As anyone who has spent time at one knows, hospitals are generally not the coziest of places. East Sider Sharon Linder had plenty of exposure to hospitals when her two sisters and mother developed breast cancer, and she became religious about getting regular screenings. During these visits, she noticed that standard-issue “johnny” garments were a big part of what made hospitals unpleasant. Johnnies are so-named because they open in the back to allow patients to “use the john,” but women are instructed to wear them backwards. They’re made of coarse cloth or worse, paper, and are generally seen as skimpy, cold, uncomfortable and even humiliating.
“Skinny girls are freezing in them, and average-weight girls are falling out of them!” exclaims Linder. “Looking at these women, it was so demeaning; here they are waiting for horrible news, reading magazines or watching TV. It was very undignified. I researched and saw that this is an international problem, and then I had an idea.”
Linder previously worked at IBM for over three decades, relocating to Providence from Connecticut with her husband Stephen in the winter of 1978 – “the year of the snowstorm.” As a Manager of Corporate Social Responsibility, she managed a charitable fund and represented the company to community entities like the Preservation Society, the RI Food Bank and local libraries – work that she found rewarding. In 2010, however, she laid the groundwork for her own product idea: the Jane, a durable, cashmere-soft, kimono-style reusable gown offered in pleasing, tasteful colors. Not a designer herself, Linder uses the word “developed” for her inventing the gown with some help from professional designers. She started selling them directly to hospitals, breast cancer centers and Veterans Affairs medical centers.
When Linder developed uterine cancer herself in 2012, she wore her Jane during chemotherapy and radiation, describing it as feeling “like a great big warm hug.” One of the company’s objectives is to empower and give back a sense of dignity and agency to women during times when they feel confused, vulnerable and uncomfortable.
Although meant to be outpatient examination gowns, many women use Janes as hospital gowns, and they’re also used by new mothers who are nursing. As of this writing, Linder was expecting her first grandchild any day, and her daughter had her own Jane handy.
Looking back, “It’s been a very satisfying journey; I’m lucky I’ve had two careers that I love,” says Linder. “Just as I have branched out on my own as an entrepreneur, the idea behind Janes is giving women tools to take charge of their experience. Most people don’t even know that they can bring their own gown. The more I learn the more I put into the product, and we give 2% of profits towards funding mammograms for underserved women. At some point, I would really love to start a Jane Foundation.”
If you had one wish to enhance life on the East Side, what would it be?
“Other than taxes, there is very little I would change about the East Side. The sense of scale and community is perfect for a person like me. My wish for Providence is for it to become the kind of city that my children and their friends would come home to live in and enjoy as much as I do.”
To learn more about Janes, visit GetJanes.com
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