As Breast Cancer Awareness Month kicks off this Monday, October 1, here's a sobering reminder: One in eight women will develop breast cancer. Fashion public relations executive Libby Haan was one of those women. After undergoing eight painful surgeries, she needed a great, comfortable top, one that really fit her needs, her tastes and her body. Besides, as Haan tells Refinery29, "when you work in PR and represent a lot of different designers, your style can change dramatically from day to day." She specifically mentions Fashion Week, a time when she would have to change multiple times a day to meet clients like Schiaparelli, Jil Sander, Hussein Chalayan, and Marni. "My wardrobe needed a foundation that I couldn’t find anywhere," she explains. "Tops were gauzy T-shirts and looked too [much like something you’d wear on the weekends to run errands] or they just didn’t have the same quality as a $3,500 jacket."
So, after two decades in fashion PR, Haan has made her own design debut with Who Shirt Company, a line of sleeveless tops that don't require a bra and, just as importantly, also work with different necklines. She spent the last three years working with manufacturers to develop the necessary technology and perfect the designs, using top-of-the-line materials. Post-surgery, she says, “I never felt the desire to put on the drawer-full of lace underwire bras that I had previously loved so much. So, the two needs — comfort and a luxurious foundation top — melded into one solid idea...It’s a foundation for your outfit that doesn’t currently exist in the marketplace."
The brand gets its name from the Owl of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and individual items are named after "women of an excellence to which we aspire" like Jane Goodall, Toni Morrison, and Gloria Steinem. The tops are made from the softest cotton, the smoothest and plushest elastic. "I considered the shoulder line, the most flattering length of the short sleeve, the slight hourglass silhouette, the trim needed to be sleek and not ribbed for a more athletic finish but more than anything, the quality should be exceptional," Haan says of the development process. "We did samples then more versions to get it right."
Right now, Who Shirt Company offers a tank, racerback, and halter priced at $138, and a V-neck and crew-neck T-shirt style, each retailing for $148. Each piece is available in white, black, beige, navy, and brown. "All you have to do is try one," Haan says. "I really wanted to produce something of benefit, a comfort for us ladies," she continued. "That’s what I wanted in my own life, and it’s what I wanted to give of myself."