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Breast calendar acts as a conversation starter

Friday September 13, 2002
ALAN FERRIS
MERCURY STAFF

GUELPH -- Sue Richards guarantees she has a way to start conversations. Thursday's launch in Guelph for the 2003 Breast of Canada calendar comes with just such an assurance.

"If you hang the calendar on a wall, you'll get people talking," the publisher of the second annual calendar said. "I haven't met a single person yet who hasn't had someone ask them about the calendar once it's up.

"It has the potential of being a very powerful educational tool for breast cancer."

Richards, founder of the studio Art Jam and a city art educator and consultant, took a financial loss of $35,000 last year but that has created a demand for this year's calendar.

She had to give away 16,000 copies of the 2002 calendar, which promoted breast cancer detection, after snags in endorsement by a national foundation delayed distribution.

She thought she'd found that when she approached the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, an organization "dedicated exclusively to the support and advancement of breast cancer research, education, diagnosis and treatment," according to its Web site.

But her offer to donate 40 per cent of the net profits was rejected.

Jay Hooper, the foundation's national funds development director, said he felt the images were "provocative but good."

Still, the organization was uncertain as to the fundraising potential of the calendar.

Hooper said the main reason for rejecting the calendar was its fundraising potential. He said he told Richards to come back in a year, when the calendar had established itself.

Instead, this year's calendar has the support of the Canadian Breast Cancer Network, an Ottawa-based national voice for breast cancer survivors. It represents more than 150 support and advocacy groups across Canada.

The calendars she had to give away proved to be an unexpected boon. Many people she gave the calendars to have pre-ordered the 2003 edition. That means 2,600 of this year's printing of 7,500 have already been sold.

Still, unless there's a huge demand before Nov. 1, there won't be a second printing. "After Dec. 24, the market to sell calendars at full price is dead," Richards said.

The calendars are available at bookstores throughout the area and on the Web at www.breastofcanada.com.

There have been 896,000 hits and 75,000 extended visits to the Web site since Aug. 20 of last year.

"Some were looking for porn but others are getting information they can use," Richards said.

Getting last year's calendars out in public created a market among the friends, family and acquaintances of the people who received a calendar, sparking even more orders.

"What looked like a big mistake became great promotional material for me. I couldn't have bought this publicity with the same amount of money," Richards said.

The Web site helped spread the word even further. She ended up shipping the 16,000 excess 2002 calendars to Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, India, throughout Europe and across the United States and Canada.

The 2003 calendar is smaller and cheaper than last year's version. It will sell for $19.95, $5 less than the 2002 edition. A yet-to-be-decided portion of profits from this calendar will go to the Canadian Breast Cancer Network.

There will be smaller photos, most bordered in white.

"I call it 'breast reduction' that we took it down from 14-by-12 inches to 12-by-12. People said they didn't have space to hang the bigger calendar.

"Overall, it's more stylish than the previous one," Richards added. It uses models in a variety of sports and activities to promote the theme of fitness.

Kristen Honey is one of the models in the calendar. She said the photo shoot itself was "an incredible experience.

"I'm really happy to have done it," she said. "It's a fabulous project and it is a conversation tool. These are wonderful, artistic, creative people and the shoot was a lot of fun. Melanie Gillis is an amazing photographer."

The calendar has instructions on breast self-examination and suggestions for exercises and nutrition to improve breast health.

It also marks Feb. 13 as "Dead Bra Day," a day for women to throw out their old bras.