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Later, after looking for something that offered more flexibility around her young children, Mrs Heffernan combined an interest in fashion with her health background.
In January, the Auckland woman launched Lissy Clothing, with an initial range of sun protection dresses for women.
Skin cancer was ''entirely preventable'' yet New Zealand still had the highest incidence and mortality rates of melanoma in the world, Mrs Heffernan said.
That knowledge, and her background where she dealt first-hand with the sad impact of skin cancer on families, inspired her to create her own business.
Originally from Tauranga, Mrs Heffernan completed her nursing degree at Otago Polytechnic in 2000. She then worked at Dunedin Hospital for a few years, before heading back to the North Island to work.
After 16 years nursing, the mother of twin 5-year-old daughters decided she would like to do something that was more flexible around school hours.
Children were well catered for in the market but she wanted women to have the best protection possible from the sun while looking good at the same time.
''That's why I founded Lissy Clothing, because sun protection and style should go hand-in-hand,'' she said.
It was a steep learning curve, and it took a lot of research and nearly a year to find the right fabric, which she wanted to be high quality.
Mrs Heffernan settled on an Italian eco-friendly fabric made from 100% regenerated fibre from pre and post consumer materials, which she sourced from a wholesaler in Australia.
The garments, which had ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) 50+, were made in New Zealand.
Feedback from customers had been positive. The dresses were not only for the beach or throwing over swimsuits, as she initially thought.
Mrs Heffernan was ''extremely excited'' when she saw a woman wearing a Lissy dress in the supermarket.
Over time, she intended to expand the range, providing a greater variety of garments for women.