FEATURE: Cups & Downs

Can it ever get too big? Lingerie Insight speaks with a series of intimate apparel brands about whether the fuller cup sector is increasingly becoming over-saturated and questions if the smaller sizes are being left inadequately catered for in the rush to upsize.

The full cup sector is becoming more saturated,” claims Bestform marketing services manager Karen Crawford.

Today’s society is obsessed with the bigger bust, with women resorting to inserts, push up bra’s, creams and even surgery to boost their assets. Yet, those assets are already naturally increasing, with women now sporting larger breasts than ever before.

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And, as the demand for larger cup sizing has continued to rise over the past decade, bigger bra’s have become more and more commonplace in-store. Large cup sizing is now not only readily available in specialist retailers but also via many retail segments, such as department stores and mail order.

It used to be that simply being bigger than the rest was enough to gain notice, but now that the fuller cup sector has quite literally grown, brands need to go that step further in order to attract their customer.

Bestform intends to do just that. Over the coming year, it will be introducing to the collection a series of new shapes, including shapewear, moulded cups and lightly padded bras. For SS13, it will also be adding new styles Antalya, Bristol, Imperia and Lugano.

“Our French design team are very proactive in keeping abreast of trends in outerwear, underwear and swimwear,” expands Crawford, “and will access all areas for inspiration.”

Bestform is not the sole brand who recognises the issue of crowding in the market place. Miss Mandalay is a lingerie and swimwear brand that specialises in sizes 28” D to HH cup and 30” C to HH cup. According to founder Lorraine Morton, there is a big danger in the fuller figure sector becoming too popular.

“I think the market is saturated,” she says, “as even in the seven years since our launch we have seen bigger brands, and even small designer lingerie brands, jump onto the large cup brand wagon. The shame is that often they don’t understand the technical fit required for full cup bras and the product doesn’t deliver.

“There has also been a huge increase in retailers launching their own label full bust ranges, which has saturated further. Saying that, I’m sure a great fitting product with strong PR and marketing could probably squeeze in.”

Success, states Morton, is by no means certain as there are myriad challenges that those seeking to enter the full cup sector must face. She claims that the sector is tough at both the manufacturing stage and the retail buying stage, and attributes this to the range of sizes involved.

“One range alone can have 40 plus cup sizes and this can bring minimum production issues per size,” she explains. “For retailers, it is often a tough buy, as they have to commit more floor space given the huge size range.”

Panache is the umbrella business for fuller cup brands Panache Superbra, Panache Swimwear, Panache Sports, Cleo, Atlantis and Masquerade. It offers a wide array of full cup sizes, from D to KK. Marketing manager Steve Hazlehurst recognises the marketplace has become more competitive but, unlike many others, he considers this to be a positive development.

“It increases the awareness for the D plus market,” Hazlehurst says. “It also gives customers more knowledge regarding fit and creates a positive attitude towards larger cup sizes.”

Over the upcoming year, Hazlehurst is of the opinion that there will be an increase in cup size swimwear in the D plus market, especially products aimed at a younger audience, offering more choice in styles, prints and patterns.

He also believes that sports will definitely be a growing market in 2012, as the summer Olympics inspires people to take up more exercise. For 2012, Panache is introducing new sizes (the sports bra will now be available from a B – H cup) and colour ways, including a patriotic colour way into the Panache Sports brand.

For AW12, inspiration has been taken from ‘Art Deco’ and ‘Art’ decorative throughout the company’s Superbra and Swimwear collections, along with tribal influences through patterns, prints and colours. Masquerade looks to outerwear fashion catwalks, with themes of ‘unearthed treasures’ and ‘opulence’. Cleo focuses on trend, the main one being graphic energy, a strong bold theme combining colour blocking and angular prints for a striking retro feel.

Hazlehurst is not alone in being optimistic. There are others who believe that there is still considerable space within the full cup sector, despite the increasing number of new entrants. One such is Hannah Houston, the marketing manager of fuller cup specialist Curvy Kate, which offers products in a 28” to 44,” from a D to K cup.

“There are only a few brands that stand out to me that provide an extensive full cup range,” Houston says. “With growing bust lines in the UK, it’s no more acceptable to just offer sizes up to a G cup. Women’s busts are growing and more women are also getting fitted. Most women when fitted find they need a far larger cup size than they originally thought – many women are in fact above a G.

“We need to provide styles and shapes that work for these sizes, not just sizes that are gradated up, but styles that really hold, fit, shape and lift a heavier bust. Many brands don’t offer this full size range, especially not one that works well for the customer. It seems there is still only a small offering above a G, especially in pretty, fashionable styles to suit a variety of ages.”

Like Hazlehurst, Houston believes the area of sportswear will be big for the fuller cup sector, this year, along with shapewear and continuity products. She also feels there is a demand for the smaller back sizes, starting from a 26.

Curvy Kate launched the world’s first moulded J cup for AW12. It is now looking to extend its continuity range and is in the midst of designing its first shapewear collection.

“This area is continuing to grow and looks particularly interesting for the fuller bust, fuller figure market,” Houston says.

Eveden UK & Eire sales director Nigel Addison also feels there are opportunities in the fuller cup sector for established companies that continue to correctly predict consumer trends.

“Although there are more and more brands entering the fuller cup sector,” he says, “there are long standing brands which continue to be successful in the market by meeting customer and consumer demand. We feel that we fulfil consumer demand by offering consumers 28” backs, K cups, innovative bra styles such as the moulded Freya Deco soft cup bra to a G cup and trend driven designs such as longline bras to a G cup.”

Addison believes that soft cup bra’s will be a big area of growth over the coming years. The new, Freya Deco moulded soft cup for AW12 is designed to offer comfort, shape, support and fit without the use of wires. The soft cup is seam free and lower cut for a ‘sexy’ plunge, ideal for the younger customer.

The soft cup is tipped by many to be a big seller for 2012, with modern technology being utilised to combine comfort with support for the fuller busted customer.

“We see an increase in soft cup bra’s, as well,” says Simone Perele UK managing director Carole Launchbury. Simone Pérèle has launched a new fuller cup collection, titled Revelation, for AW12. Revelation incorporates three styles, which are available up to an H cup.

“Our customers have been asking for Simone Perele to add larger cups for several seasons,” reveals Launchbury.

The UK managing director expects to see significant growth in the brand’s fuller cup offering, including its 30 backs and continuity lines. With companies increasingly being forced to either specialise in a niche area or to expand their breadth of offering, there are now a number of brands that offer products over a very wide range of sizes, from an A right through to a K or J cup.

In addition to Freya, Eveden is the umbrella company for the Fantasie, Goddess and Elomi brands. It added smaller cup brand Huit to its portfolio around two years ago.

Eveden’s Nigel Addison says: “By adding Huit to our brand portfolio, Eveden now caters from an A to a K cup, offering the smaller busted consumers beautiful lingerie and swimwear along with figure enhancing products, such as the Huit Magic Air bra and Magic Pulp knickers.”

And, according to the sales director, the smaller cup size market is growing, as smaller busted ladies see the increasing range of styles available to their fuller busted sisters and begin to demand an equal level of choice.

Anita UK offers cup sizes AA to J. UK general manager Jemma Barnes believe there is space for growth at both ends of the market “There are still areas for development,” she says, “most especially larger back sizes.”

This doesn’t just extend to Anita’s fuller cup offering – the brand currently offers an A cup up to a 50 back. Over the coming year, the brand is looking to develop its larger sizes and well-structured soft cups, which Barnes agrees with her fellow industry professionals is likely to be a key area for growth. In terms of where the greater choice currently lies, she says: “There is a greater demand in terms of volume and sales for larger cup sizes, but we notice the demand for the smaller sizes, as there are less on the market so, as such – due to the more limited availability – more and more people need to ask for them. We notice and remember the requests, but the volume is definitely smaller in terms of sales.

“UK women’s average cup size has been increasing for years, so it’s merely a question of supply and demand. It is however important to balance this by offering something for everyone and every need.”

Silhouette certainly believes in offering something for everyone, with a size range that extends from AAA to JJ in bands 28 to 46.

Owner Amanda Joynt agrees that there are currently more options in the market for the fuller bust. She says: “The media’s interest in women’s bodies and new trends towards achieving the hourglass figure have all helped boost sales within the sector.

“The marketplace remains fairly over crowded. We are all fighting for the same consumers so staying ahead of the game is hard work. You have to stay optimistic and realise that all competition is healthy and exciting for our industry.”

In terms of smaller cup lingerie, Joynt feels the most space for improvement lies within the medium branded market, which is where she thinks growth is the most likely to stem from over the coming year.

“There is always room for more,” she says. “Let’s keep innovating and pushing boundaries.”

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