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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Giveaway: Win a Fingerless Glove and Scarf Set – ENDED

We recently held an event at our warehouse for local folks who wanted to come in to try on organic bras and eco-fashions in person.  Everyone who came walked away some freebies!  From goodie bags to raffle prizes to gifts with purchase, no one left empty handed.  We hope it was a great experience for our Oregon and Washington friends, but sadly, the rest of our fabulous customers live too far from our warehouse to participate.  So we’re launching a few blog giveaways to let everyone in on the fun.

We gave away 3 sets of these adorable matching fingerless glove and scarf sets from Earth Creations at the show, and now is your chance to win a set.  (Note: the coloring in the pictures looks slightly different, but it is actually a matching set.)  The Infinite Scarf is 100% Organic Cotton Jersey and the Fingerless Gloves are a Bamboo/Organic Cotton blend in French Terry.  Both pieces are low-impact dyed in an autumn-inspired pumpkin color and made in the USA.  With the autumn equinox on the horizon, they’re the perfect fall accessory.  We have one set to give away and the combined retail value is $45.

Leave your information and a comment on this blog post below to get your first entry.  There are options for additional entries by liking / visiting / interacting with our social media pages.  Contest ends September 17, 2017.

 

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Win a Peace Bronze “Make Art Not War” Necklace – ENDED

Wow, it’s been a long time since we’ve had a giveaway.  Let’s kick off with this new necklace by From War to Peace.  The necklace is made from their exclusive Peace Bronze© and then plated with recycled gold.

The story of Peace Bronze© is quite fascinating. From War to Peace digs up the cabling connecting disarmed nuclear missile silos that was left in the soil of the American Midwest after the cold war. (The cabling is not radioactive and never has been.) The metals from the cabling are recycled into their pure forms, and the copper is used to create a wonderful alloy called Peace Bronze©. This creation is made from 95% copper, 4% silicon, and about 1% manganese—all of it recycled materials. Peace Bronze© is an entirely American-made product being used to create beautiful jewelry pieces that celebrate peace over war.

Unfortunately, not everyone likes the look of bronze in their jewelry options.  So From War to Peace has started dipping some pieces in recycled silver or recycled gold.  The entire piece remains recycled, inexpensive and made in America, but now has the lush look of gold or silver.  We’ve brought in an entire line of silver plated Tree of Life pieces perfect for Valentine’s Day.

We’re also giving away a gold plated Make Art Not War Necklace. It’s a $35 value and one lucky winner will receive it absolutely free. Start your entry below and you’ll unlock ways to get additional entries.

 

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Stock up on Green Tree Organic Panties Before Year End

Organic Cotton Panties
Green Tree Organic’s Trista Cami and Eat Organic Panty

Green Tree Organic Clothing has been in business for 2 years now and we’ve put out a total of 8 designs.  Our goal was to offer inexpensive organic cotton panties and intimates that are made in the USA.  If you followed along with us that first year, you’ll know the process was much more trying than I had ever imagined.  Fortunately, our process is now fairly stable and our small line is doing quite well.

 

Unfortunately, rising prices of everything from fabric to elastic to sewing has kept us from expanding into more colors, more designs and men’s items. We have been reluctant to raise prices because we really wanted to offer an economical, Made in the USA option. If you look at the PACT model, they started off sewing exclusively in the USA.  Prices continued to rise until most of their panties were in the high $20 to low $30 range.  Eventually, they gave up on manufacturing in the USA and started manufacturing in India.  It brought their costs way down and their panty prices are now all under $15. On the flip side, Blue Canoe has continued to manufacture in the USA and their price is now $34 for a single panty (though we sell Blue Canoe panties at a small discount everyday for $30 each).

Organic Cotton Boy Short
PACT’s Boy Short

 

So what’s a small business to do?  Here’s our plan.

•   We will continue to manufacture in the USA and keep as much of our processes local.

•   We will be raising prices in January both to reflect our higher cost and to offer wholesale so we can get USA-made panties in brick and mortar stores.

•   We will expand the line of PACT underwear that we carry to offer a less expensive organic cotton panty alternative for those who really want organic and just can’t afford the Made in USA prices.

 

Green Tree Organic panty prices will go up between $3 – $5 each starting in the new year.  This is early warning for you to stock up now.  There are a few sizes/colors currently sold out, but our seamstress is working on them and we should have everything back in stock before Christmas with at least a couple of weeks left at the old pricing.

What are your thoughts on this?  Manufacturing in the USA has certainly been in the news a lot lately.  Is price more important than local jobs?

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The First Green Tree Organic Cotton Panties are in!

Green Tree Organic Bikini Panty

We’re so excited to share our new Organic Bikini Panty and Organic Hi Cut Panty.  Both styles are available in five colors from x-small to x-large.

Way back in August of last year I made the decision to have Faerie’s Dance start its own line of organic intimates and loungewear in order to keep consist stock of our highest turnover items.  It took a couple of months to get an ambitious plan in place, but lack of experience and a little bad luck had us riddled with obstacles and delays.  Finally, almost a year after the initial idea was formulated, we have our first 2 styles on sale.  For me, it’s a momentous occasion. 

These two designs are first for one simple reason – we were able to iron out the fit details and get them stylish and comfortable with just 2 rounds of prototyping.  Some of the other styles have been more problematic.  The two printed designs from the original plan are now in their fourth prototype sewing.  But the point is to put out a style that will be comfortable and fun to wear.  So producing something that doesn’t have exactly the right fit isn’t an option.

We’re also still learning some surprising lessons.  For example, some of the colors “behave” differently than others in sewing.  We’ve even found that stretched fabric (it’s stretched a little when it’s rolled into bolts) will “ease” after cutting and sewing.  So you have to adjust the machine tension a little from the first couple of sewing days to the last.  While most of these little details have now been worked out, you will find that there’s a 1/2″ size difference from some colors to others in the same size.  And while that is apparently considered “normal” in sewing, we’re working with our producer to really hit a consistent size, stretch and tension every time so that you as a customer will know exactly what you’re getting.  If you like these panties, we want you to be able to buy them again 3 years from now and get the exact same fit.

At this point, our original Phase 1 and Phase 2 plans have been combined.  We’re currently in varying phases of production on 10 additional pieces including panties with covered elastic, a few sleeker styles, some lace panty versions, a cami with bra, leggings, and a bralette.  Our goal is to put out 2 additional styles approximately every 6-8 weeks.

Once we round out this dozen, hopefully in early 2015, we’ll have professional model photos taken of the entire line.  I apologize that it’s taken so long and am at the same time immensely grateful for all of you who’ve been watching this journey and stuck with us.  We’re offering these first two styles for $1 off for a very short time as a Thank You.  (Oh and quick hint: our 9 year anniversary is coming up soon, so watch for something extra special in the July newsletter.)

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Organic Cotton Panty Update – Status of Our New Endeavor

In the back of my head, I’d wanted to start my own organic clothing “brand” for some time now.  But it took repeated loss of some of our best selling items for me to finally take the plunge.  I have to say, my initial trepidation was not wholly unfounded.  Designing and manufacturing are a completely different animal than retailing.  There has been so much to learn, including a whole new vocabulary that I was completely unfamiliar with.  Not unexpectedly, spending nearly 3 months focused on learning something entirely new and thus not spending that time on marketing, press releases, creative newsletters, web updates and other normal business tasks has had its effect on sales.

However, my SO has likened the effort to that of a trebuchet being loaded.  While I at first thought he was nuts, I loved his explanation of the slow crank of the trebuchet actually moving the (let’s call it) stone-of-progress away from the goal only to eventually slingshot it forward all in a massive rush.  Being tickled by fantasy novels, Renaissance Faires and period movies, the trebuchet imagery makes me smile and keeps me turning that crank.

While it looks like my goal of having the first organic cotton panties for sale before the holidays is definitely not going to happen, we’re now far enough along that I can provide some details of what’s coming.  Here’s what we’ve got so far…

There are still some vagaries in the schedule that could cause even more delays, but if all goes well, the initial launch of our new brand, Green Tree Organic Clothing, will be in early 2014.  The roll-out of products will be in 3 phases spanning the entire year.

Phase 1: Five panty designs derived from previous best-sellers and a little inspiration, launching in January or February 2014

Phase 2: The addition of panties with lace trims, probably a thong style and possibly our first sports bra and/or cami – some time in Summer

Phase 3: Men’s underwear and whatever else on our list people have been asking for – maybe a simple unisex tee in more color options – hopefully in early Fall

Phases 2 and 3 are *very* vague still and could change.  Phase 1 however, is really coming together.  Here’s what to expect.

Classic Bikini

A Classic Bikini and a Hi Cut Brief in 5 colors (black, sweet pink, deep plum [bordeaux], white and undyed natural).  Taking heed of feedback we’ve had on these styles, we’ve kept the same basic shape, but are using a slightly heavier fabric that will not only make these softer, but should also make them last longer. I’ve heard and experienced that the versions we currently carry get threadbare faster than some of the other styles. The new fabric has more cotton per square inch, and while it’s a tad more expensive, it should alleviate that issue.  We’ve kept the same fold-over elastic styling that does touch the skin, but are using a latex-free version making them accessible to more customers.

Hi Cut Brief

For those with more acute sensitivities, we’ll have a Hipster style with completely covered elastic in black and undyed natural and have changed the design to include flat seam stitching for more comfort.

Hipster

The last 2 are really fun styles and my personal favorites.  We’re recreating the printed Eat Organic bikini from years ago and also adding a new printed style called Hearts A Flutter, which will be fun all year round and make a  particularly awesome Valentine’s gift.  The body is a bikini/hipster hybrid similar to the Contrast Trim Bikini.

Printed Panty Body

I wanted to do the whole process right here in Oregon to keep it local and have more control over the quality.  I mostly succeeded.  The designs and pattern making were done in Portland.  Tags are being produced in Portland as well.  The cutting and sewing are being done about an hour away in Stanton, Oregon by a family-run shop that’s been in business for more than 20 years.  Both the Pattern maker and cut and sew house are very small, home-based businesses just like Faerie’s Dance.  I had to outsource the elastics and after a ridiculous amount of research and time, decided to have our organic cotton fabrics custom made in India.

While I had hoped to find a US-based fabric manufacturer, I found that the minimum orders for each color were substantially higher in the USA.  More importantly, even though they were knitting here, all of the certified organic cotton was coming from Turkey or India anyway.  (The USA does not grow enough organic cotton to meet its own usage.) By having it knit at the source I was able to get original documentation of the GOTS certification, work directly with a family-owned fabric maker who also does herbal dyeing (a good resource for future projects), and have the fabric made at a reduced price with substantially lower minimum quantities.  In the USA, only 2 colors would have been feasible on the same upfront investment.

So that’s where we are so far.  I hope some of you find this useful.  I’ve heard a lot of suggestions already for Phases 2 and 3, but please keep them coming.  The point is to design and manufacture what you are looking for, so please let us know.

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June Give-a-Way: EcoSkin’s Hemp Slub Tee

 
EcoSkin is one of our newest vendors.  We’re enamored with their line of full-length gowns and equally thrilled that they’re made right here in California.  EcoSkin actually offers a wide range of fashion-forward garments and they’ve offered up this lovely Hemp Slub Tee for this month’s give-a-way to show us some of their casual wear line.  (Hint:  We’ll be getting in some lovely EcoSkin tops for Fall…)
 
One lucky winner will have their choice of this tee in Black or White, size S, M or L.
 
TO ENTER: Leave a comment on this blog post by midnight Tuesday, June 29th. You must include an e-mail address or phone number so we can contact you. Drawing will be held Wednesday, June 30.

 

 
A little more info

This is the first time we’re raffling off something we don’t already have in stock, so here’s a bit more info on this item. Please e-mail us if you are interested in purchasing this.  If we get 2 more requests, we will stock them.

  • 92% Hemp, 8% Spandex in a blend that is extremely soft and lightweight
  • Made in the USA
  • While it is shown tucked-in in this photo, the tee is actually very long and can be worn over leggings
  • MSRP is $52, we would offer them at $45
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Which Organic Clothes are Made in America?

This is a question we get often so I’d like to clarify the answer.  We have many lines with tags that say “Made in the USA” on them.  But legally speaking, that only means that the final garment was sewn in the USA.  There are essentially 3 steps to making a piece of clothing (organic or otherwise). 

  1. The base material (cotton, hemp, bamboo, pine tree, whatever) has to be grown somewhere. 
  2. The base material has to be soaked, spun, woven or otherwise turned into fabric for cutting or yarn for knitting/crocheting.
  3. The garment has to be sewn (or knit or crocheted).

While there are always exceptions to every rule, we have found that in the vast majority of cases #1 and #2 are done in the same region.  It’s too expensive to grow cotton in one country, send the raw material to another country to make fabric and then send the fabric to a 3rd country for cutting and sewing.  Most raw material is turned into fabric or yarn local to where it is grown.  However, it is very common to produce fabric in one country and then ship the finished fabric off to another country to have it sewn.

The tag on this adorable Overall Dress on the left states Made in the USA.  But the Hemp/Tencel blended fabric is imported.  We do our very best to track down exactly where our products are imported from.  We try to list both where an item is sewn and where it’s grown along with working conditions for both.

As we mentioned in our last Quick Fact, the USA does not grow enough organic cotton to meet our own eco-fashion needs.  Thus organic cotton is often imported.  Hemp is still illegal to grow in most of the USA (more on this in an upcoming Quick Fact), so it is almost always imported as well.

I’ve thought about putting together a separate category of just Made in America items, but I’m uncertain about where to draw the line.  If the tag says Made in the USA (i.e. sewn) but the fabric comes from China, should it be listed as Made in America?  Or does Made in America only mean sewn and grown end-to-end here somewhere in the USA?  There are still a few manufacturers who grow and sew end-to-end completely in the USA.  For example, SOS From Texas grows, spins, weaves and sews completely in the USA. 

What about America-first policies?  Bgreen, maker of our most popular panties, the Classic Bikini (shown right), sews right here in California and gets as much organic cotton as they can from US farmers.  When they’ve purchased all that is available, they look to Turkey to fill in their raw organic cotton needs and import just the raw material, which they add to their US-grown cotton and turn into organic fabric in their California warehouse.  Does this “count” as Made in America?
Please give us your feedback.  We’d love to hear your thoughts on what you consider Made in America.  What would you want to see in a category called Made in America if you were perusing for something?  To encourage participation in this topic, we’re giving away 1 pair of our Classic Bikinis (they come in 7 colors and sizes S – XL) to one person who leaves a comment about their Made in America thoughts. 

TO ENTER THIS CONTEST:  Leave a comment on THIS blog post (comments on facebook or through e-mail will not count) and we will randomly draw one name from all comments posted by 8am PT this Friday, September 18, to receive one free Classic Bikini (or any other of the $10 value panties that bgreen offers: String Bikini, Hi Cut Brief or String Thong).

Good Luck!

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Importing Part 1: Human Rights Issues

One of the questions we get a lot is where our products come from. Many people are adverse to purchasing items made from third world countries because they are concerned about working conditions, sweatshops, child labor and basic human rights.

Despite public outrage over the last few years, that concern may indeed still be valid at some big-box retailers. However, at FaeriesDance.com, I personally check on the credentials, certifications, auditing and labor standards of every new manufacturer we add to our line up. Not only do the farmers and factory workers who create the products we carry earn living wages in decent working conditions, but in many cases our manufacturers are directly responsible for improving the lives and conditions of the people.

Probably the very best example of this is the manufacturer Pants to Poverty. Their specific goal as a company is to employ the poorest people of the world in a completely sustainable business model in order to stamp out poverty and hunger. They currently employee over 6700 tribal farmers in India with long-term contracts, enabling those farmers to feed and care for families and raise their overall standard of living. Here is a great video with a little fun from Pants to Poverty on the passion of their commitment.

For a more poignant look at the farming conditions and how organic farming combined with fair trade practices have improved the lives of the impoverished, check out this video, also courtesy of Pants to Poverty.

All of our manufacturers have an honest commitment to being socially conscious as well as eco-friendly. Environmental sustainability is only viable if the efforts are also socially sustainable.

Of course, deciding whether to buy something that is made in an emerging nation versus in the USA is a more complex issue than just Human Rights. There are economic, political and even environmental issues (such as the environmental cost of transportation) that must also be considered. I plan to address some of these in future posts, though they are not always very straight-forward. But in this one area of Human Rights, I’m proud to say that our products are actually helping people world wide.

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