Why don’t more indie lingerie brands make wired bras? Pt. 2: materials and sourcing issues

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.

One of my very early bra designs; fabrics like the French lace were relatively easy to source compared to things like good quality wire casing, correctly sized bra wires and shoulder strapping. Design by Karolina Laskowska
One of my very early bra designs; fabrics like the French lace were relatively easy to source compared to things like good quality wire casing, correctly sized bra wires and shoulder strapping.
Design by Karolina Laskowska

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.

Typically a bra will use approximately a metre of shoulder strapping per garment.  Most indie brands don't make in huge quantities so a minimum order like 1000m can suddenly make life very difficult indeed.
Typically a bra will use approximately a metre of shoulder strapping per garment. Most indie brands don’t make in huge quantities so a minimum order like 1000m can suddenly make life very difficult indeed.

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.

This delivery of underwires would be considered tiny in industry... And I still haven't used these up over a year on.
This delivery of underwires would be considered tiny in industry… And I still haven’t used these up over a year on.

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.

The nest of bra wires that I initially intended to use for my first production run. There was a lot of struggle finding wires in manageable quantities and in a suitable profile and length. (I ended up dropping 2 of the larger sizes for the run for financial reasons but I hope to use them eventually!)  Photo by Karolina Laskowska
The nest of bra wires that I initially intended to use for my first production run. There was a lot of struggle finding wires in manageable quantities and in a suitable profile and length. (I ended up dropping 2 of the larger sizes for the run for financial reasons but I hope to use them eventually!)
Photo by Karolina Laskowska

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!

This incarnation of the 'Sayuri' bra from my SS15 collection never made it as a product because the cup foam simply caused too many complications and storage issues. Design by Karolina Laskowska
This incarnation of the ‘Sayuri’ bra from my SS15 collection never made it as a product because the cup foam simply caused too many complications and storage issues.
Design by Karolina Laskowska

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?

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6 thoughts on “Why don’t more indie lingerie brands make wired bras? Pt. 2: materials and sourcing issues

  1. I’m loving this series so much!
    I made three wired bras, one of them is wearable 😉 but doesn’t fit me anymore.
    I’m an absolute amateur so I guess I made like a ton of errors and faulty stuff while I made my bras, but it led me to appreciate indie designers who do make wired bras even more.
    As for resources, if you are just a hobbyist like me, I can highly recommend wien2002.at or their ebay shop – it’s in German, but the lady running the shop is super nice and helpful. They have a ton of lingerie stuff!
    As for the complexity of grading: I never studied that so the only bras I ever made and will make are for myself. I just need to be able to try it on again and again and again 😀
    My favourite indies that produce wired bras are: well, you. The Liliana <3. Alexandrea Anissa – although I don't own any yet. ParaNoire Design – I own some sample pieces, she doesn't do wired bras in a bigger range yet.

    I'm glad that I love bralets so much, it makes it so much easier to shop with indies! 😀
    xoxo liz

  2. Have you ever considired selling your patterns? There is somewhat of a lack of bra patterns in the sewing world, and if you have the patterns already graded its just a matter of packaging, I imagine?

    My favourite indie brand that offers wired bras is playful promises. They really took a risk with their full bust range, I’m so excited for my Juliet bra to arrive! I’d love to see more full bust bras, but as you’ve outlined it mightn’t be worth it.

  3. I don’t advertise it but I do offer wires and certain other components at more wholesale prices to my indie designer customers. My minimums are usually pretty reasonable (100 pairs of wires or 50 per size) bramaking.supplies

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