The Shadow Bra Industry: Brazen Lingerie

She does so much more than maternity, but whenever I hear a mom-to-be worrying about nursing bras, the first person I want her to meet is Anina Young of Brazen Lingerie. When I first wrote about Anina, she worked from her brick and mortar store in Inwood on the northern tip of Manhattan. Since then, she’s changed her business model. Now instead of trekking up to her, for a fee (unless you’re a mastectomy client, then it’s free) she’ll trek to you–an especially welcome change for women who are about to give, or have just given, birth. Just ask the new mother who gave birth to twins that Anina went to meet in the neonatal intensive care unit!

If you ask Anina why she is so passionate about maternity and nursing, she’ll respond, “Have you ever held a one-day-old baby?” Personally, no. But I have shadowed Anina at Curve and listened to her very specific questions to maternity and mastectomy bra vendors that indicate a deep understanding of her client’s needs. For anyone in the NYC vicinity facing motherhood or breast surgery, Anina needs to be at the top of her to-do list.

Anina also needs to be at the top of the to-do list for anyone who

  • doesn’t like bra shopping
  • has had a bad bra shopping experience in the past
  • has neck problems or other physical issues
  • can’t find her size
  • simply doesn’t want to go to a store

These are the types of friends that Anina told me to refer to her. Like Jessica, the friends we send to Anina shouldn’t be in browse-mode. Instead, they should be in “take care of herself mode”.

When I asked why we should trust our friends to Anina, she answered, “Because you know me. You know I’ll take care of them. You know that I know what I’m doing, I’m not going to scam them, and I’m going to do the right thing.” And it’s true. Any time I’ve eavesdropped on Anina as she’s fit other women, I’ve learned something new. She’s worked with so many different body types that she has solutions for situations that would completely stump a bra fit dilettante like me.

If you’re ready to refer a friend to Anina, here’s what you can tell her to expect. First, Anina will ask a few questions ahead of their meeting to narrow the range of sizes to bring with her. Anina carries over 60 sizes, from 28D to HH and 32 (and higher) A to K (British). So far she has always had at least one bra in each customer’s size.

Once they meet, she’ll educate your friend about fit. Typically, customers buy half a dozen bras and rarely all in the same size. Anina can easily spend at least an hour with your friend, so she’ll tell her to be sure to block out 1.5 to 2 hours for her appointment. (Anina also offers parties that can take 2-2.5 hours.)

Once they’ve whittled the selection down to your friend’s favorites (including at least one boring basic and one “Saturday night hot special”), Anina will work through the prices with her. She’ll go through what’s on sale, what’s fashion and therefore will be gone soon, and what can be special ordered any time. Anina is used to working with a variety of income levels, helping her customers get the most out of the budgets they have right now and planning for what to add later.

The Shadow Bra Industry: Jessica Fits to a J Cup

Today I continue my Shadow Bra Industry series with the first of four women that I interviewed who are forging separate paths to help women find their perfect fit. My earlier posts covered the direct sales model and my experience with two companies, Peach and Essential Body Wear.

As you know from my first post on the subject, this series was sparked by the dreaded question: “Where should I go to get fitted for a bra?” I always feel like I should have a one-size-fits-all answer for a one-size-doesn’t-fit-all question! Now, instead of a single answer, my research for this series has given me multiple choices.

If one of these women offers services in your area, I encourage you to reach out to her. And if you know other D+ fitters in the Shadow Bra Industry or are a shadow fitter yourself, please let me know so that I can update my new Big Bust Bra Fitters resource page.

Before I proceed, here are some of the questions that I asked each of the women that I interviewed:

  • Why can I trust you to take care of a friend that I send to you?
  • What type of friend should I send to you? Or, what are your customers like?
  • What experience can I tell the friend to expect?

———-

Jessica has a story that a lot of us can relate to. She skipped an A cup growing up and jumped right into a B for her first bra. To her mom’s credit, she took Jessica to specialty bra stores from the very beginning. Even so, Jessica wore “grandma bras” all through college until her magical first experience with Bravissimo when she was 22. That’s when she discovered her true size of 32F and that it came in pretty styles and colors.

It’s also when she discovered her passion for bra fitting. When asked why we can trust her with our friends, she told me, “Because it’s personal.” She wants other D+ women to have the same experience that changed her life.

Jessica is the only fitter that I interviewed who doesn’t charge a fee. As she puts it, “My goal is client satisfaction. My main focus is not on the bottom line right now.” That’s saying a lot for a fitter whose day job is as an accountant!

Her ideal customer is a serious shopper who wants a proper fit, rather than someone who is only browsing, and Jessica would much rather sell two bras to her every six months than eight every two years.

Here is what the New York friends that you refer to Jessica can expect from the process. As they’re setting up an appointment date over the phone, Jessica will ask your friend what bra she’s currently wearing to figure out where she might be in the D-J cup range and the 30-38 band range (Jessica also carries some 40 and 42 bands for a specific customer). Once they meet, Jessica usually identifies the correct size within three try-ons.

Next, she’ll give your friend everything she has in her size, beginning with a tee shirt bra and moving on to non-molded cups if she’s interested. If a non-molded bra fits best, she’ll try to encourage your friend to choose that one. Finally, she’ll introduce sexier styles into the mix. As Jessica tells her clients, “There’s a technical need for a bra, so it might as well be pretty!” Jessica offers bras from Simone Perele (her favorite), Panache, Addiction and Parfait, as well as shapewear from Yummie Tummie and BodyWrap.

The Shadow Bra Industry: Direct Sales with Essential Body Wear

This post continues my series on a “shadow bra industry” in which individual women are working behind the scenes to fit and sell bras outside of brick and mortar or online outlets. Direct sales is one business model that gives women the ability to offer a lot of sizes without the risk of carrying inventory. In my last post on the subject, I introduced you to a new company called Peach, and today I’m introducing you to Essential Body Wear, a company that has been in business since 2003.

If you’re looking for someone you can trust to fit your friends, or if you’re trying to find an affordable way to do it yourself, then I highly recommend researching Essential Body Wear. After a telephone interview with the company’s CEO Carrie Charlick, I trekked out to Staten Island one Saturday morning to meet the only Essential Body Wear rep in the area, Tina Murphy.

essential body wear tina murphy bra lady

Tina is a wife, mother of two boys, and massage therapist who is involved in multiple causes, so when I tell you that she earned a trip to Puerto Vallarta after just one year with the company (she started in fall 2014), you will understand that:

  1. a LOT of women on Staten Island need bras (Tina only works on Staten Island), and
  2. Tina is VERY good at meeting that need.

Instantly likeable, Tina carries a bra in every size and is candid about the pros and cons of each style. I knew I could trust her when she told me that she prefers her Panache sports bra over EBW’s.

If I were going to sell EBW, here are the questions I would consider:

1. Do you like their bras?

I only tried their bestseller, the Abbie, and I like it a lot. I suspected I would because it evolved from the company’s fittings and sales to real women over several years. In 2006, EBW began manufacturing their own bras based on what their customers had liked in the bras they used to sell. Then they took the best features of those bras and revamped them into the Abbie. They began selling the Abbie in February 2011, and by April 1 it had sold out. According to Carrie Charlick, women come back over and over again for this bra because:

  • it’s comfortable the minute you put it on (agreed . . . and when you sit down afterwards)
  • it has a natural shape that isn’t pointy or flat (see what it looks like on me below)
  • it isn’t bulky

It reminds me of my old standby, the Fantasie 4520, except that it also comes in pretty colors like raspberry, toffee and plum.

essential body wear fit collage

Left to right, Empreinte Erin in 32F, Essential Body Wear Abbie in 34G, Essential Body Wear Abbie in 32H with extender

I purchased this bra from Tina at a discount. I’ve worn it several times over the last two weeks and am completely happy with it. The band is super tight (more on that in #3 below), it tacks at the center gore, my breast tissue is contained, and I barely give it a second thought throughout the day (but see #3 below for what causes the occasional second thought). Even better, my super picky friend who joined me on Staten Island told me that this is one of the few bras for C-H cups that she felt she could believe in enough to sell.

2. Does Essential Body Wear offer enough sizes?

Essential Body Wear offers 32A to 44H, enough of the core sizes to meet many women’s needs. However, keep in mind that there are no double letters.

Unfortunately, the EBW contract doesn’t allow its reps to sell anything other than EBW (to avoid brand confusion), so an EBW rep must have someone trustworthy to whom she can refer any woman who can’t legitimately sister size into an H cup.

This means that for most of my friends who ask, “Where should I go for a bra fitting?”, EBW is a great answer if there’s a rep that I like in the area. But for friends that might wear a British H+, I’ll have to keep looking.

3. What is the fitting process like?

Tina began by measuring my rib cage over my tee shirt in the privacy of her office. In a party setting, she would have asked, “Is it okay to measure you here, or would you like to step into the bedroom?”

Next, she asked, “Do you like wire or non-wired?” If a woman is bustier, she will try to talk her into a wired bra unless there is a medical issue.

Finally, each EBW rep owns a set of of molded Abbie cups that she can place over a client’s (clothed) breast to help determine cup size. Tina doesn’t tend to use these anymore because she’s become good at estimating, but I thought they looked neat so she obliged me by choosing one that covered my largest breast and anchored firmly against my sternum at the center.

essential body wear starter kit arrow

In this starter kit for new Essential Body Wear reps, the arrow points to the stack of cups for fitting.

These steps gave us a starting point. My rib cage measured 31″ and the F cup fit over my left breast, so Tina suggested I begin with a 34F. The band felt fine, but the cups were too small. The 34G fit well, but of course I wanted to try a 32. They are not kidding when they say their bands run tight! In the end, I liked the fit and look of the 32H with an extender (without it I had slight pillowing). Because the straps are at the far sides of the cups, Tina was afraid that an extender would cause them to slip off my shoulder. I pooh-poohed her fears and assured her that I never have a problem with slipping shoulder straps–and I didn’t when I only needed one extra column, but when I use a second extra column (because their bands run really tight!), the left strap feels less secure.

Tina herself wears a 36H in Abbie, but she also swears by EBW’s strapless 5-way convertible Chrissy that she can wear in 36F. My friend wears a 34I in Kris Line but also fit the 36H in Abbie. She said she liked it a lot and that it felt secure and looked okay even though she’d had to sister size.

Meeting Tina and wearing the Abbie almost makes me want to go into bra fitting! If I did, I would pay $99 to be an apprentice for a month, which would entitle me to a free bra and the rest of the starter kit. I would shadow a senior rep as she leads two parties, and the senior rep would shadow me as I lead two parties on my own (it’s possible to sell outside of parties–Tina often has customers drop by her in-home bra fitting studio during the day).

Once the month is up, it would be decision time: (a) say no thank you, (b) purchase the Basic Kit to Fit for $649 that includes a set of Abbie bras in C-G cups, or (c) purchase the Ultimate Kit to Fit for $999 that includes the Abbie in every size.

I like EBW’s product, and I respect their organic growth. I’m still committed to shirt fitting, but maybe my friend will become the EBW rep that I can refer my non-Staten Island friends to!

 

The Shadow Bra Industry: Direct Sales with Peach

As I write this, I’m wearing a Peach Lovely Full Coverage bra that the company gifted me after a fitting with them at TechStyleNYC last September. The fabric is satiny soft over lightly padded cups, and even though the band provides most of the support, I really appreciate the cushioned wide straps with lace on top but satin next to my skin.

You’ll never guess what size I’m wearing, however.

34-11.

Peach has its own sizing system. As part of its campaign to turn bra shopping into a pleasant rather than painful experience, they’ve abandoned traditional cup sizes in order to quash letter-phobia. Having only worn D cups and higher since I was a teen, this completely baffling concept has been well-documented by others.

In theory, I understand what Peach is doing, but the practical implications concern me. The average Peach customer has had no fit experience. (When I walked into my fitting, they couldn’t find anything wrong with the bra I was wearing, which they said was very unusual.) Adding an entirely new sizing system does nothing to quash the confusion surrounding fit above a D cup. Instead, it may encourage over-dependence on the Peach stylist.

Last week I promised to explore Peach’s business model “for the fit-savvy Hourglassy reader looking for ways to help other women feel as great as she does.” If Peach recruits such a woman, it could go a long way toward building the company’s credibility with bra fit devotees. It’s not that we need to find someone to fit us. We need to find someone we trust to fit our friends, and if we’re afraid that a Peach stylist will put our friends into a weird new size in order to encourage future re-orders without empowering her to shop elsewhere, then we won’t refer them. On the other hand, if we know a Peach stylist who understands the ins and outs of American, British and European brands for the D+ market–even if she doesn’t stock them–we can refer our moms, sisters and friends to her with confidence.

Are you curious about whether your bra fit passion and Peach could be a match? Here’s what I would consider.

1. Do you like their bras?

Surprisingly, my own answer is yes. I’ve already described their tactile appeal, and my Lovely Full Coverage bra is so comfortable that it’s my bra of choice for long flights. As for shape, it’s a basic molded cup with a slight flattening effect, and it is by no means a top performer for lift. However, it’s as supportive as anything else in my lingerie drawer.

peach bra comparisons coral tee

L to R: Empreinte Capucine in 32F, Empreinte Grace in 32F, Peach Lovely Full Coverage in 34-11.

Peach side view comparison with empreinte grace

L to R: Empreinte Grace, Peach Lovely Full Coverage.

The vast majority of American women prefer seamless tee shirt bras, including most of the friends I would refer to a Peach stylist. If a Peach stylist puts my friend in the right size in a Peach bra and she loves it, then I’m happy. I’m also happy with the pretty lilac and grey colors that they offer. Too many times my large-busted friends have been limited to beige and black at the stores where I’ve referred them. Finally, the center pull straps are a giant bonus for those of us with narrow or sloping shoulders.

2. Does Peach offer enough bra sizes?

Peach bras come in 32-40 bands. Even though I prefer a 32 in most brands, the Peach 34 band is both comfortable and secure on the middle hook with no riding. This makes me think that women who typically wear 30 bands may be able to wear 32 bands in Peach.

Peach cup sizes extend from 5 to 16. A 5 roughly corresponds to an A cup, which mean that Peach cups run to a respectable British HH. It makes sense that my 34-11 bra would translate to a 34F because I’m between a 32F and FF in British brands.

Since even the highly respected full-bust-focused Erica of A Sophisticated Pair finds that most of her customers wear 30-40 D-G, it’s a good bet that the friends we need to refer will also fall within that range. However, if you want to be prepared for the customer who falls outside the range, CEO Janet Kraus assured me that stylists are free to sell other brands. Peach currently also offers Chantelle bras and will eventually offer its own cut-and-sew and unlined molded bras.

3. What is the fitting process like?

It’s unusual, but for bra geeks it will be fascinating. The stylist has a client put on an unlined bra-like contraption that gives absolutely no lift or support. My guess is that this “fit bra” helps ensure consistency of measurements across fitters and clients. The stylist then takes 10 points of measurement, including the typical rib cage and over bust, but also nape to waist, around the back, across the front of the chest, and apex to apex.

The more data that Peach can collect, the more accurately they hope to predict the best style and fit for each customer. Interestingly, in Peach’s previous life as the startup Zyrra, COO Derek Ohly used these measurements to create custom-made bras. Eventually, Janet Kraus convinced him to use his algorithm to fit bras rather than custom make them.

Surprisingly, most stylists do not carry a complete range of sizes. Instead, after a customer is “measured to order”, three bras arrive in the mail with instructions, diagrams and tips. The stylist can then follow up in person or via Skype or FaceTime. Stylists who want to invest in all the sizes can “fit to order” at the first appointment.

The process isn’t fool-proof yet. At my own fitting in September, I liked the fit of the 32-12 better than the 34-11, but when the 32-12 arrived, the cups were so shallow that my breasts looked like apple pie spilling over the side of the pan. Peach sent a follow-up shipment with a range of sister sizes for me to try, and I loved the fit of the 34-12 cup, but going from a 34-11 to a 34-12 seemed to cause everything–not just the cups–to grade larger, and the shoulder straps couldn’t be adjusted any tighter. Initially, the 34-11 gave my larger breast a pronounced pillowing toward the center of the bra, but the pillowing didn’t show up under clothing and has since evened out. I would have loved to have tried a 32-13 or 32-14, but they weren’t included in the second shipment.

I think that Peach has giant potential for bra fit enthusiasts who want to help other women find their best size. I’d love to hear your thoughts.  If you’re a New Yorker who’s reading this and decide to try it out, please let me know so I can refer my friends to you!