LUTZ — When Olav Malm went up to the thrift store register with an armful of women's undergarments, the cashier gave him a weird smirk.
But after he told her about his plans for the 12 brassieres, her smirk turned into a warm smile.
Malm and his wife and business partner, Lori, have started a bra brigade of sorts, collecting them as part of a fundraiser to promote breast cancer awareness and prevention. Their collection tops 150 so far.
Passers-by slow down and gawk at the red, lacy, old-school granny and big-mama colossal bras that hang like laundry outside of Cameo Salon & Spa on Collier Parkway.
For each new or gently-used bra they receive at Cameo, the Malms will donate a buck toward breast cancer prevention. The salon will donate another $8 to the cause for every reduced-price, $8 Redken Conditioning Cocktail Treatment done this month.
Olav Malm, who used to work in the emergency room at University Community Hospital in Tampa, said he wants to raise $4,000 to give back to his former employer to pay for 40 local women to receive mammograms.
"Cancer's an ugly demon," said Malm, who has been dubbed by his employees "the bra-tender." "If everybody helps, we're hoping to give some people the choice to get a mammogram. It's all about early detection."
Malm and his wife got the bra-hanging idea from a trip to his home country, Holland, a few years ago, when they spotted bras hanging all around a little shop in honor of breast cancer awareness. They were tickled and decided to bring to bring the idea back home to Lutz.
Malm hasn't had any family members or close friends suffer from breast cancer, but it's personal for some of his clients, like Valentine Muñoz, 73, who brought four new bras to the beauty shop.
"I've lost two very dear friends to breast cancer," she said. "I guess it's partly personal. Breast cancer is something both men and women face. And it's something we need to do everything we can to find a cure for."
Anyone can add a new or used bra to the Cameo collection. Malm carefully hangs the string of bras outside each day. The staff removes them at closing time. At the end of the fundraiser, the Malms will donate the pile of brassieres to a local shelter for battered women.
Leigh Frayn, 48, of Lutz recently stopped in for a hairdo and later returned with 13 bras "just to raise people's awareness about cancer," she said.
"It's kind of a universal hope that we get a cure," said Muñoz of Tampa.
"And of course, for women, the mammogram is the first step of discovery. So, it's very important."
And, for women who lack health insurance, a free mammogram could be a lifesaver, said Muñoz, who described the Malms as a very charitable couple.
"When you do these things, it feels good," Malm said.