A father's promise to his dying daughter to keep the fledgling business she founded in 2007 up and running has been kept, turning what she began into a real success.
The father is Howard Levin, who, with wife Judy, came out of retirement to devote mind, body and soul to keep alive daughter Rachel Levin Troxell's dream — her company LympheDIVAs, the maker and marketer of a specific type of cancer-related apparel.
Rachel, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, died on Jan. 22, 2008, at the age of 37, after a recurrence of the disease.
And while she didn't live to see LympheDIVAs soar, her purpose, power and spirit live on.
"Judy and I made a promise to Rachel. That's why we're here. This is her 'child,' and we continue to tell her story," explained Howard, a physician, who had retired in 2004, while, Judy, a social worker, had done so in 2005.
Rachel had married between the time her breast cancer was detected and the time it returned. She and her husband, Jason, who has remained involved with the business, had no children.
Rachel, as driving force, started LympheDIVAs with two other women, Robin Miller, a graphic designer, and Kristin Dudley, a fashion designer. Both are no longer with the company.
Rachel was a breast-cancer survivor, as was Miller. Both developed lymphedema, also known as lymphatic obstruction, a permanent condition of localized fluid retention and swelling just under the skin.
The unsightly and embarrassing disorder is caused by a compromised lymphatic system, resulting in the disfiguring, and often debilitating, swelling of the arms and hands for women with breast cancer.
When Rachel and Miller researched compression sleeves and gauntlets used to control the effects of lymphedema, the results yielded only the heavy, hot, bandage-like and bandage-colored products that seemed devoid of comfort, give and style.
That represented little to no choice to women like Rachel — a writer, filmmaker, teacher and tri-athlete — so she and Miller decided to improve on what was available.
Fashion Wins Out
LympheDIVAs, explained the Levins, is dedicated to the creation of medically correct and fashionable compression sleeves and hand gauntlets for women with lymphedema.
Following their search, Rachel and Miller met with Dudley for the first time to discuss their idea of more elegant and comfortable compression sleeves and gauntlets. That's when LympheDIVAs LLC took flight.
Utilizing suggestions made by a medical advisory board, a research-and-development company and a number of lymphedema patients, LympheDIVAs was ready to begin selling its line of products in December 2007. The company continued to grow and expand until Rachel's death.
Working with Invista — today a division of Koch Enterprises, but before that the DuPont fiber division (LympheDIVAs' fabric supplier is Corolon Mills now) — what the three founders introduced was a lightweight, breathable, wicking (material that carries away moisture, keeping arms and hands cooler), strong and stretch fabric that offered support and, most importantly, style for women going through the physical and emotional discomfort of their medical problems.
"When competitors jumped in with similar solid colors, it didn't matter to Rachel because she said it was all good in terms of helping women," said her father.
The products are made at the aforementioned Corolon Mills, outside of Greensboro, N.C. Owner Larry Reid was so impressed with Rachel, her story and her idea that he purchased an $80,000 Italian-made knitting machine on which to make the products, noted the Levins.
Said Howard: "We really do believe in this product, and we want to help women as Rachel wanted to, so we're enjoying doing this for her.
"In one way or another," added Judy, "we will work to see that Rachel's business continues — and continues to help women."