The University of the Highlands and Islands
Life and Chemical Sciences
Glasgow & Clyde Valley
Vanilla Blush is a Glasgow-based medical lingerie business founded by a former nurse, Nicola Dames. The business specialises in garments for people living with a colostomy, ileostomy or a urostomy, which are all categorised as stomas. Approximately 102,000 individuals live with an excretory stoma in the UK, with around 21,000 individuals undergoing stoma-forming surgery each year.
Having a stoma herself, Nicola embarked on her first business venture to develop a new line of underwear for females and males who have suffered from similar conditions. The Vanilla Blush unique underwear is carefully designed with those individuals in mind and comes in a range of colours and sizes with a built-in pouch to conceal the bag.
Listed as a Class 1 Medical Device, the Vanilla Blush garments are supplied to the NHS throughout the UK and are also exported to 18 other countries around the world.
A bowel stoma is an artificial opening on the surface of the abdomen that has been surgically created in order to divert the flow of enteric or faecal matter into an external bag. The most common underlying conditions that may require the formation of a bowel stoma include colorectal cancer, diverticular disease, incontinence and inflammatory bowel disease. One of the most frequent complications following stoma creation is parastomal hernia which occurs when an internal part of the body pushes through a weakness in the muscle or surrounding tissue wall. The UK Association of Stoma Care Nurses recommends ‘belts/underwear’ ‘to aid prevention of hernias and offer abdominal muscle support.
Nicola Dames was keen to better understand the individual’s experiences of living with a stoma and usage of support garments. To do so, she appointed a Stoma Care Specialist Nurse who was visiting the nurses responsible for these groups of patients to get an understanding of what advice they give around two key issues:
- Exercise with a stoma; and
- Support garments.
Following a referral from Scottish Enterprise, Nicola got in touch with Interface to seek help in finding an academic partner to investigate the following:
- Engage with the findings of their Stoma Care Specialist Nurse’s product outreach and trials.
- Understand why support belts are being prescribed for hernia patients.
Working with Ruth Oliver at Interface, Vanilla Blush was successfully matched with the right academic partner at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) to complete the first study, exploring people’s experiences of support garments following bowel stoma formation.
The Department of Nursing at UHI has a thriving health and well-being research group that includes nurses, midwives and behavioural scientists. The current research programme in the Department of Nursing is about physical activity in people who have a stoma. This programme is led by Dr Gill Hubbard, an accomplished researcher, behavioural scientist and Director of Research in the Department of Nursing at UHI.
Dr Hubbard has excellent research partnerships with the Colostomy Association and Ileostomy and Internal Pouch Support Group, as well as Bowel and Cancer Research. She also has a thriving Stoma Patient Advisory Group. Dr Hubbard’s essential expertise enabled Vanilla Blush to address the gaps in their evidence about support garments during physical activity, to reduce the risk of hernia in people who have a bowel stoma.
As a concept, brand and company, Vanilla Blush embodies both the patient’s perspective and academic enterprise, which is required for an ethically-based efficient business offering an economically beneficial service to the NHS.
The key findings from this project resulted in multiple academic manuscripts and have been presented at various industry-leading conferences throughout the UK and Europe. The full publication is available here.