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Sonntag, 2. Februar 2014

[English] Big Cup Bras and Pricing Policies

Hello again, dear non-German speaking people. I know it's been a while that I wrote sth in English. As you may know, once upon a time I thought bilingual postings would be a brilliant idea only to realise a short while later that I did not even have the energy for writing a post once, let alone twice and since there are already so many great anglophone bra fitting blogs around, I decided to stick with German. So why this posting now? Simply because I feel like answering to some sort of discussion that took place on Twitter a couple of days ago, concerning the prices of bras in larger cups sizes.

Before I discovered British brands I had tried a lot of companies that were (and are) more commonly available in German shops. Of these, the only one I was satisfied with regarding style, shape and support was Prima Donna, a big cup brand by the Belgian Van de Velde-group. For one bra I paid on average 70€; non-sale-items were usually a bit more expensive (rangeing from 80 to 110€) whereas when you were lucky, you could buy a barely worn second hand bra on eBay for about 40€.

I used to joke that my bras were my most expensive piece of clothing, often even more expensive than my shoes or my winter coat. 

Then, even before I found my beloved Busenfreundinnen-forum, I realised that you could buy bras in larger cups sizes for a lot less money on eBay UK. After that I also discovered Brastop and all the regular (non-sale) online shops like Figleaves and Bravissimo, Bras Galore and Bras & Honey etc. The prices were about half the price I’d pay in a German lingerie store – even if purchased online – and I was in heaven.
After realising that a 32HH would be a much better sizing choice than my initial 36FF/G, some of the newly found delight about the paradisiac amount of choice was taken from me since many styles were not available above a G-cup.  And of the remaining styles many did not appeal to my taste (I really don’t like colourful flower patterns) or simply did not fit. 

This is one of the reasons, why I’m so focused on bra fitting and rather indifferent to all the stylish, fashionable lingerie out there. I see a bra first and foremost as a piece of functional clothing. That does not mean that I do not understand the frustration of many of my big boobed blogger collegues who complain about the limited choice and the rather high prices. Which now, finally, brings me to the topic…

Starting points of the discussion seemed to have been a couple of statements and complaints about the limited size range of brands and the prices for big cup bras. 

I think everyone who has ever had anything to do with bra fitting, especially above or below a certain breast size, got an impression of how difficult it must be to construct a proper fitting bra. There are so many aspects to be considered as breasts differ a lot in characteristics. (Breast root, form, volume etc.) Plus there are features not directly connected to the breast size like narrowness of shoulders, ribcage width etc. So building a bra that actually works for many women of the targeted size range requires extraordinary crafts(wo)manship, a lot of advanced engineering and therefore quite a bit of money.

I totally get why new or small brands cannot afford this effort.

But, and this is the large BUT, the bold but, the but of buts:

Most of the large companies (especially the high street giants) that offer lingerie would – in theory – have the funding but they simply don’t care about offering a proper size range which would – indeed – cost money because they think they can get away with it. They cater to an imaginary majority of ‘normal’ women and they can count on the fact that many women feel guilty about not being ‘normal’ enough not to make a stand when it comes to questions of supply and demand and companies acknowledging their needs.

That’s why I think the example used on twitter, by Cora of the Lingerie Addict, was not the best of choices. She said “For example, I'm thinking of @Busts4Justice famous campaign targeting bra pricing at @marksandspencer. Knowing what I know now I wish that campaign had addressed WHY full bust bras cost more. It's not arbitrary. They are legitimately more expensive to produce.” (click here for the whole thread)

In my opinion it is a bit naive to think that the extra £4.50 were charged because the sizes were more expensive to produce and therefore it was logical to pass on the extra-cost to the customer. More likely the people responsible thought they could pull it off because the shopping options for their target group were rather limited as it is and M&S bras were already cheaper than bras of other brands. 

Speaking from my experience with the lingerie business: sellers count very much on the fact that women who are outsized by the main market and therefore desperate are willing to pay a lot more than customers who could easily go to H&M or any other clothing chain. Once there is no real competition you can set the price as you like and women will have to pay it because they’ve got no alternative.

This statement does not deny the fact that developing big cup bras is expensive, that it is still considered a niche market and therefore the sales potential is not as it reasonably should be, that – as a store - stocking a large range of sizes is expensive, that employing bra fitters is expensive (more or less at least, depends on the wages), that a small shop/brand can’t live off cheap products because the less they produce and sell, the more money one piece has to fetch etc. pp. There’s a whole logic, we as customers never bother to think about and I think it’s important that to some degree we do – otherwise we do not understand what’s going on.

But still our interests as consumers do differ from those of the ones selling the bras and that’s not something you can reason away. It’s simply how it is. 

So the question would be what can be realistically demanded from our point of view and I’d say, for one that would be mixed calculations when it comes to producing and selling “exotic” sizes. Once a company reached a certain size this should not pose that much of a problem. For me, considering needs outside of an idealised mainstream would be taking on a bit of social responsibility (I know this should also address the questions of wages for workers in productions, which would go beyond the scope of discussion at this point, but I know for a fact that Anja’s been preparing a post on the topic of fair trade). At the moment it is just the other way around: the larger the company, the less choice there is – sizewise – because of a “special needs – special shops”-logic. 

This means that, basically, once you’re outside a certain size range, you have to slaughter your piggy bank and bite the bullet of spending about 4 to 5 times the amount of money on a bra than the “average customer”. I’m talking here about German shops, so I’m aware that this does not apply to other countries. £30-35 for a bra (which equals about 37-43€) would be a dream! 

Usually here you have to fork out between 50 and 80€ for the very same bras you can buy in the UK for a fraction of the price, which is, needless to say, a lot of money for one piece of garment you desperately and definitely need. I wrote a blog post on the topic a while back, when I was working as a bra fitter, after having experienced a lot of different reactions of customers: some did not care at all for their shopping’s total as they were happy with the service and the products and they had the money to spare, but there were quite a few who told me in all honesty that they could only afford one bra and had to come back the next month to get a second one. (The post is unfortunately only available in German: Ist passende Unterwäsche eine Luxusfrage? which translates to “Is fitting underwear a question of luxury?”). Many people weren’t that open about the issue and just acted over-picky to distance themselves from my enthusiastic reactions about the fit. I guess a lot of them knew very well how much better the new bras fit compared to the ones they were wearing but they also were not prepared to leave 130€ at the shop. (For two bras)

Often when it comes to money (and the lack of it) people focus on young girls and women, students mostly, which downplays the problem of poverty to a transitional stage – which sadly it is not. Germany has decided only last autumn on introducing a minimum wage of 8.50€ per hour which may shed light on the question of how wages are now in many jobs, especially of course in those associated with ‘female labour’. Unfortunately whether you need an exotic bra size does not depend on your income. 

So what am I saying here? 

Yes, I’m all for conscious and responsible consumption. I’m getting the point of fair trade and quality products. I only want to also emphasise that even in wealthy Western countries many people, especially women, do not have the luxury to consider these arguments. Their wages are calculated for consumption of mass production stuff and thereby I do not mean shopping frenzies at Ikea or Primark which is often implied to make an the argument for quality instead of quantity. (On this issue see also Sam Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness) It is about awareness of how simple and important things become issues of luxury and a sports bra or a bikini for a fullbusted teenage girl of a low-income-family can add immensely to how she experiences her puberty (which is probably already difficult, as puberties tend to be)

This also means that the initial BUSTS 4 JUSTICE campaign can not and must not be reduced to women being personally insulted in their shopping habits by objective facts. For me it’s a stand for solidarity with all women regardless of size and income and educational background (which allows you to order in international online shops and educate yourself on bra fitting). I really wished we had something comparable to this campaign in Germany which still remains a bra fitting wasteland. 

So, that’s my 5p of associative thoughts. Thanks for bearing with me. 
Comments, critique etc. are always highly welcome :)

PS for those among you who are willing to use Google Translate or do understand German (which will be, probably, most of you) - I wrote a longer posting at Busenfreundinnen a while ago about the perspective of a salesperson which reflects on some insights I got of the business while working as a bra fitter (and also sympathising a lot more with the professional side of bra fitting than I do now. ;-))
Eugène Delacroix - La liberté guidant le peuple via Wikipedia Commons
Because I'm a drama queen. ;-)

Hey, ich bin george und schlecht darin, mich kurz zu fassen. Ich tummle mich mit multiplen Persönlichkeiten im Netz, einige kennen mich vielleicht unter meinem Terry Pratchett-Pseudonym. Zu meinen Hobbies gehört Nörgeln, Kaffeetrinken und Prokrastinieren. Mehr Persönliches gibt es im Jahresrückblick 2013 und auf meiner Vorstellungsseite. [x]


10. April 2014 um 16:26

Sometimes I get exasperated at all the complaints about cost, but you really stopped me short with your point that "how simple and important things become issues of luxury and a sports bra or a bikini for a fullbusted teenage girl of a low-income-family can add immensely to how she experiences her puberty."

10. April 2014 um 18:03

@Darlene I think in the end it comes down to the question whether it's about buying one proper bra instead of three cheap ones or if one cheap bra is all someone can afford.

We're so used to people complaining about for once not being able to afford truckloads of the desired product that we tend to forget about people who can't even afford the bare minimum. Poverty is something most poor people are anxious to hide, so their voice is rarely to be heard. And it does not help that so many of them are women, for example single moms. The mentioned teenage girls are probably the most vulnerable group in this context...

But then, as I said, I also saw the business side of the whole thing, so I guess for the time being it will just remain an unsolved and unsolvable dilemma.

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