Lisa Crites never set out to save the world but she is making it her business to help breast cancer survivors and other surgery patients recover feel a little better about themselves.
Lisa is the owner of Melbourne, Fla.’s “The Shower Shirt Co.” and creator of the first (and only) water-resistant mastectomy garment on the US market. She fought breast cancer and with her business, obviously isn’t done fighting.
“The fact of the matter is, The Shower Shirt product was never created for me. It was created for my friends, family members, your friends, your family members, and all of those individuals who will be diagnosed with this devastating disease titled breast cancer,” Lisa said about her product.
The idea for her Shower Shirt came at possibly the toughest and lowest point in her life. It was the summer of 2009 and having lost her mother in an automobile accident two years previous, Lisa lay in a hospital bed following double mastectomy surgery. She felt alone and nearly broken. With dried blood on her chest, and desperately wanting the comfort of a warm shower, the doctor’s instructions brought more disbelief and humiliation.
“He told me I had to wrap myself in a garbage bag to keep my wounds dry,” she recalled.
Every time she showered, Lisa wrote in a blog during that time, her frustration grew more intense.
“I was essentially fighting with a plastic trash bag in trying to keep my surgical drain sites dry. Common sense told me if a breast cancer surgery patient could shower, they would feel better physically, psychologically and emotionally; something breast cancer/mastectomy patients desperately need during the healing process,” she said.
An inner voice called to her to design a product that would allow surgery patients to bathe themselves without having to wrap themselves in garbage bags. Lisa’s idea for her shower shirt came to life.
Like most entrepreneurs, Lisa Crites started small. She juggled a full time job as well as breast cancer recovery while developing her product. And like most entrepreneurs, Lisa found help simply by asking people around her. She found a manufacturing liaison for China and a patent attorney through her network of friends. Her brother, an engineer, helped draw the designs needed for her patent. It took her seven variations of a shower shirt to finally achieve what she wanted. She placed her first order of 500 shirts three years ago and it sold immediately. A second order of 2000 shower shirts was placed.
Most entrepreneurs who start small ultimately face the difficult decision of when to leave their full time job to pursue their new business. For Lisa, the decision was made for her.
“I was laid off. The hospital where I worked was bought out by a larger corporation. But in retrospect, that turned out to be a good thing. I received a severance package that allowed me to finance my Shower Shirt,” said Lisa.
Through business networking, Lisa learned about the Women’s Business Center at nearby Florida Institute of Technology. A new cache of business resources came her way.
“I wish I knew about the resources at the Women’s Business Center much earlier when I started my business. Every time I call them with a question, they have an answer and are ready to help me. That’s how I learned about the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) InnovateHer Challenge,” said Lisa.
SBA held its first InnovateHER Challenge in the spring of 2015 to empower women entrepreneurs. A nationwide competition was held to find three women entrepreneurs who are creating a product or service that has a measureable impact on the lives of women and families; has the potential for commercialization; and fills a need in the marketplace.
Lisa entered and made it to the finals held in Washington, DC during National Small Business Week. There she finished in second place, winning a $10,000 prize. The cash prize will help her with the next step of her developing business.
“I am working towards getting the Shower Shirt approved for Medicare funding. I am part way there. I need to get some science behind my product and the money will be put towards clinical research,” said Lisa. “We’ve obviously made huge progress in keeping women out of trash bags while showering after breast amputation. We’ve sold thousands of Shower Shirts not only in this country but other countries. We have Walmart.com, multiple e-commerce healthcare groups, mastectomy boutiques and hospital systems as continued buyers. We have solid patent protection for not only our product, but ‘method of use.’ I won’t consider this product to be a success until we’ve attained Medicare coverage.”
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 220,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Unfortunately, the detection and treatment will be too late for 40,000 who will die. For the survivors, like Lisa, the road to recovery is physically and mentally challenging. But now, thanks to one survivor’s business idea, the road to recovery provides a little more comfort and security.