Push Manufacturing Bras

Miracle sends a link to an interesting article by Jessica Seigel entitled Bent Out of Shape; it’s about the hazards and horrors of bra fitting, sizing and shopping. Buried within the text of the article is this:

Part of the reason you can’t find that bra you liked so much last year is because it doesn’t exist anymore. Today’s cookie-cutter styles are more structurally alike and discontinued faster than in the past, according to industry insiders. “We used to do two to three styles a year. Now we do nine,” says Valerie L.Heinen, who has been a designer for 30 years and now works at Lilyette, a division of Maidenform.

As conglomerates have gobbled up smaller companies, the industry’s focus has switched from fit to fashion, says Marshal Cohen, co-president of the market research firm NPD Fashionworld. “The bra consumer is very frustrated,” he says. As Cohen sees it, manufacturers are being driven by market leader Victoria’s Secret, which has managed to define, as its ads proclaim, “What is Sexy?”. Scrambling to sell seductive uplift rather than comfortable support, bra manufacturers have sometimes let such basics as lining scratchy elastic and raw edges fall by the wayside.

If you recall, I mentioned that push manufacturing is leading the downward spiral in apparel fit and sizing due to the nature of their push manufacturing model. Judging from the above quote, one can see that Victoria’s Secret (a push manufacturer) has enough weight to subvert the fit feedback loop as well. As I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, push manufacturing subverts the fit feedback loop resulting in entropy of fit. Unfortunately, it seems that VS has the power to drag other bra makers down with them, dramatically increasing widespread consumer dissatisfaction. Still worse, bra makers have successfully projected fit responsibilities back to the consumer and I think that’s dishonest. If you have a problem with your product, own up to it and fix it. If you can’t fix it, you should not encourage your customers to blame themselves; that’s karmically risky.

I close with this quote:

Bra design has been called the rocket science of apparel, so who better to consult next than a rocket scientist? …So according to the engineering analysis of a man who has helped design space shuttles, personal “defects” like a thin chest wall, protruding ribs, and low-lying breasts didn’t cause my hooter hell. The bra did-and switching sizes made absolutely no difference. “Women are fed bizarre stories,” says Tyrer. “You’re told that your breasts are all different, that you have heavy tissue, light tissue. That’s snake oil. When you don’t fit their idealized set, they blame you.”

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16 comments

  1. Kathy says:

    So true, all of it. As someone who has been at the mercy of bra manufacturers for years at a 34G cup, I have seen the breadth of sizes and shapes dwindle in the past few years. Victoria’s Secret carries a paltry selection of sizes and women seem to think they are the mecca of bras, then feel like there is something wrong with *them* if the bras just don’t fit. The funniest part, to me, is that V.S. doesn’t carry proper sizes for many of the very models who showcase their merchandise! Insane.

  2. Alison says:

    Ok, so that’s what it’s called. I’ve been seeing this for years but didn’t know it was called “push manufacturing.” I will have to tell DH that he’s been a victim of a subverted feedback loop.

    I had an interesting experience a few months ago when I was awarded a gift certificate at work. I looked over the retailers I could choose to request the gift certificate from, none appealed, so I sent it to DH thinking that he would like to use it for Home Depot or something.

    The dear man thought that as I earned the gift certificate I should get something for me, so he requested it from La Senza. I groaned when he told me, but he assured me that he’d been to their website and they carried bras in “my size.” Ahem. Well.

    We spent over two hours in their largest Montréal area boutique. I must have tried on every style they had. I did find one they sold as a “sports bra” that was acceptable, and made up the balance of my gift certificate with thongs.

    It was actually a good experience because DH no longer complains quite as bitterly about the Hitchcock-style bras I wear on weekdays (when he is unlikely to see them): he now understands that just because something is called a bra doesn’t mean it has any function, and that shortening straps isn’t the answer to everything. He’s seen the strap lines for himself.

    But this is where I see a market: functional, supportive underwear for people who believe that “real” bras that “ordinary” people wear are what you can buy at La Senza and Victoria’s Secret, and that only old ladies and frumps with no imagination buy those icky beige Playtex things.

    Ok, if that’s what you want, let’s redesign the Playtex 18-hour bra in colours. With no lace anywhere. Some versions with smooth moulded cups and some with retro seaming. Let’s keep the wide padded straps, but make them the kind of thing that you would want to flash from under a boat-necked t-shirt: some nice techy fabric like you would see in an outdoor-gear boutique – say, kevlar mesh – padded with colourful polar fleece.

    I understand that the underwear market has changed, and that Tippi Hedren’s girdled torso has given way to the free and muscular body of the rock climber in the popular imagination. Ok, so redesign underwear for the new market… keeping in mind that women’s bodies, overall, are lumpier today than they were in Hitchcock’s time.

  3. Kathleen says:

    Ok, if that’s what you want, let’s redesign the Playtex 18-hour bra in colours. With no lace anywhere. Some versions with smooth moulded cups and some with retro seaming. Let’s keep the wide padded straps, but make them the kind of thing that you would want to flash from under a boat-necked t-shirt: some nice techy fabric like you would see in an outdoor-gear boutique – say, kevlar mesh – padded with colourful polar fleece.

    Truer words -from a 34G- have never been spoken! :)

  4. Thomas says:

    Kathleen, I would be less inclined to blame Victria’s Secret for the marketers chasing a product niche and put the blame on the leadership of the other manufacturers for abandoning their customers. A key component of the move away from Push Production is an awareness of your customer and their true needs. From what you posted, there is a large part of the market that needs something other than what VS is selling – sounds like a great marketing opportunity to me, for a company that is truely focused on the customer.

  5. Diane says:

    I vote for a great fitting bra that functions properly as a hooter holder AND looks pretty. A little lace goes a long way when playing Peek-a-boo.

  6. Jennie says:

    Victoria’s Secret is exactly why I started making my own bras. I was taken in with the hype, etc. of Victoria’s Secret (marketing goes a long way in our society!), but when it came to wearing their designs…I just couldn’t. I am a 34DDD – which they don’t carry, but I did buy a 36DD. I’ve worn it twice in two years after paying over $50.00. It feels like wearing a plastic bowl because the padding is so hard! I just wanted a t-shirt bra, not a bullet-proof bra! I do have a couple of sheerish, sexy bras from Victoria’s Secret, but not everyday wear…too fragile!

    Also, maybe we need to do a better job at educating our daughters about functionality…I always bought for fashion just assuming a bra would do what it was supposed to do until I started really doing some research. I was simply never told what to look for!

    Lastly…men have to take some blame (at least my husband does!). When I showed him what makes a good-fitting bra (for example the bridge lying on the chest, no ‘spill-over’, etc.), he insisted that he thinks I should wear a bra that doesn’t fit then because he likes that ‘too small’ look!

  7. VSEmployee says:

    I enjoyed reading the article as it really struck a chord with me. I am currently a design student and have spent the last few years working for Victoria’s Secret. I’m 21 years old and wear a 34F. I receive over $300 in free bras a year from the company and end up giving some of them away to my sisters and mother (all of whom are 34, 36 and 38Bs). Though I do hang on to some of them in order to cut them open and see how they are made. Call it research, I may start my own undergarment line someday.

    You don’t know how many women actually blame THEMSELVES for the bras not fitting. I never tell my customer it is her fault. How can I? I can’t wear any of the bras without flashing someone. I tell them honestly that the bras are manufactured in different countries, hence the brands and even individual styles rarely fit the same across the board. But I don’t tell them that the bras are bought by buyers and rarely designed by VS.

    I do have quite a few issues with the company because of the extremely limited size runs. In fact, most styles are manufactured from only 34A-D, 36B-D to 38C-D, while many of my customers are 32AA to 44F. The company spends too much on the bras made for the enjoyment of men and not enough catering to most of the women that walk through the doors. After all they are a mass retailer. It is sad when you have customers who come in excited about getting a VS bra and end up having to go to Lane Bryant or Frederick’s (the bras are especially bad but at least they have rare sizes). Sorry bout the rant but I felt it necessary to speak up this time. Love the site BTW , it’s extremely helpful!

  8. charlotte says:

    “entropy of fit” may be the best phrase I’ve heard all day! Now my wacky and disheartening experience at VS makes a lot more sense to me. Thanks kathleen!

  9. Natalie says:

    If buying a good fitting bra was hard before, it got almost impossible after having a lumpectomy and radiation. Even though it’s been four years since I had radiation, my skin has to have soft breathable fabrics. According to my doctors, skin sensitivity following surgery and radiation can go away quickly, but it is also common for the sensitivity to remain with you.

    Current bra fabrics and cut are instruments of the Spanish Inquisition. Think hooter screws for the cups and the iron maiden for the rib case fit. So, I wear cotton camisoles and Hanes light cotton sports bras, but I’m a 36 A-B and that works for me.

    Finding something that will truly fit you, is a problem no matter what your cup or rib case size. I think I’ll crank up my sewing machine and make my own bras and lingerie.

  10. Donna says:

    as a professional bramaker, I see the dissatisfied client ‘cast-offs’ from name bra manufacturers all the time. Even specialised boutiques who willingly advertise that they can fit all sizes, now seem to be finding that they are not able to fulfill the brafitting demands of clients. Almost with exception, my clients report that they have spent ‘hours’ at those boutiques trying on many, many bras and steadily becoming more convinced that their search for fit and comfort is hopeless. Women, it seems, don’t even expect comfort any more! How sad that women can’t except and rejoice in their uniqueness, thinking instead that they must somehow conform to someone else’s idea of fashion. (P.S. as a bramaker, I can report that in my opinion not all of those VS bras fit the models who show them off…….)

  11. Bo Breda says:

    So, now that we all agree the situation is unacceptable, what can we do as consumers ??
    (by the way I’m a 32F – try finding a bra!)

    I’m also a former professional knitwear designer and run a fashion design program at a major design school. We have been advised to not bother teaching bra design, since there are so few jobs.

    What it seems to me we need is a grassroots uprising. I’m not very politically minded, but if I were, I’d try to set up some kind of organization to address this issue. Right now all I do is cry each morning when I open my lingerie drawer.

    Any experienced rabble rousers out there? And what about Donna, the bramaker? Does she have a business? Can we work with her?

  12. clf says:

    Wow, this post really hits home for me. What is going on with bra manufacturers and sizing these days? I was a 36C for many years and then gained some weight and jumped to a 38C, which I’ve worn for the last 8 years or so.

    Last year I was thrilled to find that Lane Bryant made bras in my size, with wide, cushiony straps, stretchy and comfy cotton cups and underwire for support. I bought a few of these t-shirt bras. Now a year later, it’s time to replace these bras (as they were pretty well made and became my staples). I go to Lane Bryant last week and they no longer carry the model. I pick one that’s similar, try it on in a 38D (keep in mind that I weigh the same as I did last year) and I could barely breathe with the darn thing on the last clasp of the strap. The same thing happened to me at Target. Tried the 38C and once again, too tight and spilling out of the cups.

    This drove me crazy, so I came home and measured myself. My measurement under the breasts at the rib cage is 34 inches. My bust apex measurement is 39-40 inches. My high bust is 36 inches. I’m busty but well on the side of “average” and I can’t find a damn bra to fit me properly. I can only imagine how it is for other women.

    I definitely want to learn to design and sew my own, but it seems like an intimidating and mysterious process.

    I’m starting to consider going bra-less and letting it all hang out in protest!

  13. Laureen says:

    I can relate to this issue, being undersized in the bra area~ What used to be comforting style is no longer comfortable, nor stylish! I would love to manufacture custom bras but found it difficult to extract the detailed instructions from my fashion design program instructors (conflict of interest!) I connected with a store that offered a class, registered and found it cancelled due to “lack of interest”. Amazing!
    Either people find it too daunting to learn or are apathetic to their own needs for a comfortable fit with some measure of style!
    My solution: let us form a group to support a focus on designing with style to fit! I have been sewing for over 40 years and would an opportunity to learn from others’ manufacturing & design experiences.
    BTW: Love this website!

  14. I would love to manufacture custom bras but found it difficult to extract the detailed instructions from my fashion design program instructors (conflict of interest!)

    I’m not sure it’s a conflict of interest. The safest (default) assumption should be ignorance or stupidity, not malice. That’s a general rule of life. Even knowing as much as I do about manufacturing, you’d be hard pressed to extract that from me. In my experience, instructors readily admit they don’t know much about manufacturing much less bra manufacturing. A lot of teachers hang out here to learn more about it. And then they’re hamstrung by competing agendas -not necessarily of their own making.

    We have a support group where we learn from the manufacturing and design experiences of others. You’re welcome to join it too.

  15. Carey Pumo says:

    It’s been a while since the last post, but I’ll jump in now since I’m reading this for the first time today. I am a custom bra-maker despirately in search of clients. My take on the push manufacturing is that the public has been trained to accept that fit issues are their fault and therefore they are doomed to wearing uncomfortable (even painful) bras. When I tell people about the services that I offer, they look at me like I have tow heads. And even if I get a positive response from them, no one is willing to go the next step and commit to paying for custom services. Is it because my tartget client is a women?! Most men that learn about my business see the benefits and try to get their significant others to partake.

    So now that I have the knowlegde and materials to do something about the problem but have no clients, I’m facing a decision to manufacture bras instead of doing pure custom work.

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