman in Bowling Green, aimed specifically towards catering to women who had mastectomies, chemotherapy or radiation. After several years of operation, Strode discovered that it was not only women who had had mastectomies who she could serve, but all women in the area. In 2008, Tomorrow’s Woman expanded to include The Perfect Fit, a retail store that sells swimwear, nursing bras, and regular bras up to size 56M.
“We’re kind of two shops under one roof,” Strode said, sitting in her office.
In 2014, The Perfect Fit and Tomorrow’s Woman merged with the Medical Center in Bowling Green, in order to be able to serve more women post-mastectomy. After women have breast surgery, the Medical Center directs them to Tomorrow’s Woman for products they need. Additionally, they work with the Medical Center to provide supplies for nursing mothers, like nursing bras and pumps.
“If a woman comes in here and has had breast surgery, we want to be able to restore her body image,” Strode said, standing in their stock room, surrounded by prosthetic breasts and holding a black mastectomy bra in her hand. “Not only the physiological parts, but the emotional parts as well.”
Tomorrow’s Woman offers many things that a woman might need after having a mastectomy. They have prosthetic breasts, mastectomy bras, and custom wigs. Everything is “self-contained” within the store, so buying these items does not embarrass the woman, Strode said. Everyone on their staff is a certified fitter, meaning they can help women get the products they need in the exact size they need them. They offer bras up to size 56M, in any combination of band and cup size. Additionally, they have around 135 different styles of wigs, which can be custom-made in whatever color and style the woman wants. Strode said they work with insurance companies to make sure that the customer pays as little as possible, since most of these items are considered necessary after a mastectomy.
At The Perfect Fit, certified fitters can help women select bras and swimsuits in the proper size. Each swimsuit is “bra-sized,” meaning that after a woman is fitted, she can select a swimsuit that fits her perfectly. In addition to swimwear, there are “loungewear” and body shapers. Each product from The Perfect Fit is made so that if a woman has a prosthetic breast, she can put the prosthesis into the bra or swimsuit, Strode said.
“When we opened up our retail side, that was a big addition,” Strode said. “We were able to service all women across the board, not just women that had breast surgery. Many women that have come in that have been so uncomfortable, you know, we’ve been able to have life-changing events in their life by helping with their posture and not being uncomfortable.”
Laura Jessup is the retail manager of The Perfect Fit. She was in the midst of a fitting, walking back and forth from the stock room to the dressing room, helping a customer find the right size. After several tries, she walked back into the stock room, multiple bras in each hand.
“She got one!” she announced, smiling and holding the rejected bras up in the air. Strode cheered and patted her on the back, then began helping Jessup put the bras back on the racks.
Tomorrow’s Woman is also working to bring awareness about women’s health to the community. Part of this means working with health club facilities in the area, in order to help women who want to work out, but need the attire to do so.
“Sometimes women don’t work out, because they don’t have something to hold down the girls,” Strode said, putting her hands over her chest to demonstrate.
She said that by educating women and health clubs about what options there are for women, they’re making a healthy lifestyle more accessible to women with breasts of all sizes. Strode said that they also attend birthing classes, so women know what their options are for nursing bras and pumps after giving birth, if they choose to breastfeed.
Tomorrow’s Woman is a sponsor of Moms Everyday, a show on WBKO aimed at informing women in the Bowling Green community. Laura Serbon is the National Sales Manager at WBKO, and said she had worked with Tomorrow’s Woman since arriving at the television station, for around six years. She said that Strode and her employees often appear on the show as a “public service,” talking about women’s health and the services they offer.
“I just think that they’re fantastic people, and I enjoy working with them,” Serbon said. “We love them here at the television station.”
Serbon said that the women from Tomorrow’s Woman are very popular on Moms Everyday, and she receives a lot of calls from viewers looking for more information on the store.
“We get good feedback here at the television station,” she said. “It’s a very popular store.”
In September, Tomorrow’s Woman and The Perfect Fit moved to a new location on Scottsville Road. They now operate in a three-story home that Strode said was built in the 1920’s. On the first floor holds the store, fitting rooms, and private wig fitting room. Swimsuits and bras hang from racks and on the walls, ranging in size, shape, and color. Chandeliers hand from the ceiling, and wooden doors separate the store from the fitting rooms. The fitting rooms offer privacy for the customer, where they can meet one-on-one with the fitters. There are two stock rooms, one for prosthetics and one for bras. Upstairs, there are offices and overflow stockrooms, where nursing pumps from the medical center and body shapers are stored.
“I think that move has been good for them,” Serbon said. “They’re more visible there.”
On May 3, 2016, Tomorrow’s Woman received the Operation P.R.I.D.E. Award from the Bowling Green City Commissioner, for the property improvements they’ve made to the Scottsville Road location.
“I was really happy about that,” Strode said, standing in her office, smiling and holding the Operation P.R.I.D.E. plaque that she received the day before. “Everybody wants to see improvement.”
Operation P.R.I.D.E. is a “non-profit organization dedicated to making Bowling Green – Warren County an attractive community in which to live,” according to their website. It does so by awarding properties in Bowling Green and Warren County for renovations and improvements made to existing properties.
“It’s beautification, but also one of the things we feel strongly about is that you can make improvements to a property, and it can be subtle, it doesn’t have to be really loud,” Angie Alexieff of Operation P.R.I.D.E. said when presenting Tomorrow’s Woman their award. “But especially when you’re taking a residential property and converting it to a commercial and doing in a really subtle and unobtrusive way, I think is significant, especially for that area.”
You don’t have to look further than the Tomorrow’s Woman Facebook page to see that they are making an impact on the women who come there. The page is filled with positive reviews, praising and thanking the fitters.
“You don’t realize how important the right sized bra is, until you find it!” Brittney Minny Reneau wrote on May 6. “It seriously changed me. I feel more confident and I can wear different clothes because my girls are under control. It is all thanks to The Perfect Fit.”
Other women praised the store for offering larger sizes that are unavailable from most retailers.
“I always have such a hard time finding a bra that fits me correctly and won’t break the bank,” Rachel Hufman wrote on March 21. “Girls who have bigger breasts understand what I mean! I love that the women here are professional and sensitive to this need. I am so happy I have found this store, it is a lifesaver!”
For Strode, she said the most important thing for her is seeing the life change that the boutique is bringing, whether it’s in the form of a prosthetic breast or just a bra in the right size. She said that she knows the impact a store like this has on someone like her mother, who needs prosthetic breasts and mastectomy bras. Providing comfort and normalcy for women like her mother keeps her motivated.
“Many women, the first thing they want to do is take off their bra when they get home at night because it’s so uncomfortable,” Strode said. “It shouldn’t be that way.”