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Thinking pink: Ribbons, breast cancer and Estée Lauder, 25 years later

As the Pink Ribbon breast cancer campaign celebrates a major milestone, Caitlin Agnew looks back to its origins

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, a time synonymous with pink ribbons and fundraising initiatives. It's a cause that the beauty industry in particular has adopted, due primarily to the pioneering work of Evelyn Lauder.

Troubled by the lack of awareness surrounding breast cancer, in 1992, Lauder partnered with then editor-in-chief of Self magazine Alexandra Penney to create the Pink Ribbon campaign. As part of The Estée Lauder Companies' Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, pink ribbons were handed out at her brands' beauty counters around the world. The following year, Lauder founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) to generate funding dedicated to breast cancer research. In the 25 years since, The Estée Lauder Companies have raised more than $70-million to fund global research, education and medical services, with 15 brands participating in more than 70 countries.

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The pink ribbon as a symbol has grown beyond The cCompanies, becoming a global movement adopted by brands like New Balance, Kitchenaid and even the Royal Canadian Mint, which issued a pink ribbon quarter in 2006. The pink ribbon's ubiquity has also caused controversy, with accusations of "pink washing," whereby brands piggyback onto the cause without actually making a meaningful contribution.

For Evelyn's son William P. Lauder, executive chairman of The Estée Lauder Companies, the medical progress made since the start of the campaign speaks for itself. "What we're most proud of is, 25 years ago if someone was diagnosed with Stage One breast cancer they had a 75 percent chance of survival. Now today if someone's diagnosed with Stage One breast cancer they have a 92 percent chance of survival."

Beyond the medical and treatment improvements, Lauder says what's equally important is the shift in conversations surrounding breast cancer. "It used to be that many women were embarrassed to say that they had breast cancer," he says. "It's become something that you're not afraid to talk about with others and to seek support where you can."

Continuing the annual tradition, for 2017 several of the Lauder brands are giving their most popular products a pink makeover and donating portions of sales to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The labels involved include Bobbi Brown, La Mer, Aveda and Estée Lauder, which has adorned a limited-edition of its Advanced Night Repair Synchronized Recovery Complex II with a pink ribbon keychain (20 per cent of its suggested retail price will be donated to the BCRF).

Going forward, the goal of The Estée Lauder Companies is to find a cure for breast cancer in this lifetime. "Other diseases that have had serious impact in our history have been eradicated, so there's hope, and we've made a lot of progress in a relatively short period of time," says Lauder. "I certainly hope that 25 years from now we'll be out of business and that we no longer need to be doing this because we have found a cure."


  • Montreal’s Hotel William Gray recently opened the doors to its spa. Located on the lower levels of the Maison Edward William Gray and Maison Cherrier buildings in the Old Port, it’s the first spa in Canada to introduce German Gharieni spa beds, a hot quartz bed and the Spa Wave sound therapy system, as well as an herbal sauna and a Himalayan salt room. For more information, visit
  • American denim brand Levi’scelebrated half a century of the Trucker jacket in Los Angeles. The company asked 50 icons and influencers to customize their own Trucker jacket, including Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg and Solange Knowles. For more information, visit
  • As Rimowa’s aluminium luggage turns 80, the luxury bag company is looking back on the pieces owned by some of its high-profile clientele, including Karl Lagerfeld, Martha Stewart and Virgil Abloh. For more information, visit
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