Breast Cancer Awareness month dates back to the eighties, with the now ubiquitous pink ribbon appearing in the early nineties thanks to an Estée Lauder campaign. Over the past few decades, the month of October has grown increasingly pink. From flight attendant uniforms to NFL jerseys, cosmetics advertisements to grocery packaging, you can find splashes of pink everywhere. Shortly after launching Quiltlove, I knew I wanted to wrap breast cancer patients in custom quilts given by their support networks. What gave me pause however, was how to do so thoughtfully in a time of so much pinkwashing.

The only type of pinkwashing acceptable: pre-washing fabric for a breast cancer support quilt!

Pinkwashing Defined

First, it can be helpful to define the term “pinkwashing.” The nonprofit defines pinkwashing as “companies using pink ribbons to promote products or services that may actually increase the risk of breast cancer, or sponsoring pink-ribbon promotions that raise large sums of money with only a small portion going to breast cancer research or supporting people during their breast cancer treatment.”

Examples could include the image of a pink ribbon on a beauty product that contains carcinogenic ingredients, or displaying pink balloons at a car dealership that is donating 1% of profits to charity. Pink ribbon products and promotions capitalize on the consumer’s emotional desire to end breast cancer, while failing to make a meaningful contribution to the movement.

Learning from Experts

I have never had breast cancer, nor have any of my close family members. As an outsider, my first step was to reach out to a few breast cancer survivors for coaching to ensure I was on the right side of the pink wave, so to speak.

First, I spoke with the incredible Kara Kenan of Going Beyond the Pink, a breast cancer community organization that provides a wealth of resources and educational programs. She is also a decorated veteran in the Air Force Air National Guard and a breast cancer survivor. Kara placed an emphasis on wellness. In short, any product that purports to support breast cancer patients must not cause them harm. Second, she was happy to see the engagement of a patient’s support network, through participation in a community quilt. Kara’s “do no harm” philosophy propelled me further on my course.

Next, I spoke with Anna Crollman, the force behind My Cancer Chic. Anna is a breast cancer survivor and infertility warrior who provides resources, motivation, style and sass on her website and via social media. Anna pushed me to offer a charitable donation for quilts sold in October. Anna’s quick rule of thumb is if a company is participating in Breast Cancer Awareness month promotions, it should be donating about ten percent of sales to a charity that is focused on research. Noted!

Considering More Perspectives

Finally, to further understand how Breast Cancer Awareness month, dubbed “Pinktober” by some, feels to breast cancer patients, I dug a little deeper.

  • Watched: Pink Is Not The Problem – A sobering video by The Breasties that documents how breast cancer survivors feel about the use of their stories and the color pink as a marketing tactic. I highly recommend watching it.
  • Read: Think Before You Pink – A campaign to promote accountability and transparency among companies that take part in Breast Cancer Awareness Month activities. There is a lot here, but I recommend starting with this video about “pink ribbon culture.”
Pleasantly surprised to learn my son’s soccer team is donating 100% of proceeds of t-shirt sales to charity (my son has the killer pink striped socks).

What I Learned About Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Pinkwashing

There is a lot of information available about the pros and cons of Breast Cancer Awareness month in 2023. After doing my own homework, I offer the following conclusions:

  1. The cheerful shades ranging from bubblegum to hot pink can be used to rally support but should never be a baseless marketing ploy. Respect that at its core, a breast cancer diagnosis brings pain, fear and trauma to patients and their families.
  2. Companies, just like people must be honest and do good.
  3. Breast cancer awareness has been raised; it is time to move the needle on research to end this terrible disease.

Quiltlove’s 2023 Breast Cancer Awareness Month Promotion

Quiltlove is donating ten percent of proceeds from breast cancer support quilts to charity. Simply purchase a quilt for a loved one facing breast cancer between 9/15 and 10/31 and indicate “breast cancer support” as the occasion upon checkout, and you’re good to go.

This year, I am donating to the American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer initiative. Money raised will help the American Cancer Society (ACS) fund breakthrough breast cancer research, provide free information and support, and help people reduce their breast cancer risk or find it early when it may be more treatable. Learn more here.

My increased understanding of the nuances behind Breast Cancer Awareness month has turned me into a detective when shopping. Every time I see I pink ribbon these days, I find myself scanning the fine print for details about how much money is being donated and where. Sometimes, I’m pleasantly surprised. How has Breast Cancer Awareness month made you feel? Do you have a gut response to all the pink? Do you have other lessons learned to share? I would love to hear from you.

As always, thanks for reading.


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