Carol Largent had a gut feeling something was wrong.
In 2011, a mammogram came back normal, but she took a pre-ordered ultrasound to ease her mind. That’s how Largent, 50, of Kennesaw, learned she had breast cancer.
As she quickly scheduled a double masectomy and reconstruction, she realized, with most of her family out-of-town, she would have to take care of herself at some point.
The former second grade teacher was used to helping others learn how to problem solve, so when she faced challenges post-surgery getting in and out of her clothing for treatments and appointments, ingenuity took over.
Largent took an oversized tank from Old Navy and re-fashioned the straps with velcro on either side so she could easily slip into the top. The armholes of the extra-large shirt allowed enough room for treatment tubes and at doctor’s appointments, she didn’t have to strip down and freeze while waiting for the doctor.
“Sometimes you don’t have exactly what you need to do what you want to, so it is okay to improvise,” said Largent who gained her DIY attitude from inventor parents.
Her improvisation would lead to a full on business when she recovered and realized that other women may need a similar product.
“I realized this was a whole section of women that were being forgotten about,” said Largent.
When she regained her strength, she found a designer who would listen to her idea. They created patterns from her prototypes and sent everything off to New York for size grading and a production run of 200.
Largent would take her prototypes, wrap them up in baskets and appear on the doorsteps of women going through breast cancer with care packages of her Tender Tanks.
But demand was higher than Largent’s producer could satisfy. The search for another manufacturer led her to Bogotá, Colombia.
“I wanted to stay in America,” she said, “but for a person like me who has a tiny company that is easier said than done. Doing that made the tank tops so expensive, you couldn’t get out to the every day woman.”
Her business partner in Colombia, who had a younger sister with leukemia, proved to be the perfect match. He was as passionate about creating Tender Tanks as she was.
They elongated the straps, brought in the sides, reversed the velcro and shortened the arm holes. The material, a water wicking fabric, also has four-way stretch and sunscreen inside.
The first batch arrived in Sept. 2015 but Largent needed a way to get them out to women that was more efficient than her “sisterhood of the traveling tanks” approach.
At the time, Amazon Exclusives was a new program designed to connect consumers with new products from up and coming brands. Largent knew it would help her spread the word about Tender Tanks.
“Starting out it was difficult. You are not selling much and the fees get daunting, but as you move on and more people get to the product — those fees don’t mean anything to me any more,” Largent said.
Not only did Tender Tanks resonate with breast cancer survivors, Largent began to see orders from customers who had shoulder surgery, breast-feeding moms and elderly women who needed the ease of getting in and out of the tanks.
“It has kind of morphed into many other areas than what I had purposed them for, but that is okay because it is helping people,” Largent said.
“Tender Tanks were born to help others,” she said. “Women who have been through breast cancer know and understand it is our duty to make it better for the ones that will follow.”