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Published: Wednesday, May 19, 2010, 12:01 a.m.

‘The comfort of women' the goal of Camano Island woman, maker of Gentle Bra

  • Dorothy Bowler of Camano Island sells her Gentle Bra around the world.

    Kristi O'Harran / The Herald

    Dorothy Bowler of Camano Island sells her Gentle Bra around the world.

Bras are traditionally fashioned with elastic straps, clasps, cups or a band.
Dorothy Bowler of Camano Island discarded all those parts when she designed her Gentle Bra, which sells around the world.
It's made of breathable cotton interlock, with no closures, underbands, cups or elastic straps.
Those who buy the Gentle Bra may be recovering from surgery and undergoing cancer treatments. Some may be burned by radiation, Bowler said. The undergarment feels comfortable after rotator cuff or shoulder surgery, and may make sleeping more comfortable during pregnancy.
Smooth fabric and the lack of seams protect tender areas of skin. A woman who can't lift her arms can step into the Gentle Bra and ease it into place.
“Even the label goes outside so it doesn't irritate,” Bowler said. “It cradles the breast in a hammock.”
We met Bowler in The Herald on Oct. 2, 2006: “Grace in Every Stitch.” Bowler was 81 and she'd invented her bra two years earlier.
After her appearance in The Herald, Bowler said she received more than 100 orders. She was featured on a Seattle TV station.
Bowler, now 85, employs a seamstress to sew the bras. She made one for a woman who was swollen on steroids — she measured 51 inches around the rib cage — and she made one for another woman with size FF cups.
Bowler got her design insights from being a breast cancer survivor and a seamstress for more than 55 years.
When her husband, Paul, was in the Navy in 1944, she cut up one of his blue uniforms to fashion a snowsuit for their baby boy. She cut the cloth with scissors she used when she trained to be a nurse.
The snowsuit turned out great. Bowler said she decided sewing was going to be her thing.
She honed skills by reading books and deconstructing garments. She studied clothing design and millinery in college.
When the family, including five children, lived in California, she sewed for wealthy women in San Francisco. Bowler's business was called “Vivienne's” and had la-di-da clientele who usually traveled to Paris for their wardrobes.
Her husband was born in Everett. The pilot flew his wife to this area 24 years ago looking for property. They flew over Camano Island, where the Bowler family had had a home from 1919 to 1923 on Chapman Road.
“We fell in love with the island,” Dorothy Bowler said.
They settled on the south end of Camano, where her husband, a mechanical engineer, worked as a contractor.
When Bowler underwent radiation and chemotherapy for breast cancer, her skin burned. A male doctor suggested she cut up a T-shirt to wear.
The idea didn't sit well with Bowler. She sewed several versions until the Gentle Bra was born. It has one-way stretch. The front gives but the back doesn't.
Dr. Kaaren Nichols in Tacoma, who recommends the bra for her patients, said it's a wonderful product.
“It's so high quality,” Nichols said. “She couldn't have done a better design job.”
Almost five years ago, Diana O'Brien of Lynnwood went through breast surgery for cancer.
“When I finished chemotherapy and was going through radiation, I needed something I could wear and still go to work,” O'Brien said. “What an amazing design for comfort and fit. Dorothy deserves all the praise she can get. She knew what the raw, burned breast would need.”
The designer studied how to get a patent and secured one for a Post Surgical Comfort Brassiere.
Gentle Bra, available through www.gentlebra.com, may also be worn by women undergoing a breast reduction or augmentation, Bowler said. Someone who is elderly would find it easy to put on.
“God allowed me to do this for the comfort of women,” she said.
Kristi O'Harran: 425-339-3451, oharran@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » FashionCamano IslandClothingDiseasesInjuriesHuman Interest

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