Lingerie brands are beginning to realise that there is a growing demand for larger cup sizes as more women discover their true bra size through professional fittings. But are retailers doing enough to meet the changing needs of their customers? Are they ready to think big?
It’s common knowledge, at least in the lingerie industry, that around 85% of women are wearing the wrong bra size. But thanks to social media campaigns spreading the word about the importance of a well-fitted bra and an increase in the number of bra fitting services available, times are changing.
Through education, women are seeing the benefits of a good-fitting bra and discovering that they are a very different size to the 34B they once believed themselves to be – reports show that the most common bra size is now a 36D.
Diet, health and the rise of cosmetic surgery has also played a part in changing the female body over the years, with breasts generally increasing in size.
These factors combined have lead to an increased number of consumers demanding larger bra sizes to provide them with the right level of comfort and support they’ve been craving for.
Lingerie designers have cottoned on to this trend, with some brands developing ranges that start from a D cup and others expanding their smaller-cup collections to include larger sizes.
The large-cup market has never been, well, larger, and new technologies and improved craftsmanship means that fuller-bust bras are now not only functional, but fashionable as well.
But there is a middleman standing between the brand and its end customer. The retailer must choose to stock fuller-bust bras in order for them to sell. So are department stores and boutique owners doing enough to meet the changing needs of the consumer?
Stocking full bust bras: the challenges
Hannah Houston, PR and marketing manager for D-K brand Curvy Kate, believes it’s been a slow process, but retailers are beginning to introduce new sizes, in a variety of styles.
“Curvy Kate recently launched in John Lewis, which has taken 28 backs, as they see many customers refitted who require these sizes. Customers of all ages are requiring larger cup sizes and don’t only want basic black and nude; they want colour and choice,” she says.
“The retailers’ buy has to work hand in hand with how the store’s employees operate though. If the staff are aware of how to fit – they are likely to see the sales of smaller backs and larger cup grow.”
Jennie Field, head of marketing at D+ label Panache Lingerie says retailers who do cater to for the fuller bust do it very well, offering “good brands, size range and excellent services”, but adds that entering the fuller bust market can be daunting for retailers, as it requires a large amount of investment and floor space.
“Stocking every size available for the fuller bust is highly SKU- [stock keeping unit] intensive – our iconic Tango bra has 106 sizes,” she explains.
“It’s no surprise that some mass market fashion retailers may choose not to offer [larger bra sizes] as it requires time, effort and excellent [fitting] services.
“Add this to the fact that most women still think they are an A-D cup, and it’s understandable that they may not wish to invest in the stock and the education of their customer at this point in time.”
Polish designer Ewa Michalak agrees: “This is quite a complex problem. First, to be successful in sales, retailers need to know how to fit bras properly. Then, there’s the matter of the amount of money necessary to invest in all sizes, in all styles to fit every potential customer walking through the door.”
Ewa Michalak specializes in plunge bras, nursing bras, and half cup bras. Her collections range in size from a 30A to a 60L.
“We have around 200 sizes to choose from, 100 of which constitute a kind of “base” in some styles, and 70 of those are considered the most popular,” says Michalak. “So, as you can see, stocking the most popular sizes is already a great investment and what if you wish to give the customers the full assortment of colour and style? That’s really big money at stake.”
Despite the challenges though, retailers may have no choice but to service the fuller-bust market, as women increasingly expect a greater choice of garments.
Stocking full bust bras: the solutions
So how can retailers get over the financial and in-store space restrictions that make it difficult for them to meet to stock full-bust bras, and how do they know what sizes to stock for their particular store and target customer?
Naturana UK sales manager Tom Kavanagh believes introducing professional bra fitting services would help retailers develop an awareness of their customer needs.
“M&S claim that 8,000 women per week go to them for a bra fitting, but it has been questioned as to whether or not they offer the complete or correct service, and that’s why more independent stores are taking up the challenge and offering a much more personal service in a comfortable environment,” he explains.
Naturana recently introduced five new bras under its My Style label in 32-54 backs and B-I cups for SS14. The move comes in line with a strong demand for functional bras in larger cup sizes, with adequate support and stylish details.
The lingerie brand is currently developing larger cup options for its Cybele and Eva fashion collections and expects 80% of its customers to begin stocking bigger cup sizes going forward.
Field believes that the lingerie industry must work hard to shine a light on the “great fit specialist stores” that can “change a woman’s life”.
“As more consumers are seeing that these sizes are available and become more aware of professional fitting and the benefits of a good-fitting bra – more women will want this individual service that the retailers we work with can offer, and more retailers will be encouraged to follow suit,” she explains.
“At Panache, we offer a tailored service to allow our customers to be flexible with their orders, which means they don’t necessarily have to hold every SKU – they can just order smaller quantities at a time,” she adds.
But Houston believes that department stores such as John Lewis, Bravissimo and Debenhams are catching up with specialist stores by offering fit training to lingerie staff, one-on-one customer service and knowledge about the effects of wearing the wrong bra.
“With the increase in fittings, more women are finding out their true size, which Curvy Kate has found is generally smaller in the back and larger in the cup,” says Houston.
Curvy Kate works alongside its retailers to increase awareness about the importance of a good fitting service and the fuller-bust products available on the market.
“We run events and produce fun social campaigns that promote the right fit, such as our ‘Guess the Bra size’ game that ran pre-Christmas and our fitting video that has now received over 450,000 views,” she adds.
“The Curvy Kate product works well for retailers who can fit and encourage the right fit. In the first meeting with a retailer, we can look at size curves with similar retailers and find a product mix that would work for their customer. The more information we can find out on their current customer the better.”
Curvy Kate also discusses the end-consumer’s needs through social media channels and in store. “Through this we hear the thoughts of our fans, the sizes they are crying out for and what they want more of. We can then use this information to support the sales of larger cup sizes.”
Michalak agrees that customers should help retailers understand what styles and sizes they should stock in store.
“Here’s where the customers can show their talents. It is them, who should suggest making the offer more flexible to the salesperson. It is their constant asking about the sizes they need (and the shop has not got in stock) that may influence the shop owner’s decision to try to fill in the gap and start offering wider size ranges,” she explains.
“If there is interest and need on the customers’ side, there will also be a chance to make money for the shop owner – after all that is why you run a shop, isn’t it?”