“I was living in New York, working for Ralph Lauren. I really loved my job, but I was super bored. I didn’t call myself an entrepreneur. I never thought of it that way. But I always said, you know what would be really funny? If people had fake nipples.”
Molly Borman is the co-founder of Just Nips, a company that makes stick-on nipple accessories that adhere to your skin or to your bra. When you are wearing them under a shirt, it looks like your nipples are out. The product is a tastemaker’s fashion accessory, as well as the fastest-growing breast cancer nipple accessory on the market.
When Molly first came up with the idea for Just Nips, however, she was not thinking about it as a serious business venture with the potential to impact hundreds of women. Before Just Nips, these nips were just an art project that made Molly laugh and feel empowered in her own body.
“Several years ago, I was sitting at home, waiting to meet a friend, when I saw these erasers in my desk drawer. I thought, this is so funny, it looks like it could be a nipple. So I took a safety pin, put it on my bra, took a couple of pictures, thought it was funny.”
“I went to meet my friend and forgot to take them off. She looked at me and said, ‘What is going on with your tits?’ I looked down and said, ‘Oh! It’s these fake nipples I made!’ ‘Molly,’ she told me, ‘They’re not even on your boobs where nipples would be — and they look ridiculous.”
Molly started making trips to Michael’s crafts and playing around with different materials. She knew the clever craft would get a rise out of people, but she had not yet realized the full social implications. She would glue together different beads, source different pasties, and wear the nipples around herself. Her friends would laugh, but their interest was non-committal, until one evening Molly caught everyone’s attention.
“I wore them to an event that my friend was hosting one night. They were the hit of the evening. Everyone loved them, everyone was excited, it was so much fun. A few days later, someone reached out and said, we’d love to interview you about your fake nipple company. I didn’t know what to say, but I realized I had a very forward-thinking product; I had packaging; I had a website. So, I guess I had a business. I had no sales, but whatever, we would get to that.”
“This is all going on in October and November before the elections. I voted, but was very preoccupied, and felt guilty after everything happened. I kept asking myself, why should I be making fake nipples during [a time like this]? Then I realized, wait, this is the time. This is feminism. This is body positivity. This is doing what you want, because you can, without letting other people tell you what to do.”
Molly ramped up production to meet the new demand. As the products were still being made by hand, this production happened in her house: a crazy operation that called on family, friends, aunts, cousins, her husband. Anyone who wanted to hang out with Molly during the time knew they would be making nipples in her kitchen.
Different media outlets and podcasts began to inquire about Just Nips, but after the interview, the story would always fizzle. Reporters were interested, but no one was ready to go there. Nipples were too sexy, too much, too far. Until, that is, women got tired of having to apologize for being too sexy, too much, too woman.
“We ended up getting a ton of press [during the Women’s March]. Women were wearing our products to protest the administration, which was super cool. I never said, “Wear these to protest Trump!” Women just heard about us and said, YES. I was really excited. People get it, I thought, they understand that this is something more — that it has so many cultural implications.”
“While that was going on, because we had reached so many new people, I was getting a ton of orders — but also a ton of inquiries from women affected by breast cancer. They wanted to know if our product was medically safe – to use over an incision, for example. I had no idea.”
“I realized we needed to do something quickly. We had this amazing opportunity to help women – more than I had ever imagined. We could help women without nipples, women in the middle of breast reconstruction. We could help them feel better. We could help them get this look – if they wanted it – back. We immediately hired a medical engineer to get us a product that was medical grade everything. And generally better than what I had been making by hand, with things from Michael’s Crafts, you know?”
Molly worked with the medical engineer to create a product that was safe for and inclusive of women going through the breast cancer journey, and decided to keep the original $9.99 price point, because that had always felt like a sweet spot. She was shocked to learn that alternative prosthetics that doctors were recommending cost up to $300. Suddenly, Just Nips was a budget-friendly, fashion-forward, adorable alternative to the previously leading medical nipple prosthetics on the market.
“We were getting a ton of orders. We had a lot of people excited about [Just Nips] from both angles — the medical side and the fun side. The split is around 50/50, but I have always said that this product can be both. And it’s not just cancer survivors on that end. It’s also the women whose mothers, sisters and aunts have had breast cancer. They are [wearing Just Nips] to support.”
“A lot of women affected by breast cancer have told me that you don’t realize how unsexy this process is going to make you feel. And a lot of those women feel guilty for feeling that way. Because of all the things going on, sexiness is not a “priority.” But, actually, it is! It should be.”
“When these women started reaching out, I started asking them more about themselves and their journeys. Most of them were open to sharing. When they were open, they were open. The would walk me through their reconstruction journey, the expanders, the physical pain every week. Every detail I heard made me ask, what can I do to help?”
“I know what we do is one small part. I also recognize that we are just an option. Some people are happy to be without nipples, which is also amazing. We support that choice just as much as the choice to wear our products. That’s what it comes down to. That’s what confuses men. We are not trying to convince everybody that this is the only way to be.
“The phrase I hear the most when talking to women with breast cancer is, ‘I want to feel whole again.’ That message strikes me as very powerful. I hear it often. I want to feel whole again. Woah, okay, let’s do all that what we can do.”
“[Most of us] take for granted what it means to feel like a woman. Just Nips wants to give [breast cancer survivors] that same type of empowerment – a way to feel good about themselves – or to just laugh, you know? A lot of people laugh [about Just Nips], and that’s great. I love that. Please do. This is fun! I want to always keep that energy, while also being in a full-on conversation about consent.”
“A lot of men (and I know this is a generalization) think hard nipples means a girl is horny. Ummmm, no? I don’t understand how they could think that, but I guess they equate the look to a boner. So on our packaging, we say, ‘Boners for Her.’ I think it’s really funny! Some people don’t get it, but we do it anyways. We try to keep [our brand] light and playful, while also being able to talk about really serious topics like sexuality, consent, and cancer.”
Molly recognizes the stigma around nipples. She knows that some people feel good when nipples are visible, and others don’t like the look. She isn’t advocating for one over the other. She’s creating spaces for women to be able to present their bodies as they please, in whatever way makes them feel the best in that moment.
“I feel powerful [when I wear Just Nips]. It’s empowering. A lot of people ask, why don’t you just get nipple surgery? That’s not the point. Why don’t you wear them every day? Some days I don’t feel like it! The empowerment comes from me owning my body. I can look this way because I want to.”
Interview by Kate Mack. Article by Molly Virostek. Photographed by Stephanie Lavaggi. Styled by Emily Newnam.