Courage under fire

Courage under fire

While a cancer diagnosis can be a frightening and uncertain time, AUT Business School alumna Kamya Ghose, 25, turned her personal situation into an empowering business idea.

Diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in-situ (DCIS) at 23, Ghose experienced the distress of diagnosis – and then the distress of bra shopping after her surgery.

“After having a mastectomy, I understood the difficulty that women face to look and feel confidence and feminine,” she says.

Her business, Queen Zaria, makes mastectomy bras for cancer patients, to improve the quality of life for women who have had these operations, and to raise awareness of breast cancer.

Ghose recently received the first preproduction Queen Zaria sample from China.

“It wasn’t all perfect, there were a few things to change. I’ll be sending it back, but we’re making progress, which is good. It’s such an intricate product.”

The business was founded at the end of 2015, and the idea came after Ghose’s own operation.

“I found it really hard to find any kind of lingerie or nice bras. It was to the point where I went into a shop and the lady said, ‘you’re not going to find anything, you should just wear a jacket over all your clothes.’ I thought ‘you can’t be serious.’”

Based in Auckland, Ghose studied international business and marketing at AUT Business School and says the connections she made there were the best part of the degree, including people who would become part of Queen Zaria.

Queen Zaria won the 2016 AUT Venture Fund Kickstart Competition, came second in the innovation challenge and took home the audience’s choice award.

Teams had to make a 10 minute presentation to a panel of judges outlining their business plans, followed by a question and answer session.

"It was pretty amazing. I was shocked, I’d never done anything like it before,” Ghose says of the win.

“It’s a great opportunity to get good business advice, mentorship and money. We were able to stay in touch with the mentors and the money comes in handy, and they don’t take our equity.”

Queen Zaria received $5,000 for winning the competition and $5,000 for the innovation audience’s choice award.

Ghose says the money is still sitting in the bank as they’ve had so many people helping them out, but would be used in the future for paying suppliers.

There was lots of discussion about a name for the business.

“We wanted to choose an historical figure. Queen Amina of Zaria ruled over Nigeria and she cared about women in parliament and women in leadership. We wanted a Queen Zaria bra to mean something, and to be more than a name. The name has significance and that’s what we want when women wear our bras; to feel beautiful, empowered and bold … to feel like themselves.”

When developing the product, Ghose talked to women going through similar experiences to her.

“I was still going through treatment at that stage so it was quite handy. When I went up to the hospital, I would ask the nurses if there was anyone I could talk to. Everyone at the hospital was really good about it, they were telling me things I hadn’t even thought of yet.”

And so far, the response has been extremely positive.

“There was an article in the New Zealand Herald and after the article I had so many women contacting me. I was overwhelmed. I thought ‘wow, there are so many people who need this.’”

Her future plans are to go international.

“It’s a big need around the world, it’s just getting out there. [Eventually] we want to expand into medical accessories.”

Her advice to others wanting to start their own business would be to research, and talk to people.

“Do a lot of research because what you think might not be the case. The best idea is to talk to people, and tell them your idea. Talk to customers, get out there and really meet people.”