This family of four has developed an innerwear and prosthetics range for breast cancer patients and survivors
Sushmita Basak is an engineer with a penchant for design. After completing her undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering, she worked in the corporate sector where she was exposed to many CSR and sustainability-related programmes. Her love for ergonomic design took her to the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), where she aimed to put her engineering background to good use in designing and creating new products.
“During my NIFT course, as part of my GP (final semester) project, I developed products for post-surgery breast cancer survivors that covered various designs of mastectomy bras and breast prosthetics. While researching and taking feedback from survivors, I realised there is a need for innerwear and prosthetics for breast cancer survivors that are of good quality and also designed ergonomically,” she says.
Sushmita launched SugarShell along with her husband Debrup Majumdar, sister Moumita, and father Sib Sankar this year.
The startup specialises in innerwear and prosthetics exclusively designed for breast cancer patients and surivors. It claims to be the first “clean-label” lingerie brand in India, designed with state-of-the-art technology.
Moumita is a data scientist with over a decade’s experience in FMCG, pharma, and logistics industry with skills like marketing, branding, data analytics, content generation, and whitepaper writing. Debrup Majumdar is an IT expert with 12+ years of corporate experience in Information Systems, digital media, website development, UX designing, and strategy. Sib Sankar Basak is an Industrial Engineer with four decades of management experience in handling projects, operations, corporate risks, and litigations.
“While talking to over 20 survivors, I realised that it is not an issue of small scale, but of different functionalities that survivors sought to feel comfortable and body positive. The body undergoes various changes -- whether it’s therapy, lumpectomy, mastectomy, or chemotherapy,” she explains.
Sushmita says SugarShell’s emphasis is on quality and affordability because a number of brands available in the market are made of synthetic material and those imported from other countries are expensive.
“When it comes to prosthetics for the breast, it affects the patient both psychologically and physically. Some women lose their self-confidence. Our aim is to increase confidence levels and body positivity through our products,” she adds.
The startup is currently incubated at IIM Bangalore and Visakhapatnam through Women Entrepreneurship Program (WSP), and is at testing phase in the market, with plans for a launch during October, which is commemorated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Spreading body positivity
With the prototype approved in July 2020, SugarShell products are now in their testing phase.
“We offer four products for innerwear and prosthetics made of lightweight foam where symmetry assumes great importance. After speaking to a number of patients, we re-designed and recategorised our products based on the feedback,” she says.
“Initially, we had prosthetics for those who underwent mastectomy. We are also trying to design for those who have had lumpectomy procedures, which will be a hollow prosthetic. Then, we have a range of innerwear for those undergoing chemotherapy or in a recovery phase, keeping in mind the sensitivity of the skin.”
All SugarShell products are made of natural and organic cotton, cotton lycra, hemp without hooks, rings or elastic bands. They are also available in different styles – strapless, halter neck, etc., so that a woman feels confident like before.
The founders say they have received consistent feedback and orders after posting details of the products on social media. The products are now offered at a discounted price and each order is taken care of individually.
Currently manufactured in Noida, Sushmita hopes that SugarShell will have its own unit soon.
“We will have two categories – one at an affordable price range between Rs 500-700 and a premium range that starts from Rs 1,000,” she says.
While there are a number of brands that offer special innerwear, Sushmita says SugarShell offers both prosthetic bras and innerwear from one place, taking into account the size, shape, and symmetry required by survivors. Further, the ergonomic design is available in different sizes and also according to weight.
The founders have invested around Rs 3.5 lakh into the venture and are applying for various grants and programmes to receive more funding to invest in their own plant.
Sugarshell will be available on its own website and talks are on with a partnership with LBB. Sushmita is also looking at Amazon, lingerie stories in Mumbai and chemists shops and diagnostic labs around hospitals in the city.
“The last year has been a trying period for us because of the lockdown. Manufacturing and quality testing took time. Also, searching for the right sustainable and environment-friendly material was challenging,” says Sushmita.
“While trying to build unique products, our aim is to also change women’s mindsets about innerwear and looking for sustainable options,” she adds.