A single mum from Manchester has explained how she used her battle with cancer to launch a beauty business that has since gone viral, and is now stocked by several retail giants.
Cody Gapare started making false eyelashes for chemotherapy patients when she faced her own battle with the treatment, and has landed a deal with cult eyelash brand Eylure.
Her eyelash brand is currently being sold in Boots, and on Amazon.
Cody Gapare, was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer in August 2014 at just 43-years-old, and she collected her results alone and did not cancel her interview just hours later for a place studying law at university.
When she was told the grape-sized lump she had found after getting out of the shower in her right breast was malignant, she excused herself and left without even giving the doctor a chance to discuss her treatment.
Single Cody, of Northwich, Cheshire – mum to office worker Panashe, 21, and Takunda, 13 – said: “I found out I had cancer at 3pm and went for my university interview at 6pm.
“I’d convinced myself it wouldn’t be cancer. I was only 36, I’d never drunk or smoked in my life and was very active. I was so sure it couldn’t be cancer that I didn’t see any point in cancelling my interview.
“I didn’t even go with anybody to the appointment, as I didn’t think I needed support. I thought I’d just get my results, then drive to Manchester to my interview.”
When she received the devastating news that she had breast cancer, Cody’s instinct was to run away.
She said: “The news absolutely floored me.
“People behave differently when they receive bad news. I sort of blanked it out.”
She added: “The doctor started talking about the cancer gene and different treatments and I began picking up my stuff. I was just like, ‘Right, I’ve got to go, I’ve got an interview.’ And I just ran out of the door.”
Unwilling to discuss her mortality, all she was interested in was getting to Manchester for her final interview before she could be accepted to study law.
She said: “I think I was running away from the reality.”
Cody continued: “The doctor had to call me again the next day to say, ‘Do you understand what’s just happened? We have to go through treatment plans.’”
Returning to see her medical team the following week at Leighton Hospital, in Crewe, Cheshire, they were keen to get her booked in straight away for a lumpectomy.
Cody continued: “I had been promising my youngest son that I would take him to Legoland for a long time.”
She added: “So, instead of booking my appointment to have my operation immediately, I decided to take him there first, just in case I didn’t make it.
“I told the specialist that’s what I was doing and that I’d have the operation afterwards.”
Booked in for surgery in October 2014, she then had a two-week wait before starting chemotherapy, which continued until February 2015.
“Then I started radiotherapy, which continued until April 11, 2015, when my treatment finally finished,” she said.
But Cody’s initial nonchalance towards cancer did not persist, as the seriousness of dealing with the disease and a gruelling treatment plan shook her to the core.
Now told she has ‘no evidence of disease’ or NED, she said: “When I started treatment, I was still working full time as a data analyst.”
She added: “A single parent, I was bringing up my boys alone with my family thousands of miles away in Zimbabwe, Africa.
“Everything just got on top of me and one thing had to go so, sadly, after all that work to get a place, it was university I had to drop.
“But, because I’d wanted to do it for such a long time, the disappointment put me in a very negative headspace.”
She continued: “It wasn’t good for me, for my kids, for my job or for the people around me.
“So, I started looking for a way to lift my mood and came up with a philosophy I called ‘lipstick and heels’.
“Basically, it meant getting up every single morning, having a shower, putting make-up on, perfume, a nice dress and heels – nothing more than that.”
And, looking good helped Cody to feel much better.
She said: “I started looking forward to getting ready and looking nice for the day.
“I thought to myself, ‘The world isn’t going to wait for me.’”
Cody, who initially had six monthly check-ups to make sure her disease had not returned, but now only needs them annually, wanted to feel as normal – and as far away from being a cancer patient – as possible.
She said: “I could put on my make up, I could draw on my eyebrows, I could wear my wigs to hide the hair loss, because of treatment.”
But she hit a brick wall when chemotherapy made her eyelashes fall out.
She said: “I discovered that when you use normal false lashes, they need a line of real lashes to rest on. They don’t look natural otherwise. It’s like they need a ridge to fix onto.
“It was so difficult to make them look nice and it was obvious they were false.
“That’s when I thought to myself, ‘Okay, what would I need to do if I wanted to wear lashes?’”
She added: “Having no eyelashes was the one thing that gave me away as a cancer patient.
“So, I sat at my kitchen table, just tinkering with pairs of lashes and modifying them to see how they could stay on.
“I asked Macmillan nurses and went online to chat rooms to find out if anyone else was having the same problem with false lashes after chemo.”
She continued: “That’s when I discovered I wasn’t the only person looking for a solution.
“There was nothing out there, so I was determined to come up with something – although, at the time, I was looking for a personal solution and not for a business idea.”
But, as Cody’s research bore fruit, she realised she had a great idea for a new beauty product that could help loads of people.
In around November 2014, a friend helped her to make a rough prototype, which was sturdier than normal false lashes and had a built in lined ridge.
“My friend said, ‘If you offered me those lashes, I would buy them,’” she said.
“That’s when something clicked in my head and I realised I could have a great business idea.”
By April 2015, Cody was seriously investigating ways to have a proper prototype made, so she could bring her lashes to the marketplace.
She said: “The thing is, I had no business background, I had no beauty background. I didn’t even wear make-up before I started chemotherapy.
“So, I didn’t know the basics and felt nervous about going to people and asking them.”
She added: “A lot of the research I did was simply going on Google, watching Dragon’s Den – those kinds of things. ”
First, she looked to countries like Korea, China and Taiwan.
She said: “Their laws are very different from ours, though, which scared me off.”
Cody continued: “So, eventually, in 2015, I found a company in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, that does prototyping and decided to work with them.”
Luckily, the prototype was a success and Cody went on to work with eyelash brand Eylure, to create her lashes and bring them to the market.
Cody’s lashes, called C-Lash, which stands for the positive C-words connected with cancer, such as ‘champion’ and ‘conviction’ which are printed on the packaging, are now on sale in Boots and other outlets, as well as on Amazon, costing £5.25, on average.
She said: “They launched in Boots in 2019 and in America in January 2020.
“And I think we’ve just launched in Australia, Sweden, and Norway, Finland, and Poland.
“The first time I walked in and saw them for myself in the shop was amazing.”
She added: “I had to go into Manchester to find them and actually saw a woman buying a pack of three at the same time in Boots.
“I was so excited, I took pictures of them on the shelves.
“It was unforgettable and that feeling never goes away.”
Now, despite Covid, the business is going from strength to strength, generating more than £500,000 gross turnover in 2020.
But Cody says the most satisfying part of her business is the feedback she receives from fellow cancer survivors.
She said: “People leave feedback all the time and it’s really good.”
She added: “Creating a new product is one thing, but what really matters is how it’s received by the people you made it for.
“For me, the positive feedback is the thing that makes this whole journey worthwhile.”
And Cody is not just restricting her lashes to women – she now has unisex styles which can be worn by men.
“We launched the unisex style last year in 2020,” she said. “It’s a smaller, more natural lash, because we found from customer feedback that the men also wanted something that they could wear to hide the fact that they have no eyelashes.
“As a result, we introduced a product that’s more subtle and can be worn by men and women.”
And, after all the negative feelings that led to her launching her product and her concerns about how her mood swings impacted her children, her 13-year-old son recently gave her another reason to celebrate.
She said: “He’s keeping a scrapbook of the great reviews I’ve had.
“He’s at that cool age when kids don’t want too much to do with their parents, so when I found out that he was this proud of me, my heart melted. It was quite a moment.
“Both my sons are proud of me and, looking back, it really was my ‘lipstick and heels’ approach to cancer that made me.”