Written by Kerrie Alexander
Mel Hirning has opened her doors to women from all walks of life to feel comfortable and beautiful in their own skin.
Especially those who have been through the trauma of having a mastectomy, an operation that removes the entire breast due to cancer.
The owner of the Brave Hen lingerie store in Urraween is a fully trained bra and prosthetic fitter and after moving to the region from the Sunshine Coast last year, Mel quickly realised there was a void to fill in that area.
“I think comfort is everything,” Mel said.
“Comfort is confidence! If you don’t have that you’re going to have a bad day.
“If you can get dressed in the morning, and you feel good about how you look when you walk out the door, then tick, you’ve achieved it!
“My focus is on practicality and comfort and looking good too.”
After caring for her son with a brain tumour and epilepsy, and her youngest son with learning difficulties, Mel has an emotional soft spot for those doing tough.
When a cancer patient has left her store feeling on top of the world with a perfectly fitted bra, piece of swimwear or a colourful head turban to cover hair loss, Mel’s heart is full.
“When you see a lady who has been though surgery and it’s quite devastating, I’ve had a lot of times when I’ve cried when I’m fitting, it’s so wonderful seeing how you can change their life,” Mel said.
“It sounds dramatic when you’re just fitting a bra, but when you have that prosthetic and you’re matching (breasts) up and they’re balanced again, the women feel like they used to feel.”
A woman who was fitted with a prosthetic bra and is now confident enough to leave home is just one of the many stories that makes Mel feel like she’s making a difference.
“I had a lady come in here who hadn’t been out of her house for years and she came in said; “I heard you’re a new bra shop, I’m in need of a bra with a bit of padding because I’m missing one” (breast).
“I went down the track of saying you know Medicare have a rebate for prosthetics, which she didn’t know, and I showed her what a prosthetic was, fitted her up and she was so happy.
“She said she was actually going to go out to a coffee shop for the first time in years.
“She felt like she could now go out in public. That’s the sort of response you get.
“It’s about giving ladies back their confidence and that’s pretty amazing.”
As well as bras for every sized, everyday women, Mel also stocks post-surgical garments and bras to suit ladies who have had implants or reductions.
Customers will also find scar adhesive strips, adhesive nipples, maternity bras, bamboo undies and bras, lymphoedema sleeves and a range of colourful Kaftans on offer.
“These operations (implants) aren’t cheap so spending the extra money to get the right bra is well worth it,” Mel said.
“If these ladies have had implants and don’t have the correct bra when they come out of surgery, those implants can move and then they set in the wrong spot so it’s really critical to have the right garment coming out of surgery.
“But everything in the store can be worn by every woman. The bras have extra lining in them, but it doesn’t alter the fact that anyone can wear them.
“Because they are designed by a prosthetic company, they are designed perfectly from the get-go.
“It’s not like cheaper brands that have no structure to them … these are for people getting fitted for a prosthetic, so it has to be spot on.”
When opening the family-owned business, Mel was also meticulous in finding a quiet location that was both respectful and convenient for her customers.
So, with the Cancer Care clinic just down the street, Medical Place in Urraween was the perfect spot.
Mel’s daughter Jade, who has a background in aged care in disability, also works in the store and the two pride themselves on providing a welcoming and non-judgemental environment.
“I didn’t want to be in a major supermarket where you’ve got all the teenagers being silly, I wanted to be away from all the crowds, close to the breast care nurse and close to the hospital.
“People don’t know I exist, and people don’t know how to find me just yet, but I’d rather people seek me out rather than be somewhere where they don’t feel comfortable coming in.
“I’m in a sensible location where ladies don’t feel intimidated. The change rooms are wheelchair friendly and designed everything so when you walk in here, there’s no stress.”
Shoppers can also feel like their making a difference with a gold donation being made to the McGrath Breast Cancer Foundation with every purchase.
To find out more, head to The Brave Hen Hervey Bay Facebook or Instagram Page. Orders can also be made online at http://www.thebravehen.com.