Questions about the size range we choose to make are amongst the most frequently asked!
For some general background, bras can actually be made in well over 180 sizes. In my new factory in Sri Lanka recently, I saw a LL cup in the making, and band sizes can easily go north of 40". Most brands stick within a smaller number of sizes that suit a specific type of range style, typically going A - DD cup and 32-36. Other brands aim for 'plus size' and start bigger in the band and head well into G cup territory.
It's harder for us, as ours isn't a 'fashion bra' at all, so doesn't have a naturally defined customer base. Enlightened women of every size love eco lingerie if they can get their hands on it! So we flex as high as we can, and in our next black tencel run, we are going to hit 27 sizes for the first time!
The size choices are not philosophical choices, they are practical, around the limitations of the materials we use, and the cost. We hate to exclude anyone who wants to keep a bra out of landfill, but as a small start-up which relies on a pre-sale model rather than a large financial backer to operate in a very capital-intensive industry, we have to work within some limitations. Below are the key ones:
1) Strap elastic width - Typically for larger sizes, brands will use 15mm or wider as a strap, for extra support and less dig in the shoulders. Petite sizes tend to go for 10mm width. However, the Cradle 2 Cradle elastic we buy cannot be bought off the shelf, we have to manufacture a minimum of 12000m of it in any width and it takes 4-6 weeks to knit. It's our biggest single financial outlay. Because of this, we choose to manufacture in 13mm width strap elastic, which covers the broadest amount of sizes possible with comfort. We understand a 38E with a 13mm strap isn't everyone's cup of tea, it works for some, but not for everyone, but these are the compromises we need to make to keep making.
2) Spandex - Spandex is a plastic, a useful synthetic we know which brings stretch and support throughout the body fabric of a garment, but it's one which has no place in our compostable bra. In a traditional large size bra, you can get anywhere between 10 and 40% spandex content to really hold the cup firm, whilst also allowing it to stretch. Without this, there is less 'recovery' in a knitted material with no spandex, and so there are sizes beyond which the bra won't be practical. There is a 'clean' spandex substitute coming to market, but at present, it isn't available in the smaller quantities a smaller brand like us needs, and we aren't yet in a position to buy it in bulk for our knitters to use in our tencel or cotton knitting.
3) Padding - We get asked a lot about this, for smaller cup sizes, but to date, despite trying all sorts of organic cotton and wool wadding materials, we can't find anything that doesn't hold on to water when on the body, or that doesn't shrink multiple times during washing cycles. Once is manageable, but when it shrinks 4 or 5 times, we have distorted our bras. I'm always on the look-out, but for now, we can't make a padded bra.
4) Minimum quantities - Much like the elastic, our factory requires a minimum order in each size, which at present, is 15. As you can imagine, 15 bras in 27 sizes is already an awful lot, but when you consider we sell 100% more 34B than in any other size, the numbers we have to make start to get a little crazy! We are all about not creating waste by not making excess stock in any size, which we can't sell, and so for now, we need to stick within the range that we have and build up our sales, before we make more.
5) Cups over E cup size - Beyond an E cup, a bra has to essentially be redesigned from scratch as the distribution of weight in the larger breast is so different. Whereas all the current sizes we make can be graded up from a basic 34B size pattern using complex but manageable grading rules, anything above an E cup has to be designed from scratch, involving a lot more development cost. I'm super keen to get to G cups in our smaller band sizes - 30-34 at least, where I'm confident the bra will still perform, but we need to grow a bit to have the funds to do this.
So, there it is! This is why we make the sizes we do, and why we are sadly unable to meet the needs of everyone who wants to get their hands on a compostable bra. I hope that over time, if the business can keep growing, particularly though this new covid disaster, then we will be able to do some plus size ranges, and also get to try that new spandex substitute, until then....