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Wearing the gown

Healing Gowns brings style and support to those who need it most

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Audrey Fleming was going through radiation for breast cancer when she realized something simple could be done to improve her outlook on spending so much time in and out of the hospital.

“At the hospital, I’d get a little cubby to put my things in when I’d go through radiation, and every time I’d go in for treatment, I’d fold up the same gown and it would be in there the next time I would come in,” she said.

- HEALING IN STYLE:  Audrey Fleming’s new gown business provides comfort to medical patients. -  - PHOTO COURTESY OF AUDREY FLEMING
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF AUDREY FLEMING
  • HEALING IN STYLE: Audrey Fleming’s new gown business provides comfort to medical patients.

She realized that with so many patients coming in and out for treatment, it was likely that multiple people were using the same gowns, multiple times.

Her family came up with a plan, and after talking with the radiology department, they presented Fleming with her own tie-dyed gown.

“It was very moving; all of my family and friends had written messages of love and hope on it. That absolutely promotes healing,” Fleming explained.

She was laid off from her job in 2007, so she bought a backpack and one-way ticket to Guatemala, where she stayed with a family and learned Spanish. She fell in love with the culture and the beautiful textiles.

After her stay, Fleming knew there was a way to combine her personal experience of healing through the gown with her background in social services and business management.

She wanted to involve private contractors in the sewing, but their prices proved to be too high to sustain the business,

“Rightfully so,” Fleming explained. “These are the people that have been in the industry 20 plus years, so I completely understand. So I go through Guatemala. I’m able to make sure that there isn’t any slave labor at the sewing mill, and because of the free trade agreement with Guatemala, the prices make the business sustainable. I also had 1,000 trees planted through Trees For the Future to offset the environmental impact of having the gowns shipped to the States.”

Healing Gowns supports more than just environmental efforts. Fleming donates gowns to inpatient hospice as well as the Hearst Cancer Foundation at French Hospital, and any gown purchase through the company website allows customers to choose one of 10 charities to receive 10 percent of the proceeds.

“If someone purchases one of our ‘Liquid Reflections’ gowns, we donate another gown to a veteran receiving treatment, and the gown will be presented by a fellow veteran. So it’s a great support network,” Fleming said.

The design benefits of a Healing Gown are numerous.

“The arms open up on both sides, and there are places that open up for heart leads. So far we’ve had a 100 percent positive response from all medical personnel. They love it for the access,” Fleming said. “New moms love them because they’re comfortable, they’re great for photos with the new baby in the hospital, and it makes breastfeeding a lot easier.”

Each gown comes with a fabric-writing pen so friends and loved ones can write encouraging messages to the gown recipient.

Fleming says there’s still time to call in last-minute Christmas orders for locals.

“If anyone is still looking for a great gift for an expectant mom or an older relative who needs something comfortable and easy to wear, the gowns are a perfect idea,” she noted.

Since opening the business in June of this year, Fleming has had one basic goal: “There are a lot of great local businesses that give back around here. I want my business to keep giving back in a positive way both here and more globally.”

Healing Gowns has a Facebook page, as well as a website at healinggowns.com. There are four gown sizes and five different fabrics. Prices and shipping information are available online. If you’re in need of a last-minute holiday gift, call Healing Gowns at 904-3962.

Fast fact

The Feline Network of the Central Coast has sent Santa a “kitty wish list” of things needed for homeless cats in the county this holiday season. If you can donate toys, beds, treats, food, litter, carriers, or cleaning supplies, drop items off in the donation barrel at PETCO in the Madonna Plaza in San Luis Obispo or call 549-9228 for cash donations. See network representatives most Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the same location.

Intern Maeva Considine compiled this week’s Strokes and Plugs. Send your business news to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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