When you meet Lani, it is hard to believe she is all of 16. She has been through a physically and emotionally wrenching year, she has begun to start her own business, and she is incredibly calm and self-possessed.
A year ago, Lani was still recovering from the loss of her father to suicide. She did her best to “push those feelings away, and only allow myself to cry when no one is watching.” Instead, she focused on the intensive workouts that her tennis team required. But the pain that started in her pelvic area became impossible to ignore when one day at school she started feeling shooting pains throughout her pelvic area and lower stomach. “Something was definitely not normal. I cried and was bent over as I walked slowly to my school’s office.” A trip to the emergency room and an ultrasound followed, revealing a 10 centimeter cyst on her ovary that would require surgery to remove. But tests done on the cyst indicated that she had a rare and very aggressive form of ovarian cancer. Another surgery followed, along with a five-month program of chemotherapy.
While in the hospital, Lani started thinking about losing her hair and had an inspiration. She wanted to design a turban to wear after her hair fell out, and use the design to help other kids like her have a fashionable alternative to wigs and hats. She envisioned beautiful silk and velvet turbans made in the color corresponding with the ribbons people wear to show their support for different cancers—teal for ovarian cancer, for instance.
With the help of a team of people from Gap, Inc., Lani was able to realize her dream of designing such turbans. In June, she and her family spent several days in New York, meeting with designers, marketing staff and technical advisors, learning things like fit and construction, sizing, fabrics, logos, branding and marketing. Back in the Bay Area, Gap employees gave her additional training in starting your own business and what a merchandiser does, and had a big surprise in store for her. Between her New York visit and her San Francisco Gap meeting in August, they had created a prototype turban for Lani in her own teal, and had created a variety of turbans for her to share with patients at Children’s Hospital, Oakland, where she had been a patient. Says Susan Ekstrom at Gap, “This wish inspired us all!” Lani, for her part, was really appreciative of the head start she’s been given with her business, writing us to say that Gap and her wish had “really inspired me to go further with the turbans and with my fashion career. Thank you for all your hard work and thoughtfulness.”