Jasmine Jones recalls searching the aisles of a medical device shop for a breast prosthetic for her grandmother, who recently had a mastectomy. Hidden behind aisles of walkers, canes and bandages, they found the one and only option: a pink prosthetic that wasn’t even covered by health insurance.
Twenty years later, Jones is creating a more positive prosthetic experience for breast cancer survivors with Cherry Blossom Intimates, a lingerie boutique in Glenarden, Maryland, that sells custom 3-D-printed silicone prosthetics, bras in more than 200 sizes and lingerie. Since launching in October 2018, she and cofounder Dr. Regina Hampton, the country’s only breast cancer surgeon to receive a mastectomy fitter certification, have fitted 800 women for postmastectomy products and had over 3,500 customers. In this round, they raised over $1.2 million—bringing their total funding to about $1.7 million—to rethink their brick-and-mortar retail experience for a virtual world.
Part of Cherry Blossom Intimates’ value proposition is the one-on-one customer experience, wherein the store’s bra fitter manually measures each woman’s chest cavity and fits her for a prosthetic. Their technology allows customers to customize their prosthetic breasts, including nipple size, freckles, veins and skin tone, a service that has not previously been available in a retail setting. The cherry on top: They accept 80% of national health insurance providers, and their prosthetics are up to 100% covered (without insurance, they can cost up to $3,500). For this work, Jones made the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 Retail & Ecommerce list.
“Maya Angelou has a quote: The goal is not merely to survive, it’s to thrive,’” says Jones. “I took that ethos and created a line of postmastectomy bras that are very modern for women.”
For many, recreating and reimagining bodies lost to cancer is an emotional experience—one that Covid-19 has rendered a health hazard, especially for already immuno-compromised customers. “I had to figure out how our business is going to stay alive if I’m never able to touch a woman again in my life,” says Jones.
She applied for TechStars and was accepted to the accelerator, where she connected with investors including Anna Mason, a partner at Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, TechStars Managing Director Lesa Mitchell, BioNovus Innovations President Tammy Ham and Bread & Butter Ventures’ Managing Partners Mary Grove and Brett Bohl. They, along with SoGal Ventures, whose cofounder met Jones at the Forbes Under 30 Global Summit, gave her $2 million to fund a virtual version of Cherry Blossom Intimates. The contactless iteration of Cherry Blossom Intimates fits customers via smartphone app that scans women’s bodies to obtain measurements—and provides new prosthetics through a doctor-prescribed subscription.
“We never saw Cherry Blossom as a pure retail place,” says Elizabeth Galbut, managing partner and cofounder of SoGal Ventures, who also invested $100,000 in Cherry Blossom Intimates after Jones won the firm’s 2020 Global Pitch Competition. “We always saw it as a digital tech-plus-retail and even distributed workforce model so they can reach women across the country, and one day internationally.”
This round is historic, as Black female founders have received just 0.0006% of venture capital funding since 2009, but Jones is optimistic that her raise will turn the tide. “It looks like the world is taking Black female founders very seriously and investing in us and our potential,” she says. “I am a founder who has a new and fresh perspective on an industry that has always overlooked us.”
Though Jones is keeping details about the technology under wraps for now to deter imitators, BioNovus Innovations’ Ham, a breast cancer survivor, has high hopes for virtual fittings’ business potential—and ability to improve the lives of women who have had mastectomies.
“I understand how cruel the disease is and how you have to fight for your dignity every step of the way during breast cancer,” says Ham. “Jasmine [Jones] is really providing an incredible service to women who’ve had a mastectomy.”