As much as controversy can kill a company, it can also shine a positive spotlight on it. That’s what happened to Shaney Jo Darden’s Keep A Breast Foundation™, thanks to their “I Heart Boobies” bracelets. Since 2000, Keep A Breast has worked raise breast cancer awareness for a group who stereotypically tends to not think about those kinds of things: teenagers. Partnering with some of the biggest names in art and action sports, Keep A Breast has become one of the world’s leading youth-focused non-profits.
Starting with an art show and auction featuring artist-decorated plaster torso casts of some of the top women in action sports, KAB was cutting-edge from the beginning. The semi-revealing casts garnered both positive and negative attention, but mostly resulted in attracting a younger demographic to breast cancer awareness. While creating different slogans for some KAB seasonal wristbands, Shaney came up with the “I Heart Boobies” slogan, and sales of the bands took off like crazy. Popular with the kids, the bracelets gave KAB even more traction in both youth and mainstream markets, and raised even more awareness, along with some eyebrows, about breast cancer. From plaster casts, boobie bracelets, and now to a smart phone app that reminds and educates women about self-examinations, KAB seems to know how to catch the attention of today’s youth. Check out a few insights from my call with Shaney Jo!
M – How did you build up KAB to where it is today?
“I guess it’s a long story, but I think KAB is such a unique non-profit. KAB just started as a little art project. It was something really, just beautiful, and nice to do for a friend that was going through breast cancer. I never really thought it would get to where it is now.”
M- Where did the breast casts idea come from?
“One of our artist friends, Margret Kilgallen, a painter from San Francisco, had breast cancer. She was young, and that was something that really surprised us and that hit our small community of artists and skateboarders in a way that they hadn’t dealt with something like that before—and neither had we. From there we decided we wanted to do something. We had these fun jobs and we’re doing this cool art project…so that’s where we came up with the idea for making the breast casts and having the show—because we knew we could throw good shows. We called all the artists and got them to paint boobs, and that’s really how KAB started. It was originally going to be a one-time thing, but it just kept going.”
M- What is the secret to KAB’s success and reach?
“I think youth non-profits have set a really good example of how when non-profits work together they can make a larger impact, rather that competing with each other. Our trick has also been a lot of hard work, and a little bit of luck I guess. I used to work with action sports brands, and I’ve always run KAB like a skateboard company, or like we were a band. We go on tour, we sell merch, and we talk to our fans face to face and spend time with them. KAB has always been, in a way, like a rock band. That’s how we get our message out there.”
M- How do you keep up with the youth culture?
“I’m really lucky that I have a good social media person on staff, Luis Mendoza, and he lives it. He is my hero. I really rely on him to be the eyes and ears of KAB. He sees what’s going on, how they’re talking about it, and where they’re talking about it. It’s not really about teen focus groups, it’s about being yourself, being authentic, and being true to you. It’s what young people, or anyone, is going to want anyway. The truth. That’s what we try to do. We always try to engage with our audience as well. I think that’s really important.”
M- How did the “ Love Boobies” bracelets come about?
“It was another one of those weird, accidental blessings in disguise. We’ve worked with Roxy and Quiksilver for many years, and every October we’d do a bracelet with them for Zumiez, they would say like, “Follow Your Heart,” or something like that. Then one summer I really wanted to do ones that said, “I Love Boobies,” and we were going to make them for the Vans Warped Tour. They went really well, then I showed them to Zumiez and they wanted to try them out in their stores. It became this insane wave of Boobies madness across the country, kind of overnight. I never expected the bracelets to sell like they did, but they did. Through that success, they were everywhere overnight.”
Listen to the full podcast to hear how Shaney got started, the mission of Keep A Breast, where they are headed in the future, and how you can take part in raising awareness. We all have ‘em, we all love ‘em, so doing your part to protect them, yourself, and the ones you love should come easy. Head to http://keep-a-breast.org/ for more info and to buy your own “I Heart Boobies” bracelets.