skip to main content


How My Cancer Has Given My Business (And Me) Meaning

by Sara Cohen

Not once but twice. 

Cancer is the reason I started Hākinakina in the first place, and also what has, in the last 2 years, given me a lifeline and purpose. 

This first part of this story began 7 years ago. Having recently recovered from breast cancer for the first time, I started looking for swimwear that suited my active lifestyle and offered me the high level of sun protection I needed to cover up my radiation burns. But when it came to it, I found I only had two options. Skimpy bikinis that offered next to no protection; or cover-ups that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Victorian gothic novel.

Sara at the beach

So when I moved to New Zealand four years ago from London, and the time I spent playing outdoors increased, my need for sun protection increased as well. The water is my magical spot, the place that grounds me, and I spend a lot of my time either in or on the water — swimming, kayaking, paddling or diving.  I spent so much time looking for cover-ups that were practical, fit for purpose and stylish.  Spending all this time looking, I realised there had to be a better solution. And it turned out that solution was Hākinakina. 

I have never been one to back down from a challenge, so I decided that if I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I would create it. So armed with my background in marketing, 5 years building a Womenswear print label in the UK, and a desire to spend more time outdoors, I created a range of UPF 50+ swimwear designed to give women the freedom to play without compromise (and look good while they do it). That was 3 years ago.

All was going swimmingly (excuse the pun) until 2 years ago this April, when I found out my cancer had returned and spread to my lung and bones, making it Stage 4 and incurable. I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been a rollercoaster. I read somewhere early on that you get to choose. For me, there was no choice. I chose life. As my friends and family know I can be pretty determined which I figure has stood me in good stead. I am doing everything I can to fight for my life and heal my body.

To be honest it threw me for a while and I went inward for 6 months just trying to stabilise my body and my mind. But pretty quickly I decided to focus on getting busy living. My motivation is to focus on the here and now and to fill my life with love and adventures. And to create something awesome as a legacy. That legacy has become Hākinakina. Our soft yet strong Hākinakina fabric is made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. Its manufacture uses waterless printing and is powered purely by green solar energy. All our packaging is plastic-free and 100% recyclable or compostable, inclusive of swing tags, satchels and hygiene labels. Every garment is made locally here in NZ by a team of expert Kiwi sewists. It also has UPF 50+ sun protection rating, meaning that it blocks out 98% of the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Living with cancer, and staying well is a pretty big job in itself. But I have never wanted to be defined by it. We all need a purpose and Hākinakina has become that. To continue to give women the freedom to play outdoors without compromising on sun protection or style. To give me a focus, something to grow and in some small way help others too. However, Hākinakina has also turned into a lifeline for me as well. I decided early on to use it as a financier for my treatment. Choosing an integrated cancer path is a pretty expensive path, so this has given me a way to combine my love for my business with my love of living. This means every time someone buys a product, they are also supporting me in some small way and helping me in my cancer journey.

Hākinakina also brings me a lot of joy. By in some small way helping women stay sun safe whilst playing outdoors. I know that every time I slip on my rashie or swimsuit to head out on the water, it makes me smile and feel good at the same time.

There is of course lots more to me than cancer. I live in Nelson, New Zealand with my husband Tomas, and when not working I can be found somewhere in the great outdoors. 

Read more