This is part two of a series deconstructing the intricacies of wired bras and their significance to independent lingerie designers. Part one can be read here.
Wired bras are incredibly complicated when it comes to materials. Whereas a soft cupped bralet can be stripped down to fabric and elastic and still function, wired bras are engineered such they they need specialist fabrics and components.
Let’s consider a basic, unpadded, underwired bra. Typically, it would use a minimum of ten seperate types of fabric and component: a decorative outer fabric, a non-stretch nylon liner, a stretch powernet for the wings, underband elastic, shoulder strap elastic, rings, sliders, hook and eye fastening, underwire casing and bra wires. That’s a lot of individual parts for an independent brand to source, especially since many of these are difficult to find on a small scale.
There are very few wholesale stockists of these fabrics and notions. Most of them have high minimum order quantities that can be prohibitive for small designers. It is typical for manufacturers and suppliers of things like bra wires, sliders and hooks and eyes to set their minimums at 1000pcs+ for each variant of product. My elastic supplier’s minimum is 1000m for their basic styles and colours: specialist and coloured products can easily rise to 10,000m. Most independent brands simply don’t operate at these kinds of volumes and absolutely can’t afford to buy so much in one go. For a designer who sews from home, this becomes impossible to achieve.
Admittedly, the increasing popularity of hobby sewing means that there are now quite a few stockists of lingerie notions and fabrics. Whilst these are great for home sewing projects, the high retail prices are often prohibitive for independent designers. When a pair of bra wires alone costs £2, typical wholesale and retail margins will quickly multiply this into £10 of the final garment cost. It can become incredibly difficult to make a profitable product when sourcing materials at these high retail costs.
Bra wires alone can cause even the largest of independent designers huge headaches. Stylesheets and size increments vary greatly between suppliers; once you find a suitable bra wire, you tend to stick with it (especially since you’ll be required to order 1000s of pieces anyway, which should last a good few seasons!). Different bra types (be that plunge or balconette) need different wire shapes. Different size groups require different wire gauges (of particular note are fuller bust bras, which need a heavier wire to offer sufficient support). There is no ‘one size fits all’ wire, and bras have to be developed around a specific wire from the very start.
Sourcing issues become even more of a nightmare when you consider the possibility of padded bras. Not only is bra padding difficult to find in manageable quantities (in the financial sense!), it takes up a huge amount of space: and that’s just the PU-foam that can be rolled up. One of the main reasons that I phased out padded bras from my lingerie brand is because of the storage space issues they create. Molded cups have to be specially made with industrial machinery; unless a suitable pre-made form is found (which is extremely difficult to source at a good price!), these remain firmly in the realm of mass-manufacturing.
The material issues that wired bras incur can be distilled down to two main problems: suppliers and money. Without inside industry knowledge, it can be near impossible for an independent brand to find suitable suppliers of the specialist materials required. Even if suitable suppliers are found, it often becomes an insurmountable challenge to even afford their minimum order quantities, let alone to dream of getting through such quantities of material!
I’m in a very fortunate position now wherein my brand gets through a lot of elastic strapping, wire casing, sliders and bra wires. Consequently, I can afford to justify to purchase these by the 1000s. However, just a couple of years ago this would have been impossible. I simply didn’t have the cashflow, storage space or sales to justify buying at these quantities. I can see why for many brands, the solution to these issues is to simply not offer wired bras.
Of course, the story of wired bras gets even more complicated than just pattern cutting and materials. In part 3 I’ll be discussing the problems incurred by grading and sizing.
If you’ve ever made a wired bra, how easy was it for you to find suitable materials? Who is your favourite independent brand that offers wired bras?