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Building A Better Bra Market: The H+ Cup Conundrum

Image via Bravissimo

Image via Bravissimo

As the D through G market grows by leaps and bounds, the H+ cup market is limping along and falling behind. This isn't a new issue: it's discussed extensively in forums, on blogs and even in the comments around here occasionally. Today I'm going to cover this issue from all sides. Like most issues that pertain to how lingerie gets made it involves money, consumer demand, design difficulty, and international markets. I'm also going to talk about what upset consumers can do to help this part of the market thrive.

The Consumer Side:

First, let's talk about the issues. If you go to any major lingerie website, check out the availability in two representative sizes, like 34H and 34G. If we're using a site like Figleaves as an example, it's easy to see the difference. Searching for a 34G bra pulls up 24 pages of results, while searching for a 34H bra pulls up only nine pages. If you search for a 34HH (my size) bra, it pulls up only five pages. It's not just the number of bras that diminishes either, but the available styles. Colorful options disappear almost entirely, leaving only the dreaded beige t-shirt bra of doom.

Image via Ewa Michalak

Image via Ewa Michalak

So where can you buy fashionable bras in larger cup sizes? The UK and Poland. While sites like Bravissimo offer a wealth of great options, shipping is expensive and returns are even pricier. Polish companies are still offering lovely options, but there's lots lost in translation and sometimes the language barrier is enough to prevent ordering by email. If your bra doesn't fit, you're still stuck with an expensive return or getting rid of it through a swap/sell community.

This leaves consumers in a bind: if you're in the US, you're forced to choose between some pretty slim pickings and the unknown of international ordering with the possibility of zero returns.

The Retailer Side:

H+ cups and 28 band bras are actually in a similar situation for most retailers. Both categories see lots of returns and both are rarer for small retailers to come across. This means that they may not be worth stocking at all if you're a small boutique. H+ cups can be considered risky stock, which means that both online and brick-and-mortar retailers can have a harder time with them and end up with lots at the end of the season.

Image via Herroom. Part of the limited K cup expansion of Parfait by Affinitas.

Image via Herroom. Part of the limited K cup expansion of Parfait by Affinitas.

The Designer Side:

I know several designers personally who would love to expand their range to include K cups --- and can't because none of their retailers would be willing to stock them. H+ cup bra development is more expensive and more difficult as breast size and shape varies wildly in the larger cup sizes. From a monetary perspective, companies can't afford to spend money developing a new style or expanding into a range that will most likely sell fewer bras than their current bestseller in a new fashion color.

Potential Solutions:

While negotiations between brands and retailers are complex, there are some things we can do as consumers to show that there is demand for these bras.

  • Don't wait for the sale! One way to show demand for a specific bra is to buy it right away instead of on sale. I love sales as much as the next person, but a sale bra is a bra that is risky stock.
  • Show demand in small boutiques. Small boutiques can be great stockists for new brands. The great ones are also pros at listening to what their customers want, so make sure to talk to them about the sizes you want to buy and to special order them if possible through the boutique.
  • Social media can be a powerful tool to communicate with companies both large and small. Use it. Let companies know what you'd like to see in your size, whether that's leopard print or plain white t-shirt bra.

What kinds of bras would you like to see in the H+ cup market? Where are you currently buying your bras?