Why is the bra not available in my size?

12 Nov 2020 10:18 AM
Annica Svensson

We’re sometimes asked why we don’t offer some of our bras in certain sizes. Here we examine why not every size is made and what determines the size range.

When you’ve found a beautiful bra that seems amazing, it’s only natural to be disappointed when it’s not available in your size. We completely understand that, and so too do most other bra manufacturers and retailers. We’re quite often asked by customers if we can make a particular bra in their size. There are lots of reasons why a certain size offering looks a certain way, at both range and product level, and this is why.

BRODERIE ANGLAISE is available from B to I cups in sizes 80-100.

"A single bra requires a huge amount of stockpile space"

A bra exists in many different sizes due to the dual size system that incorporates both a cup and a back size. If you produce a T-shirt in a wide range of sizes, for example from XXS to XXXXL, that garment will exist in a total of 9 different sizes. For that simple reason it’s easy to produce, manage and stock all sizes.

On the other hand, if you were to produce a bra in the corresponding large range of sizes, in other words from a very small to a very large size, for example 65-125 in AA-K cups, you’d end up with 156 sizes for just a single colour! Suddenly there are very different demands being placed on stockpile management, planning and administration.

“Lovely Lace is available in up to 630 different size and colour variants”

A picture from our stockpile. There are 140 picking bins pictured, each one can only contain one size. Non-wired LOVELY LACE requires 630 picking bins alone, in other words four times more than shown in this picture.

Our best-selling non-wired LOVELY LACE bra is available in 63 sizes with up to 10 colours each. That means that 630 different storage spaces are needed just for LOVELY LACE. When you’re handling that many variants of a single product, you need to carefully plan your material purchasing and production and predict the sizes that will sell better and worse.

When you’re buying a bra from a physical shop, space is much more limited, for obvious reasons, both in the showroom and the stockpile. That means that shops often need to limit the number of different models of bra they stock.

LOVELY LACE is available in up to 10 colours with up to 63 sizes in each. It’s a wonderful comfort bra that provides support up to an H cup, but its non-wired, elastic lace construction and unpadded cups wouldn’t give enough support in a J cup for example.

A manufacturer or retailer doesn’t want to risk ending up with a stockpile of unsold products when there are so many different variants. There is a reason and thought behind why the range of sizes looks as it does. If there are very few sales in a certain cup size, it will quickly be removed from the collection for the next season. In other cases, certain sizes are never made, even at the start of production, because it’s known from experience that they simply won’t sell well enough to justify the enormous amount of work that goes into developing each size.

It may seem like a web shop has an almost unlimited amount of space on its homepage, but even it needs a physical stockpile somewhere. A retailer either has its own stockpile or forwards the orders it receives to a bra manufacturer, for example us, which then sends the products directly to the consumer. This is called drop-shipping and is quite common nowadays. But no matter where a bra is sent from, there needs to be a physical stockpile somewhere. When it comes to bras, there are extra demands on stockpile management due to the sheer number of different sizes. A huge area is required for a stockpile, even for a small product that doesn’t take a lot of space.

Why is a bra so difficult to manufacture?

It’s not just stockpile management but also manufacturing that’s complicated. It’s commonly said that the smaller the garment the harder it is to produce, and that’s especially true for bras. Going back to a T-shirt as an example for comparison, it comprises a total of five panels that need to be sewn together and only requires two different types of material, fabric, neck cuffs and a handful of mostly long straight seams.

A bra is comprised of many different small panels with unusual shapes. It’s significantly more complicated to sew together than a T-shirt.

A bra on the other hand is comprised of 20-35 parts, depending to a certain extent on the model and how it’s cut. Irrespective of the model, a bra is always made from several different materials. Even the very simplest consists of at least one material for the cups, one for the shoulder straps, one for the back, elastic, hook-and-eye fastening as well as clasps to adjust the shoulder straps. Then there may also be lining and padding to consider. It’s not unusual for cups with seams to comprise two different materials, such as fabric and lace.

“Producing a bra is a work of precision”

Many different sewing machines are required during the manufacturing process: 1-needle straight-line stitch, 2-needle straight-line stitch, overlocker, zigzag, three-step zigzag, bar tack, etc. The materials in bras are delicate, and lace and embroidery especially need to be handled with care. Many separate actions need to occur because the short seams require a lot of stopping and starting. There are about 60 different steps to putting together all the different parts of a bra, which is why it takes a long time to manufacture one. It’s also why they have relatively high production costs compared with many other garments. About ten seamstresses are part of the production process to sew a single bra.

So many different variants also require lots of production planning, material purchasing, layout plans, cutting, packaging and labels. When you’re planning production, you don’t just produce the five pieces that are missing from the stockpile, you sew many in one go.

Cut fabric pieces for Cotton Dots bra before they are sewn together during production. They are bundled by size. Thorough planning is required to ensure the right numbers are sewn to restock sizes that are running out. You don’t just sew five pieces that have run out in the stockpile.

The enormous amount of pre-production work

One of the biggest jobs with regard to sizing happens before the bra is put into production. It’s incredibly complicated to perfect the pattern design and size grading of a bra, in other words adjusting the bra pattern for a smaller or larger size so the fit looks just as good for both small and large cups. With a loose-fitting garment like a T-shirt you can do the grading of the pattern pieces automatically with a computer program, but not for a bra, at least not if you pay as much attention to fit and quality as we do at Miss Mary.

Creating the pieces for a bra pattern requires a lot of manual labour. Each additional size demands many extra hours of preparatory work.

LOVELY LACE alone, which comes in 63 different sizes, required our pattern designers to manually enlarge and reduce each pattern piece 63 times. Since every bra consists of 22 different parts, it is a lot of work for just a single size.

At Miss Mary we check each size on test models to ensure that it fits well. This is a time-consuming process that takes a long time due to the many adjustments and changes that need to be made.

”The importance of the material used”

Many underwear materials, such as lace, are delicate, and there’s a limit to what they can withstand. Quality brands only produce sizes that the materials can withstand, taking the wear and tear that the garment will be subjected to into account.

Another thing that affects the number of sizes is the combination of the material and the bra’s construction. A large bust requires more support than a small one, which means that an A cup doesn’t need to be constructed in the same way as a larger cup. Ultimately, it doesn’t require such stable fabric or wide shoulder straps. If you have a small bust you have the freedom to choose delicate non-wired models in soft and sheer lace, something that women with large busts often can’t because they simply don’t offer enough support.

“Stable models that are designed to provide plenty of support are rarely requested by women with A cups”

Conversely, stable models that are designed to provide plenty of support are not as commonly requested by women with A cups. Delicate models with narrow shoulder straps on the other hand sell better in smaller sizes than larger ones, at least amongst our customers, since women with large breasts often want wide padded comfort shoulder straps that can help relieve the shoulders of chafing.

Wide padded shoulder straps are more sought after amongst women with a heavy bust than women with smaller cup sizes. Pictured is the soft DIAMOND bra.

Nowadays, practically no commercial bra manufacturers produce their own lace, since it would make the final garments incredibly expensive. The lace that’s used for underwear is produced by the metre but is not as wide as, for example, a lace fabric that’s used for a curtain, which can be 3 metres wide. Instead, lace for underwear is made in long strips, about 20-30 cm wide, since you often want to make use of the beautiful wave-shaped edges of the lace. It’s often this beautiful lace edging you see on a cup.

It is the wavy edges of the lace strips that are used on bra cups. Pictured is FLORA underwired bra.

Where the lace is positioned on the pattern pieces is carefully planned to ensure it looks good in every size. An A cup and an F cup can therefore look very different, since more of the lace pattern will be visible on large cups, whereas it wouldn’t fit on a small cup. As a designer, you sometimes want to show just a little bit of a material, for example a mesh with a flower-embroidered edge. On a small cup the pattern might take up the whole of the upper cup, while on a large cup the flowers will only be visible on a small part. These laces are delicate, which needs to be carefully considered when planning different sizes. Larger sizes place more demands on the material to properly support the bust.

A typical example of a bra model that has physical limitations is a T-shirt bra with moulded cups. They are hard to produce in sizes larger than an H cup without the shape of the cups being too shallow. This is due to the physical limitations on how much a single piece of fabric can be stretched or moulded. That’s why we recommend cups with seams if you have a very large bust because they provide optimal support. A cup with seams provides support for breasts of all sizes, but especially to larger ones. A bra with deep cups will fit tightly against the body between the breasts, which provides better support for the bust.

A moulded cup, as on STAY FRESH, which is available up to a G cup, is difficult to produce in very large cup sizes since there’s a limit to how much the fabric can stretch without losing its strength and shape. This bra also has unpadded elastic material in the cups that wouldn’t be suitable for a J cup for example.

Supply and demand

Ultimately it comes down to which sizes are most in demand. If you look at statistics and surveys, the most common bra size among women in Europe today is 85D. That’s also consistent with our own sales. The majority of the bras we sell are in C, D and E cups. We try to offer both smaller and larger sizes and as wide a range as possible. We now offer sizes 70-125 and A-J cups, but no model is available in every size. The largest size we offer is a J cup, but since it’s so rarely requested by our customers we’ve decided to only produce one model of bra in that cup size. We also have a couple of models in an I cup. Even though we sell very few models in these sizes, we still try to have a few bras with those sizes in our collection.

“The most common size among women in Europe is 85D”

In the past we offered every model in our collection in an A cup, but since we sold so few of them we removed them from the collection. When we created our Visionary Collection a few years ago, which included some more delicate models, we reintroduced the A cup in our range after it had been absent for a few years. Several of our best-selling models, such as LOVELY LACE, COTTON DOTS and BRODERIE ANGLAIS, used to be available from band size 75, but these disappeared from the collection because they didn’t sell well enough. They’re now available in size 80 and upwards.

With the delicate Visionary products, we reintroduced the A cup to our collection after a long absence.

As a manufacturer we appreciate having a close dialogue with those who wear or want to wear our products. We welcome feedback and hearing what you’re missing from our range, so please keep letting us know what you’d like to see in our range; in the end demand determines supply. In several cases we’ve expanded our collection based on requests we’ve received, but it’s not always possible, depending on the model. One example is that we increased the number of band sizes on several products in the Visionary Collection when they were requested in larger circumferences. If something is only going to sell in limited numbers of a certain size, it’s unfortunately not profitable for us to put in all the time and work that’s required to produce more sizes.

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