Everyday Heroes: Michelle Judson and Changewear

This week's Everyday Hero has a great business idea, a patentable product she was thrilled to build into her own small business.

And then, as it always does, life happened.

In Michelle Judson's case, "life" was her kids, stage 3 breast cancer and a divorce.

Her invention, a convertible bra with interchangeable cups and straps to match different colored clothing and different moods, would have to wait.

"I found myself in a bit of a predicament, having an idea for a bra, having a patent on it, and having named it 'Changewear'," says Judson. "I was struck with the irony of well, this is kinda funny that I have a patent on a bra and it's named 'Changewear' and now everything in my life has changed. My life and body are completely different and, 'Is this something I really want to do?'"

It was.

"Women just wanted an opportunity to have something to be comfortable and be supported and feel beautiful, so we said, 'Let's do that,'" remembers Judson.

Her bras made her feel better, too.

But there was something more she wanted her new company to do. She wanted it to give back. And her need to do that stemmed from her fight for her life.

"[Breast cancer] was sorta like the first time I had the opportunity to accept help, which is a really interesting place to be," says Judson.

And a place that helped her, and her kids, during her toughest times, was the PTA/PPS Clothing Closet, which serves 2,000 people a year out of the Marshall High School campus in Southeast Portland.

She went there to get clothes for her daughter, when she couldn't afford to buy them herself.

"In doing that, I saw the joy that it gave my daughter in being able to go and pick out new clothing for her, and I thought, you know what? Nike gives shoes, Columbia gives jackets, there's no company out there giving intimate apparel," says Judson. "And I thought, what could that do for a young girl's life if she had something new to put against her body instead of something used in the most intimate way? This is a really special thing we can do!"

So, she made sure giving back became a foundation for her company. Now, for every Changewear bra sold, she donates one to the PPS Clothing Closet.

"We chose to go with PPS because it's in our hometown. I'm a native Oregonian," says Judson. "I think there's a tremendous need and opportunity to help a young woman feel very confident and comfortable and have a nice fit in her clothing and put something new against a very intimate part of her body."

Bras are tough for some families to afford. Girls in middle school and high school can move through multiple sizes in a year, an expensive change for some parents to be able to keep up with.

"For us, it's an easy thing to do because it means that when a customer buys one they know that they're also giving, that their purchase is fueling a gift for someone else," says Judson.

And the "change" in Changewear is something Judson lives every day.

"Everything in my life has changed, but it's changed in a really magical wonderful way, and that's what I hope to bring women in their lives," she says.

"I think that having cancer gave me a type of fierceness and courage and hope and possibility and a mission, and I think that all those things together have helped blaze the way for me and it's helped me understand that I'm here to have a second chance and to give back, and that's what I intend to do."

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