The Australian invention empowering sick children through tough times
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The Australian invention empowering sick children through tough times

This specially designed medical garment draws on the ‘Batman effect’ to give young patients the strength to persevere

By Robyn Willis
Fri, Apr 14, 2023 8:00amGrey Clock 3 min

It might not seem like much, being able to choose what you wear. But for children being treated for life threatening conditions and illnesses, it’s more agency than they’re used to.

Regularly prodded with needles, drips and assessed by monitors, as well as being scanned, x-rayed and more, they often have little control over what’s happening – or being done to – their own bodies during hospital stays. It’s often a frightening, bewildering experience.

And it’s not just the sick children who feel powerless.

When tradie Jason Sotiris’s daughter was diagnosed with a life threatening illness as a young child, he was at a loss to help give her the strength and support she needed to endure. 

Creating a hospital friendly range of clothing, known as Supertees, was the result. Designed to be MRI and PET scan friendly, the hospital grade garments provide medical staff with easy side and shoulder access to the patient while still looking like a standard t-shirt. 

Starting from scratch and with no experience in the clothing industry, Sotiris trialled a number of designs and fastening options before settling on the end product.

But key to their success is the Marvel superhero characters that are printed on them.

Sotiris said the garments are designed to help put young kids in the best frame of mind as possible as they face the toughest times of their lives.

“These children have to face these things and there’s not a lot of choice for them,” he said. “We want them to be able to choose whatever makes them feel stronger.”

Available free to families of kids facing the toughest health battles, the Supertees are in high demand. 

“What you wear matters, what you wear can represent you in a certain way and hospital gowns are a symbol of being unwell,” Sotiris said. “It’s something given to those who are unwell. 

“We wanted to create something that someone would wear and make them stand out in a special way. How good would it be that something is so cool and fun that it makes healthy kids just a little bit jealous, because it’s usually the other way round.”

The Supertee is aimed at children from birth through to early teens. It looks like a standard t-shirt but is MRI and PET scan friendly, with side and shoulder fasteners for easy access.

But the benefits of the Supertee go way beyond having a desirable superhero costume.

Sotiris pointed to a joint study by researchers at University of Pennsylvania, University of Minnesota, University of Michigan in the US called The Batman Effect: Improving Perseverance in Young Children.

The study found that when four and six year olds ‘impersonated’ an ‘exemplar other’ like a superhero character, they showed  much higher levels of perseverance when faced with challenging tasks. The findings of the study supported what Sotiris already suspected.

“So it’s not the child going through the MRI, it’s Wonder Woman,” he said. “How would she act in this situation? We’re trying to use the power of imaginative play.”

While Disney, who has the rights to the Marvel characters’ artwork, has waived licensing fees for the Supertees, the charity is not receiving further monetary support. 

Sotiris is seeking high wealth individuals and corporate partners to help him achieve his aim of supplying Supertees to 10,000 seriously ill children around Australia. 

“I don’t want parents to have to pay for them – they are going through enough,” he said. “Parents are often working less and navigating that with their employer, or they may have left their job to care for their sick child. It would be great to offer them something to make things a little bit easier.”

He is in talks with other community-minded groups such as the NRL and the NSW Police (to create a Tactical Cancer Fighting Unit Supertee) to extend the range and give more kids the mental boost they need.

Just as it is for any parent who has watched their child go through this experience, it’s still a very personal quest for Sotiris. His daughter, now 11 years old, finished treatment some time ago and her last scan earlier this year was clear. Giving back to other parents and children has helped him process his own difficult memories of that time.

“In 2018 I held my daughter’s hand in one hand and a Supertee in the other and I went back to the hospital,” he said. “I started replacing the memories I had of her treatment with these wonderful memories of helping these kids with the Supertee.”

You can support the Supertee initiative here.

 



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Why Prices of the World’s Most Expensive Handbags Keep Rising

Designers are charging more for their most recognisable bags to maintain the appearance of exclusivity as the industry balloons

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The price of a basic Hermès Birkin handbag has jumped $1,000. This first-world problem for fashionistas is a sign that luxury brands are playing harder to get with their most sought-after products.

Hermès recently raised the cost of a basic Birkin 25-centimeter handbag in its U.S. stores by 10% to $11,400 before sales tax, according to data from luxury handbag forum PurseBop. Rarer Birkins made with exotic skins such as crocodile have jumped more than 20%. The Paris brand says it only increases prices to offset higher manufacturing costs, but this year’s increase is its largest in at least a decade.

The brand may feel under pressure to defend its reputation as the maker of the world’s most expensive handbags. The “Birkin premium”—the price difference between the Hermès bag and its closest competitor , the Chanel Classic Flap in medium—shrank from 70% in 2019 to 2% last year, according to PurseBop founder Monika Arora. Privately owned Chanel has jacked up the price of its most popular handbag by 75% since before the pandemic.

Eye-watering price increases on luxury brands’ benchmark products are a wider trend. Prada ’s Galleria bag will set shoppers back a cool $4,600—85% more than in 2019, according to the Wayback Machine internet archive. Christian Dior ’s Lady Dior bag and the Louis Vuitton Neverfull are both 45% more expensive, PurseBop data show.

With the U.S. consumer-price index up a fifth since 2019, luxury brands do need to offset higher wage and materials costs. But the inflation-beating increases are also a way to manage the challenge presented by their own success: how to maintain an aura of exclusivity at the same time as strong sales.

Luxury brands have grown enormously in recent years, helped by the Covid-19 lockdowns, when consumers had fewer outlets for spending. LVMH ’s fashion and leather goods division alone has almost doubled in size since 2019, with €42.2 billion in sales last year, equivalent to $45.8 billion at current exchange rates. Gucci, Chanel and Hermès all make more than $10 billion in sales a year. One way to avoid overexposure is to sell fewer items at much higher prices.

Many aspirational shoppers can no longer afford the handbags, but luxury brands can’t risk alienating them altogether. This may explain why labels such as Hermès and Prada have launched makeup lines and Gucci’s owner Kering is pushing deeper into eyewear. These cheaper categories can be a kind of consolation prize. They can also be sold in the tens of millions without saturating the market.

“Cosmetics are invisible—unless you catch someone applying lipstick and see the logo, you can’t tell the brand,” says Luca Solca, luxury analyst at Bernstein.

Most of the luxury industry’s growth in 2024 will come from price increases. Sales are expected to rise by 7% this year, according to Bernstein estimates, even as brands only sell 1% to 2% more stuff.

Limiting volume growth this way only works if a brand is so popular that shoppers won’t balk at climbing prices and defect to another label. Some companies may have pushed prices beyond what consumers think they are worth. Sales of Prada’s handbags rose a meagre 1% in its last quarter and the group’s cheaper sister label Miu Miu is growing faster.

Ramping up prices can invite unflattering comparisons. At more than $2,000, Burberry ’s small Lola bag is around 40% more expensive today than it was a few years ago. Luxury shoppers may decide that tried and tested styles such as Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull bag, which is now a little cheaper than the Burberry bag, are a better buy—especially as Louis Vuitton bags hold their value better in the resale market.

Aggressive price increases can also drive shoppers to secondhand websites. If a barely used Prada Galleria bag in excellent condition can be picked up for $1,500 on luxury resale website The Real Real, it is less appealing to pay three times that amount for the bag brand new.

The strategy won’t help everyone, but for the best luxury brands, stretching the price spectrum can keep the risks of growth in check.

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