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2001 to Now

 

 

What's best for breasts 'is dialogue'

The Hamilton Spectator Health,
Tuesday, October 1, 2002, p. D06
Mary K. Nolan The Hamilton Spectator

[This story also appeared in the KW Record on October 3, Page one of the Trends and Life Section]

Sue Richards is no boob.

After losing her shirt -- in every way -- on last year's premier Breast Of Canada calendar, she has bounced back with a new edition for 2003 and enough pre-paid orders to make sure the project doesn't fall flat again.

The savvy Guelph artist and entrepreneur, one of the breast models in the calendar, is still digging out from the $70,000 cost of printing last year's 20,000 copies. But she managed to turn a financial fiasco and public controversy into marketing tools that promise to ensure the calendar's success this year.

In January, stuck with 16,000 unsold copies, burdened with a $50,000 debt, stunned by criticism of the calendar, and rejected by the very breast health organizations she aimed to help, Richards made a decision. "I actually made a series of decisions to come back and publish again," says a wiser Richards, who has rebounded from the disillusionment she experienced her first time around. "But first I had to lick my wounds." In the process, she concluded that if should couldn't sell the surplus calendars piled up in her storeroom, she'd give them away. She contacted every health, women's, environmental and remotely related organization she could find, and offered to send them free calendars in minimum orders of 50 if they agreed to pay the shipping costs. The response was so immediate and positive, that she began inserting an order form into the shipments to gauge interest in a 2003 edition. "It crossed my mind that the only way out of this was to go back in," says Richards, who had already decided she would only proceed with a new calendar when she had enough orders to cover her printing costs.

In the meantime, an optimistic Richards geared up for the likelihood that the calendar would get off the ground, and photo sessions got under way for a new round of breast photographs to illustrate each month. "We reached our goal by June and said 'Roll the presses.' The photos and design were already done and it went to press in early July. "I squeezed through with the printer's bill by the skin of my teeth, with about $5 to spare."

In response to complaints about the original $24.95 price, Richards dropped the price of Breast Of Canada 2003 to $19.95. That meant reducing the size to a more manageable 12-by-12-inch format. She increased the content of women's health information, breast lore, quotes and notable dates, and reduced the press run to 7,500.

Like last year, the sepia-toned photos show the breasts of faceless women of diverse ages, races and sizes, including a mastectomy patient whose scar is covered by the hands of her adult daughters. It was the pictures that caused such a stir last year and earned reviews ranging from shameful, disgusting and even pornographic, to artistic, beautiful and tasteful. Although the Canadian Medical Association and the federal health minister were enthusiastic about the calendar, many organizations were quick to distance themselves from it. To Richards' eternal bewilderment, detractors included the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, which stood to receive 40 per cent of profits from the calendar, but refused to endorse it in any way. The organization determined it was not a worthwhile fundraiser and its funds development director posited that his mother might be offended by it.

But the controversy, played out in numerous media, served to bring the calendar invaluable publicity. And Richards' inspired strategy of giving them all away put them in the hands of people who saw the project as she had originally intended -- as a celebration of the natural beauty of the female breast in a non-sexual context, and a vehicle for reminding women to be mindful of their breast health. More than half of the new orders came from recipients of the freebie calendars.

The Canadian Breast Cancer Network, which represents more than 150 advocacy groups across the country, was happy to be named beneficiary of the 2003 net proceeds. "My mentor at the business enterprise centre contends that 2002 had to happen and we couldn't have bought the goodwill and publicity (generated) by giving them away," says Richards, who had sold 3,000 new calendars and recorded close to one million hits on the www.breastofcanada.com Web site by the end of last week.

"It needed to be on walls. That's where it was effective. It was not effective sitting in my storage room." Richards doesn't mind that there are still those who find the calendar content questionable. If nothing else, it gets people talking. "I still look at it and think it's beautiful, it's practical and it's educational. There's a lot of talk about it and I guarantee it will inspire conservation. "And that's good, because dialogue leads somewhere. Silence leads nowhere." Information on the calendar is available on the Web site, by calling 1-519-767-0142 or by e-mailing [email protected].