It wasn't Simonne Cormier's intention to start a business.
But after battling breast cancer in 2016 and not being able to find a breast prosthesis that was suitable to meet women's needs, she decided to take matters in her own hands.
"Well, you make it yourself, and you figure out the pieces - little by little - and you move forward in getting the help that you need where it's available," said Cormier, of Valleyfield, P.E.I., who launched Au Natural Solutions in 2019. The P.E.I. business is in the research and development phase of manufacturing an all-natural breast prosthesis system.
Breast prosthesis on the market today are generally made from polyester, silicone and other non-natural materials whereas her product will be made from biodegradable materials, such as plant and animal fibres. It will also be breathable and cool with a soft feel, and hypoallergenic.
"Comfort builds confidence," she said. "Ultimately, you feel normalized. You feel comfortable and you feel confident. And, that's the whole point of it is bringing those things back to women who have had surgery, or who just have an asymmetry."
Part of the research and development involves the innovative loop and snap system that attaches the prosthesis to a garment, such as a bra or lingerie.
"When you have it in place, and it's in the comfortable position to fill that negative space that is left from surgery, you don't have to think about it for the rest of the day. You don't have to re-adjust. It just stays in place because of this attachment system that I have created as well," she said.
Last year, the business received a $25,000 grant from the P.E.I. government's Ignition Fund to help get the business up and running. But 2020 was equally important. In the fall, Cormier became a client of the P.E.I. Bioalliance's Emergence program, which will take her business to the next important step of making a prototype in 2021 and eventually bring her product, and dream, to the marketplace.
"There is a need. I firmly believe that it will be successful and it will make a difference in my own community by providing good jobs and economic growth."
- Simonne Cormier
She said the experience of being a new entrepreneur has been eye-opening, but she's grateful for the help she's receiving along the way.
"It's very special to be a part of that group of specialists with research and development. And just the questions they ask that really make you reflect on how and what you need to work on. So, every little bit of information that they give me gives me something to grasp onto and really make this journey so special."
Cormier was diagnosed with early stage one breast cancer on March 14, 2016. She had a lumpectomy on April 6 of that year followed by four rounds of chemotherapy and 16 rounds of radiation treatment. She was 51 years old at the time of her last round of radiation treatment on Sept. 7, 2016. A few weeks later on Oct. 2, Cormier served as the honorary chairperson for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation P.E.I. CIBC Run for the Cure, and participated in the five-kilometre run/walk event.
Cormier is hoping to have a prototype in the new year for testing, and then begin manufacturing the product on P.E.I. Recently, she has been in touch with Inclusions East to inquire about hiring people on the Island with intellectual or other disabilities to help manufacture the product.
She has local, regional, North American and ultimately global aspirations for making the product available to women.
"There is a need. I firmly believe that it will be successful and it will make a difference in my own community by providing good jobs and economic growth," Cormier said.
"For me, it was very important because I had gone through having a breast prosthesis in a pocket, and I was just constantly adjusting throughout the day. It's not a very pleasant thing to have to do when you know that confirmatively, your symmetry is off. It's very concerning for someone who is trying to fit into the norm."
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