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THREAD 2022

Is Underwear the Secret Weapon in the Fight Against Testicular Cancer?
An Interview with OddBalls.

BY LOLA OATES

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to sit down with Kieran Kelly to discuss his work at OddBalls and the OddBalls Foundation. OddBalls "was established in 2014 as an underwear company to raise awareness for testicular cancer", with the goal to then set up a foundation that would further the work that the underwear does as a "vehicle to get people talking". This foundation was set up in 2015, and Kieran was part of the first group of OddBalls University Ambassadors. Kieran  had “seen the flyer for the ambassador programme going around Exeter", and had already heard of the foundation due to his involvement in the rugby community. Kieran explains that he applied because he knew he “wanted to break down the stigma of men feeling uncomfortable to talk" and as a journey for his own personal growth.

Testicular cancer, also known as "young man's cancer",  is the most common cancer amongst males aged 15 to 45. The earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the better chance of cure, with 95% of testicular cancers being curable with early diagnosis. To encourage this early diagnosis,  OddBalls developed "Check Yourself Guides', which show you how to check for early signs, and through their ambassador programme they help kickstart the conversation surrounding testicular cancer, removing the stigmas around it.

Since starting as an OddBalls ambassador, Kieran has since become the manager of the University Ambassador Programme. He describes the journey as having been “massive, and it only grows every year." The first year of ambassadorship started back in 2017, and now, in year four,  they are “proud to say we have 40 ambassadors scattered across the United Kingdom at different Universities". Kieran describes it as a drastic expansion, due to increased financial support from OddBalls to the foundation, which means there are more ambassadors on the road. These 40 ambassadors have an unparalleled reach to different communities, "with the majority of them having cars, they can drive to schools, businesses and local clubs" to deliver informative talks about  testicular cancer, encouraging an important conversation among young boys. OddBalls sets itself apart from other charities with this method, as it brings the conversation right to you. 

As a foundation and a shop, like most of their industry, OddBalls had to adapt to Covid-19. Kieran highlights that although it limited the in-person talks, the world's shift to Zoom increased their reach and growth. From a commercial point of view "being based purely online as a shop we benefitted as more people were surfing the web, leading to more purchases and an increase in sales and profit”. From a charitable point of view, although we lost our connection with individuals that talking in person brings, the online alternatives "worked really well to be honest, and we have 40 different individuals each reaching multiple classrooms of around 1,200 people per zoom. Of course, both in person and online have their own positives, but we adapted and still got to promote our cause". The in-person talks at schools are so important as they "instil a good habit at a young age"; being a young man's cancer means it is important that boys check their testicles once a month. These talks are heavily encouraged in schools, but are also held in rugby clubs, societies, to working professionals and to young men because “it’s a great reminder and leads to good future fundraising partnerships too." 

This year DUCFS 2022’s creative theme explores identity processes and self-discovery. Reflecting on OddBalls’ identity,  Kieran described it as a "pretty loud, vibrant and positive brand". Through their use of bright colours and patterns, Oddballs are able to  "tackle the difficult stigmas in a light-hearted way – not taking the mick- but encouraging lots of conversations, doing everything with a smile, and being very much family orientated and welcoming." The design process behind the signature bright and bold patterns is all from "Newcastle, where the designers use their creative sparks", creating signature designs which speak for the brand’s identity, and, as Kieran explains, encourages conversation; "for a guy or girl to be wearing these, you have to be pretty bold and willing to get involved in the foundation”. 

Kieran emphasises Oddball’s power of using young people to generate a change and ignite a conversation, noting that “it’s very powerful to have young people up on stage talking to other young people, especially if you see someone standing in front of you that you know." This sense of trust between young people means that, on social media, they receive daily messages about something that might not be right, or something someone has found on their testicles. From here the team encourages everyone to remain positive but book a GP appointment as soon as possible. “It is one of the most curable cancers and plenty more can be done.” 

Kieran describes the ambassador programme as the thing he is most proud of, and he himself has led different campaigns to help push the knowledge of this programme and the work they do. During Christmas last year they launched the "My Ball Balls Campaign" and this month they are launching another campaign. Kieran also organised the first Rugby 7's Tournament at Kingston Park in memory of Tom Miller, an OddBalls University Ambassador who sadly passed away last year. This tournament saw 20 teams come together and Kieran describes it as "a really humbling day, to celebrate Tom and the work of the charity."  

Lastly, Kieran and I spoke about how to get involved in the ambassador programme. It runs from August to August, and it's a new ambassador each year giving a new individual the opportunity to represent OddBalls and “bring energy and new creativity to the team." If you would like to get involved or know more about the ambassador programme, please drop Kieran or George (the other Ambassador manager) an email at kieran@myoddballs.com or george@myoddballs.com 

If you’d like to find out more about OddBalls and their programmes, DUCFS are hosting a workshop this Thursday 11th November at Revolution Bar, Durham. Come and see the OddBalls team from 6:30 for a chance to learn more about the Foundation.

We hope to see you on Thursday at Rev’s to learn more! 


New interviews are released every Sunday and new articles every Thursday.

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