Interview with Linda Lewis, inventor of the Breast Chek Kit

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We work in an exciting industry! The next time you’re at CURVE or ILS, take a good look at your fellow store owners and e-tailers – anyone one of them could be moonlighting as a lingerie designer or…inventor!

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Linda Lewis, retailer turned inventor of the patented Breast Chek Kit Shirt. It is a seamless shirt designed to make self breast exams easier with the help of an embedded directional diagram printed on the shirt.

Below is our interview about her inspiration and plans for the Breast Chek Kit Shirt.

(A special thank you to Melinda Knight for putting me in touch with Linda. Melinda runs, an online marketplace of the latest inventions made by women.)

TLJ: What inspired you to create the Breast Chek Kit?

Linda: A health care professional came into my boutique looking for a product that her trainers could wear to demonstrate how to perform a breast self exam to their patients.

After an extensive search for various products, nothing worked for the customer. At that point I offered to create a product that might work for them and the Breast Chek Kit was born.

TLJ: How difficult was it turning the idea on paper into an actual product?

Linda: The problem I encountered was that I can’t draw! So, my drawing looked much like a cartoon! Luckily, I quickly found someone that brought my vision to life. But research into the manufacturing side of the business was time consuming and tedious. The learning curve of going from a retailer to a manufacturer/wholesaler was huge step!

TLJ: I understand that you are also a lingerie boutique owner. How did this experience help you in designing the Breast Chek Kit?

Linda: Yes, I owned two boutiques for years, but once the designer side took over, then manufacturing, it was too much to handle. It was also right at the time the economy was beginning take a beating. So, it was the right time for me to close the physical stores but continue to operate online.

TLJ: Did your experience in the Lingerie Industry help you in turning the idea on paper into an actual product?

Linda: My knowledge of the Intimate Apparel industry was a tremendous help!
After being in the bra fitting business for the last 14 years, I know a few things about the sizes and shapes of breasts and what women look for in a good fitting bra. As a custom bra fitter, I fitted women for regular bras and then mastectomy bras and prosthesis. Knowing the sizes and shapes of breasts helped in the design of the shirt.

TLJ: What was the biggest manufacturing hurdle that you had to overcome?

Linda: There were several. Financing, finding a manufacturer to become a sub-contractor and produce small volumes, production times, cost of materials, etc.! Every manufacturer I encountered wanted commitments of very large volumes. It was and still is an extremely difficult, time consuming task.

TLJ: How challenging was the patent process for the Breast Chek Kit?

Linda: It wasn’t difficult, again, just time consuming and tedious. It required more research and talking with the Help Desk at the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office). But, I researched and actually filed the Provisional Patent through Legal Zoom myself. Once that piece was done, I had 12 months to file the actual Patent. It was then that I researched Patent Attorneys and Patent Agents.

TLJ: Did you go through the patent process on your own or hire help?

Linda: After I filed the Provisional Patent on my own, I hired a Patent Attorney and later found that a Patent Agent was the best way to proceed with the filing of The Design and Utility Patents.

TLJ: Could you explain to our readers how the Breast Chek Kit works?

Linda: The Breast Chek Kit is a seamless nylon spandex shirt with a vertical diagram embedded in the shirt that women (and men) follow to perform a breast self exam. If the user finds a lump, she writes on the shirt while wearing it so that she knows where the lump began. It allows her to share this information with her physician and serves a record for herself.

TLJ: Now that the Breast Chek Kit is a reality, what’s the reaction been like so far?

Linda: It’s been great! We started in the medical community, and just started a small amount of marketing to a select group retail stores and boutiques and will become more aggressive in January 2011.

TLJ: Your video on your website is wonderful and makes it easy to see how your product works. What’s the response been like for the video?

Linda: The response to the video has been wonderful! We used a model who was unfamiliar with how to perform a breast self exam accurately and allowed her to follow the diagram and palpitate the breast the way that was most comfortable for her. While there are instructions and the CD included in the kit, we felt it important that the model represent how most women might perform the exam. However, it is recommended that women use 3 fingers to do the exam. Although, having a women learn more about her breast on a monthly basis via our product is one step closer to early detection, and we know that early detection saves lives!

TLJ: With your experience as a store owner, how would you recommend retailers place your product at their store?

Linda: Our primary focus has been in the medical community. With the recent addition of a Vice President of National Accounts, we will begin to market to a select group of retail stores in January 2011. Although, some retailers have already begun to place pre-orders. The product could be placed in several areas, such as intimate apparel, hosiery & shapewear, women’s accessories, health & beauty, and more.

TLJ: What’s your long-term plan for the Breast Chek Kit?

Linda: As new yarns and technology change and evolve so will the product. We plan to be able to give the product away to underserved women in other countries and educate them on the importance of early detection.

TLJ: Now that you have all this experience under your belt, do you have plans to create more products like the Breast Chek Kit or maybe even your own line of lingerie?

Linda: Oh Yes! Somewhere in this journey of owning lingerie stores, and all the ups and downs that come with being an entrepreneur, I found my true passion and a calling on my life. Being of service.

By developing products such as the Breast Chek Kit that could help save a life, giving free mammograms to under served and uninsured women through my non-profit organization or designing a line of lingerie that helps build a woman’s self-esteem is my way of being of service to others, locally and globally.

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