Ladies, when was the last time you showed your boobies some love? Well, Julia Fikse is encouraging people everywhere to take care of their tatas. The founder of Save the Tatas, a clothing line designed to help fight cancer (and create some laughs along the way), Fikse is inspiring women to not only show their support to loved ones in their cancer journey but also to create conversations and normalize talking about breast health. Here’s her story.
How did Save the Tatas come to be?
I’ve been in fashion since 1992. I started at Jessica McClintock and worked for Levi’s and Adidas. I wanted to start my own line, but I also wanted to use it to do some good. In 2004, my husband’s aunt got breast cancer, and she had to have a double mastectomy. When you’re facing that scary thing, breast cancer, at night before you go to sleep, and you’re thinking of your loved one. And still, we had a laugh about boobs. So I thought, “Well, maybe other people could laugh in the face of cancer, too.” Back then, there were not a lot of humorous breast cancer apparel lines around. We started to make tee shirts and we started out of our house. We went to Magic, I got a few stores, and it grew from there.
From the very beginning, we always wanted to give a percentage of the sale back. I think our first check was $32 and some odd cents and now we’re up to over half a million dollars donated to fight cancer.
That’s amazing. So which organization do you donate to?
Originally, we started donating to many different organizations. Over time, people began to trust us; they saw our donations growing, and so they were sending us money. I would send the check back and say, “You can’t write this off if you give it to me. Give it to an organization where you can write it off,” and they would send it back to me and say, “No, we want to give it to you.” So, in 2008 we started the Save the Tatas Foundation. We give money from the brand to the Save the Tatas Foundation, and then we also can collect independent donations, and that’s been awesome. With every $50,000 we generate we can support a researcher and we’re up to three researchers right now that we’re supporting. They’re doing amazing work. One is in Barcelona and two are at Northwestern in Chicago.
How did the line grow?
That’s a great question. We started by word of mouth. We had a website and then we advertised in a weekly magazine, and that’s when everything changed. So once people knew about it and started to see it, the orders were packed and stacked in front of our front door. The delivery guy would stand at our front door for hours and scan them because there were so many. We weren’t sleeping at night. I think having a brand that actually approached breast cancer from a very positive angle gave people some joy in that dark time, which is why we exploded pretty quickly. Before long, we were in a small warehouse, and we’ve grown again into even a larger warehouse. So it’s very exciting.
What would you say to other parents who have entrepreneurial dreams?
I think it’s so important if someone has an idea to go for it, and to figure out what you need to do to make that happen. If you have a great idea, it’s totally possible to make it work. It’s just a matter of getting started and taking it step by step. For me, I just did the first thing that came to mind that I thought I needed to do. When I hit a roadblock, I would do what it took to get past the roadblock. And then the next thing would come up that I had to do, and so I did that, too.
Adding a cause really drove my initiative and my tenacity because I wanted to make a difference, not just in my business idea, but in the world. So I highly recommend adding a cause to your business. Because when things get really hard or you’re frustrated, or you’re down, you have an extra reason to keep going. It’s made a world of difference for me
You started this prior to having kids, so what has life been like since having your daughters and balancing business?
That’s a great question. Being a working mother is a challenge because you’re torn. Before I had children, my job was my focus; that’s what I did all the time. And when these two wonderful people walked into my life who I wanted to be with, and my husband and I wanted to be with and we wanted to raise, so you become divided and distracted from your business. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think that your kids add just so much more to your life. It just becomes a matter of time management, where you have a smaller amount of time to do your work. You have to figure out a way to fit everything that you need to do into that window. And sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t, but it’s okay. I think the biggest challenge for me is I like to finish something and wrap it up and tie it in a neat little bow before the end of the day, and that just doesn’t always happen. But I’m glad that I can have a business and a family. It makes life very fun and interesting and I’m always doing something new.
Let’s talk about the line a little bit. It started off with tee shirts and then it has grown to what now?
Well, we started off with tee shirts and now we have sweatshirts, shorts and we’ve got all kinds of fun accessories from buttons to can koozies to bumper magnets — just many fun things that anyone can have to sport the cause. In fact, we started out not making men’s shirts because I wasn’t sure about that. And men really wanted shirts, and we kept getting comments, so we make men’s shirts and the men’s business has been great. Men want to support Save the Tatas and they want to support their wives and families. An interesting fact is that a lot of men find breast cancer in their partner.
Wow. So now what role does he play in the company?
Oh, my husband is my partner in life, my partner in crime. He’s just amazing. He started out being just really supportive and encouraging me to go for it, which I really appreciate. It got to the point where the business was growing, but the business part of it wasn’t going as well as I would have liked. So he stepped in as the CFO. He does a lot of the financial work and organization, and he does a really great job at that. We just really work well together — we’re one of those couples who can work in the same office and brainstorm and make it happen. I tend to be the creative side, and he tends to be the analytical side.
Where do you see Save the Tatas going in the future?
I see it growing and I’d like to expand internationally. I think breast cancer is becoming more and more talked about and known in other countries as well. I would love to expand into all kinds of different product categories. Right now, we have a licensing program that we’re working on, and we have some great licensees, so I’m excited about that. The more we expand, the more we sell, the more money we generate to fight breast cancer. And so that’s what’s really exciting for me.
Your husband’s aunt had breast cancer, but your grandmother did as well.
Yes, my grandmother had breast cancer. Today, we have such amazing medicine, and you can get new boobs, but back in those days, she had two foam cones. So growing up, when I hugged my grandmother, I knew that something was different. I knew that she had breast cancer, but we didn’t talk about it that much, so I think it’s very important to talk about these things early — and often.