How are Bras Made? The Ins and Outs of Organic Bra Manufacturing.

Why don’t USA manufacturers make organic cotton bras?  We get this question a lot.  There are actually a number of great companies, like Blue Canoe, that make soft bras, bralettes, and yoga bras in the USA.  However, you won’t find padded, molded cup or underwire bras made in the USA.  When we started making our own line of organic panties in Oregon, we thought we might try our hand at making some bras as well.  What we found is that bra making takes expensive specialty equipment.  Most sewing manufacturers can’t afford to buy this equipment unless they are using it regularly.  It’s certainly possible that somewhere in the USA there is a small manufacturing company that can make these types of “constructed” bras, but if there is, we weren’t able to find them.  So let’s break down types of bras and how they are sewn.

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This pull-on style bra has removable padded cups.

“Soft Bras” or Bralettes

This is the category of bras made without molding, internal padding or underwire. The bralette is very popular these days, and it’s the easiest bra to sew.  There are bralettes that pull-on over the head, those that have the addition of a hook-and-eye back closure, and even a few that are sewn with internal pockets for use with removable padded cups.  The removable cups offer the option of a padded bralette such as the Adjustable Soft Bra, shown left, without the expensive equipment needed for internal padding.  The hook-and-eye back closure takes more sewing than a pull-on style and tends to make the bras a little more expensive, but they don’t require any specialty equipment.  The entire hook-and-eye piece is often manufactured separately and bra companies just need to buy the pieces and sew them in using a standard sewing machine.  The Avignon Triangle Bra shown below is an example of the hook-and-eye closure bralette.

Bralettes can be sewn in almost any sewing shop or factory and can even be made at home.  A standard sewing machine pulls most of the weight for these bras, though a cover-stitch machine can also be beneficial.

organic bra, bamboo bralette
This bralette has a hook-and-eye back closure.
molded cup bras, organic bras
This machine creates molded cup bras.

Molded Cup Bras

All of the bralettes described above will have some sort of seaming, pleating or ruching in the cups to provide shape.  Molded cup bras provide shaping without any seams.  Since this type of bra looks particularly good under t-shirts or tight knit tops, they are often referred to as t-shirt bras.  The molded cups require an intricate piece of equipment that stretches the fabric to the exact shape of the cup.  Since you need a separate “mold” for each cup size, the equipment cost can get expensive.  I had the opportunity to snap a few photos of a molding machine at Swegmark’s offices in Sweden along with the resulting molds.  As you can see in the image right, this machine creates only two sizes, so additional machines or larger machines are required based on how many bra sizes you want to create.  Swegmark has been making molded bras out of polyester fabric for years, but when I visited this summer they were working on their first fair trade, organic cotton molded bra.  We look forward to having those available for sale in early 2018.

how to make a bra
Bra cup molds created by the molding machine.

 

organic cotton bra, bralette, organic bra, molded cups
A bra with cups created by a molding machine.

A molding machine can also be used to create molded padding for bras that have internal padding rather than removable padded cups.

The Alba No Wire Bra (shown left) from Love Nature is an example of a no-wire bra with molded, seamless cups.  This one has molded cups without padding.  We had sent a number of request to Love Nature to add an a A-cup bra to their size range before they went out of business.  At the time they told us they didn’t have any molds for an A-cup and this is what they meant.  It wasn’t just re-working the sizing to fit an A-cup, they would have had to buy more physical equipment.  In their case, they didn’t think the sales would make up for the large upfront investment.

 

 

 

Underwire Bras

The addition of underwires to bras allows them to shape and support the breasts much better than a no wire bra.  Additionally, it is possible to use the wire to support cotton internal padding rather than the more common polyester/nylon padding. There were rumors stared by a book in the 90s that led some people to believe that underwire bras caused breast cancer.  However, that myth has been well debunked.  You can read about it here or here or here.

We still sell a lot of underwire bras, particularly padded, underwire bras and it turns out that adding in the wire requires yet another piece of expensive machinery. While I’ve never seen one in person, I have been able to find them online.  An underwire bra machine such as the one shown below runs about $8,000-$10,000.

This machine bends wires to the bra shape and cup size.

Conclusion

Finding the perfect bra for you always takes a little effort.  While we would ideally love to offer a wider variety of bras that are made in the USA, the downturn in American textile manufacturing has left us with few, if in fact any, companies that can make seamless cup or underwire bras. In fact, the equipment is so costly that many of the manufacturers we work with are actually bra designers and still outsource most of the construction and sewing to larger facilities that have all of the needed equipment.  Despite that, we are still thrilled with the variety and quality of organic and natural fabric bras that we are able offer, and hope you can appreciate all of the work that goes into making them.  For our little company, though, we will not likely get into bra manufacturing any time soon.

 

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Written By Adrienne

7 Comments on “How are Bras Made? The Ins and Outs of Organic Bra Manufacturing.

  1. Jeannie deVore Reply

    October 20, 2017 at 5:00

    I have been eagerly seeking and all cotton but padded Push Up Style bra without any metal or plastic clips but continue to hit a dead end Street if you happen to know any like this I’d be grateful to know. Some people wear bras for support I need a little extra padding so that I have breasts per se! I’ve become sensitive or allergic to All Metals and Plastics and most of the even though hundred percent cotton bras have one or two in there or if you know that companies that special order special make bras thank you

  2. Adrienne Reply

    October 20, 2017 at 5:22

    Hi Jeannie,

    Thank you for your comment. We’ve seen both metal clasps and shoulder strap sliders and plastic clasps and shoulder strap sliders, but we haven’t actually seen any other options outside of metal or plastic. I have 2 suggestions.

    You could try getting a 100% organic cotton padded bra that you like, this one for example: http://www.faeriesdance.com/lingerie/bras-camisoles/daisy-padded-underwire-bra.html
    Remove the strap sliders and sew the straps to the exact length you want. You’d still have the metal hook-and-eye closure in the back, but it doesn’t actually touch the skin.

    Alternatively, you could try a pull-on style that has removable padding and no back hooks, like this one: http://www.faeriesdance.com/organic-cotton-adjustable-bra.html
    And again, remove the strap sliders and sew the straps to the length you need.

  3. Stacey Reply

    October 20, 2017 at 6:21

    It’s still so frustrating – I’ll take seams to get my cup size correct – I’m just about ready to DIY to get a bra that won’t make me break out in hives…

  4. Kathryn Lambkin Reply

    October 20, 2017 at 10:53

    A company manufacturing bras does not need to own their own wire bending machine.
    They can buy in the wires pre-bent from a supplier.
    I know my local fabric and haberdashery supplier sells bra wires in various sizes.
    I have always wanted to contribute to the bra industry, especially in my category of small band size combined with big cup size, eg 10GG / 32GG.
    But I think the current players are doing a great job.
    It’s a pity the fit is so fiddly. I live in a city of 500,000 people and I am only just starting to see a handful of retailers stock these bras. Last time I wanted new bras I drove 2 hours so I could try them on.
    Online businesses might need to adapt their model so they sent out 10 bras at one time, and happily accept a refund on the ones that don’t fit, much like one would experience in a store.

    With the sizing issue I have, I don’t have the luxury of choosing my materials to be organic cotton. I rarely even get a say in the colour or transparency!

    Has someone come up with a clever model for bra fitting and retailing yet?

  5. Adrienne Reply

    October 21, 2017 at 5:31

    Thank you for the input, Kathryn. I wasn’t aware you could buy pre-bent wires. I guess it’s similar to being able to buy pre-fab hook-and-eye closures. You can also buy pre-made straps with the adjusters already attached. So the home DIY bra maker can probably make most styles except molded cups or padded.

    We actually offer customers the option to come to our warehouse showroom to try on bras if they happen to live in or around the Portland, OR area. We also see a lot of customers buying 3-5 bra sizes or styles to find their best fit and then returning the ones they don’t want for more of the one that fit well. We accept bra returns for exchange or refund as long as it is has not been worn or washed and has all the original tags attached. So basically you can try it on just as you would in a store and if it doesn’t fit, you can return it.

    I have not seen 32G. We have been asking Swegmark to make some of their styles (which go up to F cup) in a 32 band. Right now the smallest band they make in F is a 34.

  6. Bethany Reply

    November 1, 2017 at 12:00

    You CAN make padded and molded bras at home…..just ingenuity involved. And it certainly wouldn’t be practical en masse. Very interesting article and I quite enjoyed reading it.
    I am now very sad after reading the comment of the women having a hard time finding her cup size in such an average band size of 32! When finding your band size, you do not add any inches to your rib measurement. Your rib measurement IS your band size. Unless you measure 27″, then your band is 28, or 26 depending on your comfort level. The average women need a band size between 26-34, with 26 & 34 being a bit less common. We no longer require the Plus 4 method of bra measuring, as our fabrics are extremely stretchy. Back in the 1940s, when this method of bra measuring came out, the fabrics we used could not be stretched so it was important to add those 4 inches to ensure that the band would fit, at all. Now-a-days, in the 2000’s, if we add those same 4 inches we end up with a band 2-4 sizes too big which ends up shoving us into cups that are 2-6 sizes too small. Per my measurements I should be wearing a 32AA with the Plus 4 method of measuring! I could wrap the band of a 32AA around my breasts. If I were to actually wear this size, the band would ride all the way up my back and the cups would completely squash my breasts and push them under my arm pits. I have been wearing 32Bs and 34As most of my adult life. These fit sort of well in the cups, but the band…how atrociously large it is on me, it forces the cups to gape at the top. In reality my TRUE bra size is 26E/28D or 28DD. 26E can essentially only be found if I got it custom made, so I am stuck wearing 28D/DD. Which fits a million times better. We must spread the information on correct bra measuring techniques.

  7. Adrienne Reply

    November 4, 2017 at 11:46

    Hi Bethany,

    Thank you for your comments. The issue we have is that many bra makers, especially in Europe still use the plus 4 method for measuring under the band. Since some bra makers have changed over to actual band measurements, you get inconsistent sizing between brands, which is of course, really frustrating for the buyer.

    Best,
    Adrienne

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