South African lingerie entrepreneur Penny Parolis was 61 when she was dealt one of life’s greatest ironies.
In the lingerie industry for over 20 years, she sold bras and innerwear, and when handed the diagnosis – while on holiday in Greece – that she had breast cancer, the first thought that crossed her mind was: “Why me? I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me, especially since the bra industry was close to my heart.”
She underwent surgery and thereafter radiotherapy back home in South Africa, whilst also handling the adverse challenges at work.
With her son Dimitri, Parolis had started her business in 1993 initially selling Italian pantyhose. Slowly, the business grew as they diversified to lingerie, swimwear and shapewear.
Parolis is the co-owner of PDL Distributors – importers and distributors of lingerie and swimwear brands – and also owns three Cape Town boutiques operating under their brand, Inner Secrets Lingerie, the retail arm of the business she is now looking to expand. She tells us more:
What inspired your business?
I knew it was important for a woman to wear beautiful garments that fit well and are well-made. Our ethos has always been about uplifting women.
How was your cancer diagnosis a turning point for you?
On a personal level, I got to realize how important health is and not to ever take it for granted; to find a good balance in life and to always take care of myself. It also reaffirmed how important family and close friendships are, and at a time like this, I was reminded how very blessed I was. From a business point of view, I got to view my industry from the point of view of a woman who had suffered breast cancer and whilst in her recovery process still wanted to feel feminine and most importantly be comfortable.
How did you build your business?
Luckily when I started my business, my children were all out of school and pursuing their own paths in life. My husband was very adamant about me being a stay-at-home mom and I am very fortunate I had this opportunity and then could start my business; what’s more with one of my children. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time on the road, long hours in the office and numerous overseas trips to meet suppliers. I have a very supportive husband and a great support structure at home and at certain stages one just needs to put in the time.
How did you balance health, work and family?
This can always be tricky to get completely spot-on and I think it is very personal for each woman at different stages of her life. You get to figure it out as you go along and you learn to prioritize what is important at any given time. Working in a family business surrounds me with my family daily, which I enjoy and now my biggest focus is juggling work and me-time. I am getting better at this.
Your advice to other women who might have a similar story…?
Never lose faith. Keep believing in yourself no matter what the circumstances present and always be kind to yourself. You are the only person who can set the example of how you want to be treated.