When we came across Robin Hoods and the story of Tracey Van Voorhis and her mother, it's safe to say it affected us deeply. Most people can say that a loved one –- whether a parent, sibling, grandparent or great friend –- has suffered from the effects that either cancer, surgery or other illness can have on the body. One of the most devastating physical effects, aside from illness, is the loss of hair.
We sat down with Tracey to discuss Robin Hoods, her company that creates fashionable and chic headcovers for anyone suffering from hair hardship, which she started in honor of her mother, who was diagnosed with brain cancer just last year.
When Gail Robin Van Voorhis was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor in April 2012, it came as a shock to her four daughters, because she was so young and healthy. The family extensively researched the different types of tumors, and found that there weren't a lot of positive results or treatment options out there. There is a small percentage of individuals who are able to be long-term survivors, so the family was hopeful for Gail, and Tracey told us that "her spirits were great for a long time, even though she lost her hair right away from the brain surgery and from the radiation and all the chemotherapy." Gail primarily lost her hair right on the top of her head, and as she had just embarked on a new phase in her life with all her daughters off to college or on their own, this loss was devastating for her.
Tracey told us that for her mother, "the diagnosis was scary enough but then the physical side effects were really what took a toll on her in the day to day." So they looked, high and low, for something fashionable, pretty and comfortable to mask her loss. Simply put, they were utterly disappointed with the options.
"She tried the wigs, and that was, I mean, just the scariest thing you've ever seen," Tracey laughed, "so that didn't work, and it was hot and uncomfortable, so we had to find something else." She said it was heartbreaking to see the lack of choices out there -- that there wasn't an existing collection of beautiful options for women with hair hardships -- to try to help a situation that already feels hopeless, and make it just a little bit better.
On a trip home from Duke University after Gail's second surgery, where they were in the car for 8 hours, Tracey racked her brain about what she could do for her mom and how she could make her feel better. And so Robin Hoods was born.
"Ever since that light bulb went off (in) that moment in the car," Tracey said, "I started working pretty seriously to make it happen. I did a lot of research to see what was available, and a lot of research to see the leading medical causes of hair loss. I pinpointed it to cancer, alopecia, and lupus, which seemed to be the major three, and then did some research to see 'what would a woman suffering from any of those need?' It has to be something that's lined, something that's modified. Because when you lose motor function after undergoing brain surgery, having a tumor or radiation and chemotherapy, you can't tie a beautiful Hermes silk scarf, for example, if you wanted to pursue that level of fashion, and function is also ruled out."
Tracey began work on samples -- products ranging from scarves to turbans, with her mother by her side. Gail gave crucial feedback, as far as design, colors, comfort and fit, and helped Tracey create the best product possible. From there, Tracey launched with the help of Kickstarter, and over 270 backers. She said it was incredible to have the support, not only financially, but from people who believed in Robin Hoods.
Everybody, I would hope, feels some sort of ownership in the way that they impact the world. And it's nice to say 'oh I wish this existed' or 'I wish that someone was doing this,' but I think there's a realization I came to that it's not enough to just say that, you have to do it.
Sadly, just two weeks before Robin Hoods officially launched, Gail lost her battle with brain cancer. Tracey told us that Robin Hoods is a daily reminder of her mother's memory, and while that's difficult and bittersweet, "it's a wonderful way to spread the word and her legacy." Tracey founded Robin Hoods upon her belief that no woman should be deprived of her self-confidence, dignity, and natural beauty as a result of hair hardship, and we couldn't agree more with that sentiment.
In regards to the future of Robin Hoods, Tracey said she hopes it can not only grow to other facets, but that it will spark conversation about something that's rarely spoken about. "The goal originally was I wanted to marry fashion at a certain taste level with the function of what was needed in this product, because I didn't feel that that existed, and it was a market of women that was overlooked." But just as importantly, she wants to open the lines of communication to talking about hair loss -- something that affects many individuals but is a bit taboo.
We women are so quick to gripe about our flaws and the parts we don't love about our bodies. We're constantly searching for that next big thing to lose a little weight or make our skin glow a little brighter -- and a woman's attachment to her hair is widely one of the most intense. We are grateful to Tracey for creating a way for those dealing with real hardships feel beautiful in times of stress. Because making a woman feel beautiful goes a long way -- and helps make difficult situations just a little bit better.
Click through the gallery above to see more photos, as well as some of our favorites from the Robin Hoods line -- and see how you can rock a turban or headscarf, too!
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Robin Hoods