For Emily Rhodes, wearing makeup gave her the courage she needed to face the world. “She used to say to me, ‘Mom, I’m putting on my war paint to go out,'” says her mother, Joanne Nicholson. “We all have our war paint, it can be clothing, your makeup or your hair, and you feel more confident and in control.”
Emily died of a brain tumor on April 24, 2019, three years after her diagnosis. Her bravery and the hardships she faced inspired Joanne and her friend Claire Wharton to create a collection of clothing for people undergoing medical treatments of all kinds, from chemotherapy to dialysis, regular injections, transfusions, scans and blood tests.
Called Warpaint, the garments are street-cool hoodies and pants with carefully placed openings, non-metallic zippers, pouches, drawstrings and tourniquets to allow for medical procedures and access to, for example, medical devices. chemotherapy ports, ostomy bags, catheters and drains. Patients at York Hospital have tested the range, and both they and the nursing staff have been impressed with how quickly, easily and discreetly certain treatments can be delivered.
Warpaint launched at the Cozy Club in York last month, on the third anniversary of Emily’s death, with the website going live at 10.10pm, the time of her death. This month, Joanne and Claire took the collection to York Fashion Week, where it was modeled on the catwalk by friends and patients.
Emily would be beyond proud, Joanne said. York was her hometown, where she grew up with Joanne, her father Martin and her brother Matthew, now 23.
The family moved to Perth, Australia in 2012, and for five years they thrived. Emily was 21 when she had her first seizure. She had just moved into her first home and was a model, while working as a manager at a golf club. Four months later, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and then told she was terminal.
Emily wanted to go home to York to die among her family and friends, so they gave up everything to come back. A week before they left, Matthew was diagnosed with epididymal tumors. Luckily they were mild and he is now fine. “It was unbelievable – what else could happen? But he is lucky,” says Joanne.
They settled in York in 2017, with the help of family and friends, and York Council, who found them a home. Emily improved and was almost on her own for a year, despite taking chemotherapy pills every day. Joanne says: “The mornings were quite difficult, there were changes in her physical appearance and her mental state was down.”
Emily’s speech was slurred, she was going blind and she had gained weight from the treatment. Unfortunately, the backlash she faced from the public, both in Australia and York, left Emily and Joanne upset. Emily was trying on pants in a boutique in Australia when they both overheard a saleswoman say to the other, “Would you really mind if you looked like that?”
Joanne wanted to react but Emily said no. “She started crying and said ‘Mom, they just don’t understand, so don’t understand.’ We left, but she bought the pants, bless her. And then, I think the most heartbreaking thing she ever said to me, in the car, she said, “If I could afford to do it now, I would kill myself.”
In York, a charity shop refused to let her use the toilet, directing her to a pub. “She didn’t survive and never went back to downtown York again,” Joanne said. “She didn’t want to walk around with a lanyard saying ‘I’ve got this’.
“If she hadn’t had to go through what she went through mentally and physically, her journey would have been much easier. It wasn’t just the cancer, it was the treatment, it was the acceptance and not understanding why she looked the way she did, and felt like she did, and that had to change.
Joanne teamed up with Claire Wharton, the friend she’s known since Emily and Claire’s daughter Libby first met at a dance club, aged six. They design all the clothes themselves. Claire has a degree in fashion design and is a talented seamstress and Joanne worked in the NHS for 10 years.
“Emily gained and lost a lot of weight very suddenly, so all the clothes have drawstrings,” Joanne explains. “They are all oversized. My daughter went from a size 6/8 to a size 18 in a few weeks so her skin was cracking, she was in pain, she couldn’t walk properly. It was the start for me.
“Then it progressed. People going through cancer treatments get cold because your blood is thinner on the drugs. And with dialysis they can sit for six hours wrapped in blankets, so we designed something thing so you can keep your own clothes on and unzip the arms to attach to the machines.
The Loci is the flagship, a gray hoodie with a removable snood, pocket for an ostomy bag and openings for probes and catheters. There are products in the sampling stage, including dresses for summer and winter, and they are looking for a local manufacturer. The first garments were made overseas via a company in Brighton, but they now source from manufacturers in Leicester and Bradford.
Claire, who is married to Billy and has three children, Libby, as well as Billy and Lois, tested the clothes herself. She underwent a mastectomy after being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer last March and is now undergoing targeted therapy once every three weeks. Claire looked after Joanne’s dog while Joanne was at her sister’s funeral (she died of kidney cancer last March). “She didn’t want to leave her alone, sat on her and kept sniffing her chest,” Joanne says. Claire went to see her doctor. “If the dog hadn’t done that, Claire wouldn’t have left.”
They want to expand the range and hope people will come in contact with specific needs and suggestions, although they are taking the launch slowly to ensure products are available and working properly. “And make people feel comfortable,” says Joanne. “It’s not just about the goal, it’s about being able to feel comfortable and in control, being able to get something to eat after the treatment.”
The Warpaint emblem is a feather and they hope it will become a recognizable symbol, something that people with cancer and other illnesses can wear, on the go, to show that they are undergoing treatment and need help. help and consideration.
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All Warpaint clothing and accessories are available at warpaint.online @warpaint.uk