When manufacturers and stores say there isn’t enough demand for clothing or bras in our size, it’s easy to feel incredulous because we’re connected via the internet to full-busted women all over the world who share our frustrations with fit.  Are these businesses blind?

Not necessarily. They just want to stay in business. For many companies this means doing what has always worked and avoiding risk. Women have been forcing themselves into their size ranges for years. What’s the big deal now?

The big deal now is the thousands of niche markets that are surfacing all over the internet. It’s the Long Tail. (If you haven’t already read this book by Chris Anderson, I highly recommend it.)  For example, we used to live in a world of  blockbusters–everyone watched the same few movies available for a limited time in theaters.  Now we live in a world of Netflix where anyone can watch anything they want at any time. Even the most obscure movie has an audience.

We’re developing the same expectations for clothing sizes:  every woman should be able to find something in her size. Unfortunately, most of the garment industry continues to operate in the world of blockbusters.

Given the difference between streaming a video and producing a physical garment, this is understandable. Each new pattern requires extensive and expensive research and development. This is one reason Rebecca & Drew held back for such a long time before offering their shirts in H cups, and as you read last week, it took Claudette 18 months to develop a G cup, and Good Night Gilda two years to develop a bra line for C-F cups.  Only a small percentage of the development cost is reflected in the actual item of clothing. That cost must be recouped over time as more of the items are sold (otherwise the cost would be prohibitive . . . which is why the cost of couture clothing is prohibitive).

Before making such an investment, manufacturers have to be pretty certain there are enough buyers for the new size. To complicate things, their retail accounts must also be convinced that enough women in these sizes will visit their stores, like the styles, have enough money, and actually purchase them.  At Curve last month, I spoke to a boutique owner who was hesitant to place the required $500 minimum order for a wildly popular new brand because she needed a guarantee that the bras and panties would sell.  She explained how when she first opened her shop in 2008, everyone assured her that Cosabella would sell.  Maybe it sold everywhere else, but not in her store.  She finally got rid of the last dusty Cosabella thong last January.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues as I read calls for 26 backs and more G+ bras.  I don’t believe that corporate greed and designer laziness are to blame for the dearth of full-busted size options, although I’m sure they’re part of the story. I believe the biggest factor is risk and who is willing to bear it.

Take Ewa Michalek. Her customers can’t say enough good things about her, and the closer I examine her designs and philosophy, the more interested I am in trying her bras. But even she doesn’t keep inventory in every band and cup combination. Her website states, “If you do not see their bra size drop-down menu, please contact us and we will sew it for you. Please note, however, that such orders are not refundable/exchange.”

Who bears the risk in this situation? The customer.

I’ve been daydreaming about ways to either (1) remove the risk entirely; or (2) spread it out amongst willing market participants (which is what Ewa Michalek has done). I’ll be sharing some of my daydreams in future posts.

What about you? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments or even in a guest post. (And if you blog about this elsewhere, send me the link so that I can include it in my next Full Coverage Reading Roundup.)