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.

bamboo bra, removable bra cups, soft bra, organic bra
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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Bras, Bras, Bras! Episode 3 – Tips to Making Your New Eco-Bra Last

So you’ve picked up a beautiful new eco-bra and you want to make sure it looks good for some time.  Most of the harsh chemicals put on clothing today do have a purpose.  Some help clothing stand up to machine washing better, while others keep clothing from wrinkling or losing their shape.  While your organic bra doesn’t have all that gunk, it does have some special needs.  Here are a few quick tips to help keep your bras lasting as long as possible.

Tip 1:  Remove any removable pads or cups before washing.  If the bra comes with removable pads, remove them before washing the bra so they don’t lose their shape.  Ideally you should wash the pads by hand separately, but if you must wash them in the machine, be sure to follow Tip 2.

Tip 2:  Wash ALL bras in a lingerie bag. The most important tip is to wash all bras (and also any panties that have lace on them) in cold water inside a lingerie bag. Even bras that claim to be machine washable can easily have their straps stretched and lace torn in a conventional machine. Snags from zippers or buttons of other clothing are also common. A simple lingerie bag will provide a layer of protection to avoid those common issues.

Tip 3:  Don’t put your
new bra in the dryer.
  The dryer is a
fairly harsh environment and even if it doesn’t do any immediate damage to your
bra, they will likely fray and wear faster if they are machine dried.  So laying them flat to dry will add life to
them. 

Tip 4:  Always buy
your bra so it fits on the loosest hook.
  Most bras will stretch out over time, so buy them so they fit on the loosest hook initially.  As they lose shape and become looser, you can
gradually wear them on tighter and tighter hooks to keep them fitting
comfortably.

Tip 5: Use the dryer after your old bra has stretched.  If you have an older bra that has stretched
to the point where you can’t wear it again and you have been diligent about laying
it flat to dry, you may be able to use the dryer to extend the life of the
bra.  Most natural materials will shrink a tad in
the dryer.  If you haven’t dried your
bra before, drying it for the first time after it has stretched too far can
sometimes shrink it just enough to extend the wear a little longer.


Tip 6: Don’t invert padded bras.  Many women will store their padded bras by
inverting one cup into the other. This can lead to lumps and dimples in the padding,
especially with bras made out of natural cotton padding instead of molded
polyester.  If you don’t have the room to
lay them flat in your drawer, twist the center as shown so that both cups fit into each
other without inverting one of them.  It
will help keep their shape longer.


Follow these few tips to get the longest wear out of your
natural fiber bras and lingerie.
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Where are the bras? Vacations, Service and Love Nature

Ok, I admit that the Bras, Bras, Bras series is taking painfully longer than I ever expected.  I had Episode 3 partially written and it was long.  I mean loong.  I mean, who-wants-to-read-a-book-for-a-blog-post long.  And the realization finally came to me that I had to move into the 21st century and do what other bloggers do – make a video.  I can get all of the information across more quickly with better visuals in a 3 – 5 minute video.  So now I have a video camera and a tripod and all I really need is a little bit of confidence.  (Wow, I had no idea I was that pale!)  So please bare with me as I cringe a bit and get this video thing working.

In the meantime, I’m taking a real vacation!  I’ll be on a Mediterranean cruise for the next couple of weeks.  Of course, FaeriesDance.com will be well serviced with packages going out daily as always.  But e-mail and phone responses will be slower than usual and we expected a 2-day turn around for returns and exchanges as opposed to our usual 1.  Please bare with us.  I hope to come back refreshed and ready to provide excellent service to all our fantastic supporters.

Lastly, our fall Love Nature order (over 1000 pieces) just came in.  There was a mad rush to try to count and sort it all before leaving, but alas it was just too much.  We’ve updated the stock on the Alba Padded Underwire Bra so they’re available now.  Everything else will get listed over the weekend of November 5-6.

So… once I return, Love Nature products and videos will be on the top of the priority list.  Thank you all for your continued interest in sustainable fashions and our small business!

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Bras, Bras, Bras! Episode 2 – The History of the Bra

Discerning the true history of the bra has taken longer than expected as there is quite a bit of conflicting information on who wore bra-like instruments, starting when, and how they evolved into today’s modern bra.  One of the interesting facts that I was able to uncover is that there is no evidence that women in the 1960s ever actually burned bras in protest.  It appears to be a myth, but I’ll get to that in order.

It is widely believed that Minoan Civilization living on the island of Crete from roughly 2700 BC – 1500 BC were the first to wear breast-enhancing garments.  Note that these weren’t actually bras as the breasts were generally left uncovered as depicted in this Minoan snake goddess image on the left.  However, the garment lifted the breasts giving them both form and support.

In both Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, women’s breasts went mostly uncovered.  The ancient Greeks did have a type of bustier called an apodesme which consisted of thin wool or linen ribbons.  Some sources say it tied under the bust for support while leaving the breasts bare, while others claim it tied around the bust but was only used for sport to provide support.

By 300 AD, the Roman Empire was using a type of bikini for breast support in sports.  The “bikini girls” mosaic found in the Villa Romana Del Casale in Sicily depicts women in garments that look very much like modern day bikinis engaged in everything from weight lifting to discus throwing and ball games.

Sources on Roman women’s clothing also mention the Fascia, a bra-type garment that was tightly tied around a woman’s breasts.  Some authors state the garment was actually used on younger women specifically to restrict breast growth, but I was unable to find corroborating evidence in historical references.  In the 13th and 14th centuries, breasts were being de-emphasized as much as possible.  The first corset-like garments had come on the scene, but were meant to flatten and minimize the breasts.  An edict of Strasbourg dated 1370 states “no woman will support the bust by the disposition of a blouse or by tightened dress.”

The Renaissance Era brought about a breast enhancement revival with the development of the corset, which cinched the waist and pushed the breasts up to increase the cleavage.  Corsets were made with flexible material such as leather or cloth and then stiffened with boning.  The boning could be made from whale bones, reeds, wood, steel or even ivory.  Modern corsets are still made for Renaissance Faires today and usually have plastic boning.

World War I marked the end of the corset era.  Women started working in factories for the first time, and corsets could be cumbersome and dangerous.  Both the US and Britain discouraged women from buying corsets with steel boning, as the metal was needed for the war effort.  Several reports claim that in 1917 the corset boycott saved 28,000 tons of steel – enough for 2 battleships.

The first American brassiere patent was issued in 1914 to Mary Phelps Jacob, who had sewn together two silk handkerchiefs with some ribbon to create something she could wear with her evening gowns that was more comfortable and would not show. 

It was labeled the Backless Brassiere.  There is an earlier patent from 1859 on a prototype bra made by Henry Lesher of New York.  However, his invention had inflatable pads and was actually designed to help women who had uneven breasts look more symmetrically round.  It was also designed to soak up perspiration.  So it wasn’t a support or enhancement garment per se.

During the 1920’s women were wearing bandeau-style bras that held the breasts in and down causing the boyish silhouette associated with the Flappers.  However, Ida Kaganovich, founder of Maidenform, felt this flattened look was going against nature.  She is credited as the designer of today’s modern bra, including the modern sizing method broken into band and cup measurements that are still used today.

In 1928 Ida’s Maiden Form dress shop sold 500,000 bras that were designed to separate and support the breasts.  Within a decade, Maiden Form bras were sold in department stores worldwide.  Up until 1997, the Maidenform brand remained a family own business.  Today, it’s traded on the New York Stock Exchange under MFB.  Unfortunately, Maidenform doesn’t currently make any organic cotton or sustainable bras.

There is a charming report from 1942, during the second World War, in the diaries of Hermione Llewellyn whereby Hermione claimed in front of the Duke of Gloucester that the war-induced rubber shortage would be worse for woman than men because rubber was so widely used in women’s undergarments. A month and half later, she received a package from the Duke. According to her diary, “A magnificent parcel, covered in tape and seals, arrived for me from India. Inside were two pairs of old-fashioned corsets with bones and laces. They were sent by HRH The Duke of Gloucester. Nick and I had an argument as to how one should thank one of the Royal Family for a present of corsets. Whichever way we put it looked disrespectful. Finally, we sent a telegram saying: ‘Reinforcements received. Positions now held. Most grateful thanks.’” (Thanks to Grace from Newport who sent me this lovely story.)

In 1947, Frederick Mellinger of Hollywood invented the first push-up bra dubbed The Rising Star.  By 1964, Louise Poirier of Canada had develop a deeply plunged, laced push-up bra dubbed the Wonderbra Model 1300 that largely resembles current designs.

There is some belief that bra sales and development stalled in the 1960s and 1970s due to the bra-burning protests of the feminist era.  However, according to Snopes.com, there is no evidence of actual bra burnings.  In 1968 feminists protested the Miss America Pageant by throwing items of their oppression into a “freedom trash can.” Among these items of oppression were girdles, high-heeled shoes, some bras, copies of Playboy magazine, and hair curlers.  However, the items were thrown out, not burned.

In 1977 Hinda Miller and Lisa Lindahl created the first sports bra by sewing 2 jock straps together and calling it a Jogbra.  In the1990’s two profound influences on bras emerged.  Madonna wore her cone bras out in public, and is credited with changing the public perception of undergarments.  More importantly, several manufacturers, including Blue Canoe, started making bras and underwear out of organically grown cotton without modern chemical finishing agents. 

Today our bra options are nearly endless and happily, more and more manufacturers are getting on board with producing sustainable bras.  The padded, push-up bra of the late twentieth century is now available made from breathable and soft organic cotton with low impact dyes.

Want to know more about the bras history? If you’ve got $28.95 burning a hole in your pocket (and you’ve already purchased all of the organic bras you need from FaeriesDance.com J), you might consider the comprehensive history book, Bra: Webster’s Timeline History, 789 – 2007.  At 194 pages long, you should get a bit more detail.

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Bras, Bras, Bras! Episode 1 – Bizarre Bra and Breast facts

I was planning to start off the formal series with the history of the bra (which dates back more than 4000 years!). But in my research, I came across such a wide array of bizarre information that didn’t really fit anywhere in the series that I decided to start with a list of fun facts.

  • Approximately $16 billion dollars are spent annually on bra purchases worldwide. That’s $16,000,000,000.
  • The average woman in America owns 9 bras.
  • On October 27, 1999, two women were reportedly killed when lightning struck the underwire in their bras. This wasn’t the first report of bras attracting lightning. In 1982, the Rome News-Tribune reported a similar incident, and there are references to 1991 underwire strike as well.
  • According to National Geographic, women’s breasts average from 10 ounces to 20 lbs.
  • Annie Hawkins-Stone holds the Guinness Record for having the largest natural (no implants) breasts at size 102ZZZ and weighing in at approximately 56 lbs.
  • The worlds longest bra chain comes in at 166,000 bras. This may seem like a trivial record, but several organizations around the world, including GirlGuiding NZ are using their attempt to break the longest bra chain record as a way to raise funds for breast cancer awareness. You can donate unwanted bras to them and at the end of the record they will send all of the good condition bras to women in need in Africa, Haiti and the Pacific Islands.
  • Despite rumors that wearing an underwire bra can cause breast cancer, scientists, including the director of medical content for the American Cancer Society, say that’s simply not true.
  • Researchers are designing and have patented a bra that can detect breast cancer in the very early stages of development.
  • Japan’s Triumph International lingerie company has some outrageous bra ideas and has come up with anti-smoking bras, heated bras to prevent colds, and bras that turn into shopping bags.
Photo Source: Japan Today
Check back next week to learn the long history of the bra.
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Bras, Bras, Bras! A Series on the History, Sizing, Fit and Functionality of the Bra

Lately the vast majority of the customer questions we’re getting are about bras.  What size bra should I get? Underwire or wireless? Padding versus No Padding? International sizing?  Which styles have the most support? Which are latex-free? Which are best for my body shape? Etc., etc. 

Our last give-a-way – for the allergen-free bras – got more entries than any other contest we’ve ever run.  And of course, we all know how difficult it is to find clean, organic bras that are chemical free and sustainably produced.

So I’ve decided to offer up a series on bras, focusing on organic cotton and sustainable bras, of course.  Over the next month or so, I’ll be providing everything (that I can think of) you’ve ever wanted to know about bras.  So here’s what I have in mind.  Please leave a comment if there’s something else you want to know and I’ll make sure it gets in.

  • The History of the Bra: Where it came from and how it has evolved.
  • Bra Sizing: How to determine what size you are and the conversion to international sizing.
  • Top Bra Styles by Body Type: Which bra “features” flatter your body.

For today, let’s start off with my story.  So, how did FaeriesDance.com get to have (what I’m pretty sure is) the largest selection of eco-lingerie in the country?  The story goes like this…

Before I became environmentally conscious about everything, bra shopping was my secret salve.  Whenever I’d get depressed about something or needed a quick pick-me-up, it was off to the mall for the perfect bra.  Underwire, push-up, plunge, padding, lace, it was all good.  My lingerie drawer was better stocked than some restaurant kitchens.  And it never failed me.  As long I could find a good bra, life went beyond just bearable to fabulous, even if only temporarily.

You see there’s something luscious about wearing stunning lingerie – even boyfriendless – because lingerie is your own little secret.  Work can be overwhelming, the house can be a mess, you can argue with your family, but underneath your clothing, where no one else can see, you have… ARMOR.  That’s right, beautiful, sexy, feminine, armor.  The perfect, outrageous purple lace bra is as good as a bullet-proof vest when it comes to deflecting negativity.  And if the day happens to be going well anyway, that quick trip the rest room and peek at your hot pink panties will bring an extra smile to your face every time.  I like colors.  Oh sure, I’ve got white and nude for those days with a crisp white collared shirt, but any big sweater was always hiding something bright and cheerful.

But then I started learning.  I learned about the pesticides used in crops and what it does to the water, soil and wildlife in the area.  I learned about chemical finishing agents and what they do to the workers who handle them, the towns that have to deal with the toxic wastes and even the impacts on our own bodies as we wear them.  I learned about sweatshop labor, about appalling working conditions, subsistent wages and 6 year olds working 12-hour days.  I saw our culture being controlled by energy needs, and oil, and terrorists.  And suddenly, I couldn’t go bra shopping anymore and chinks developed in my armor.

So what’s a girl to do faced with the destruction of our planet, our home and our way of life?  Well in my case, I opened my own eco-boutique specializing in organic bras.  Now, not only am I my own best customer, but with my armor restored, I want to help all those other women who need better, more luscious, sexier, prettier under armor without all the bad stuff.

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