Hooks and eyes, straps, underwires, cups, band and all the other 12 to 15 parts of the bra need to be stitched together perfectly to get the right fit.
New Delhi: Forget the blushes, the raised eyebrows, and the lewd looks this piece of undergarment may inspire. The brassiere is the most difficult garment of all to engineer – far more challenging than, say, a good pair of jeans, according to Arpita Ganesh, founder of the Indian lingerie brand Buttercups.
It’s all about getting the fit right, and that calls for precision worthy of a Japanese train system. Nothing can be allowed to go wrong; everything must fall into its designated place (on a woman’s body).
It’s imperative for manufacturers to make perfect bras because the market is booming in the need for them. A May 2017 report by business consultancy Wazir Advisors says: “An average Indian woman used to have 4-5 pieces of bras in her wardrobe a few years back, which has now increased to 7-8 pieces.”
This is because of her higher disposable income, aspirational lifestyle, and realising “the importance of intimate wear in providing support to the body parts and keeping the body in the right shape”.
The Indian lingerie market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of over 24 per cent in the period 2018-2023, while the global lingerie market is only expected to grow at about 6 per cent during 2017-2022.
Research available indicates bras and panties contribute to 85 per cent of the total women’s lingerie segment.
“This (women’s intimate wear) segment has outperformed the overall market as well as the men’s segment, which currently holds approximately 35 per cent of the total market,” the Wazir Advisors report said.
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The path to perfection
Suman Chowdhury, co-founder and COO of lingerie startup Clovia, says unlike with outerwear or even underwear, “the fit must be precise and not even 1 centimetre awry. Lingerie sits next to the body. This is innerwear, it should be moulded to the body; move when you move, stop when you stop, be comfortable to wear throughout the day”.
Shoddy jobs are a dime a dozen in the industry; and here’s why. “It takes about a year to develop a bra style and get the sizing and fit right. At the very least, anyone who takes less than three months to develop a bra is not innovating but imitating existing styles that really don’t fit too well,” says Ganesh, now a 10-year industry veteran.
“When you get down to designing a bra, there’s a globally accepted standard sizing chart that fits the Indian body type. You start with this sizing, and then start making customisations – that’s the tricky part. For example, a 34B bra size will look completely different on three different body sizes. The same bra won’t fit these three women the same way,” says Chowdhury.
“Extensive trials and testing is done to get the right bra fit – adjustments are done for shape and separation of breasts, stretchability of fabric, and cup shape. At Clovia, we have introduced guidelines on breast shape and separation, to help customers make the right fit choice,” he adds.
The bra must be made to fit every Indian woman of this vast subcontinent, for whom, according to Shruti Behal, head of product design at PrettySecrets, another local lingerie band, “the typical bra size ranges from 34C-40C”.
There are also the outliers – the B, the D, the proverbial DD, and E cup sizes to consider.
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Pains of precise design
According to Chowdhury, lingerie designing and cutting is now done with CAD software (computer-aided design software) for precise measurements. Very little is left to human error.
And yet, Chowdhury, a lingerie design veteran with 18 years of experience, says one only starts becoming proficient at lingerie design and development after years of working at it. Most of the design graduates who go to work in the lingerie industry unfortunately don’t have in-depth acumen to produce a bra that is fit to be worn; they only start learning on the job.
The pains of precise design then grow into the pains of manufacturing. “Hooks and eyes, straps, underwires, cups, band and all other 12 to 15 parts of the bra need to be stitched together perfectly to get the right fit, which is what makes the bra such a technical challenge,” says Ganesh.
It only gets more complicated. When it comes to getting the fit right, Ganesh says the biggest error in judgement among lingerie makers is trying to use the same measure for cup sizes while increasing band measurements for different bra sizes and styles.
It is this sheer requirement of technical expertise in design, material, and acumen about a woman’s anatomy that makes this garment the hardest to get right.
But bra tech has improved enough to leave behind the white cotton cone-shaped bras.
It’s certainly welcomed by the Indian woman, who now prefers the t-shirt bra style, with no seams running along the middle of the cup – in pinks, nudes or quirky prints; in skin-friendly, moisture absorbent fabrics like the nylons, polyesters and lycras.
One of the better innovations in accurate fitting is the change in underwire that runs around the bottom of a bra cup. Earlier, underwire was made in plastic or a mix of other metal components.
It is now made of galvanised steel – it’s more flexible and moves with the body; in some, the tippings are edged with silicon or rubber to avoid cutting into the body. These new-age wires lie flat and are rounded in shape for flexibility – the newer version is better and is less painful to wear, assures Chowdhury.
Expertise costs money
“Today, intimate wear is not only a bare necessity but also a fashion item. They (customers) are willing to spend more if given better quality, better comfort, and better brand,” the Wazir Advisors report said.
Bra manufacturers understand and capitalise. Experts say that in general, the cost of manufacturing a non-padded bra is around Rs 100. The cost of manufacturing a padded bra is around Rs 230-250.
A beginner’s bra from Jockey is Rs 369, a Marks and Spencer bra could be over Rs 3,000 – as premium as it gets in India.
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With all its quasi-rocket science technicalities and rising demand, it’s no wonder a bra sometimes cost a fortune. And where a pair of Levi’s jeans may start around Rs 2,500 and (denim experts swear) can be worn as long as you take good care of it, a bra’s shelf life runs out alarmingly fast.
According to Ganesh, even the most premium bras are only good for 100 wears. The more economical ones are good for not more than 40-50 wears. The shelf life of a bra is up to five or six months, says Behal.
The price factors in the time, expertise, material and the complexity of the bra.
“I told you”, says Chowdhury. “The bra is in and of itself a technical garment.”