Thursday, 30 November 2017

Bespoke Bras: sustainable luxury to make you look and feel fabulous!

At a time of year that's become synonymous with frenzied shopping and last-minute panic-buying, I thought I'd write about sustainable luxury that rewards the patient conscious consumer: beautiful bras that are made to order right here in London, using sustainably sourced or recycled materials!

Lovely lingerie may seem like a luxury, but as everyone who has worn a bra can confirm, comfort and correct fit are a necessity! A great bra can enhance the look of your clothes, make you feel fabulous (even if you're the only one who sees it), and is all but essential for exercising. If the prices of bespoke bras seem expensive, can I gently suggest you take a closer look at a bra? All those component parts are painstakingly pieced together by people, not machines, with pinpoint accuracy to ensure a prefect fit. This is skilled labour, and I want the people who sew my bras to be fairly compensated for their work. 

If you're interested in the lingerie industry, or have burning questions ("Why isn't X available in my size? Why is Y so expensive, when Z is so cheap?"), I recommend checking out The Lingerie Addict, and following its founder Cora Harrington on Twitter. She has been writing about lingerie for over a decade, and she has great insights into manufacture and materials as well as trends. Cora is an advocate for appreciating craftsmanship and financially compensating artisans accordingly, while making it clear that we shouldn't feel guilty for wanting to have beautiful things. That sounds like the perfect argument for sustainable luxury to me! 

I've treated myself to very different styles of bra, one frilly and fanciful, the sort of bra that you want to show off because it's just so *pretty* and two that are practical but stylish, and the sort of bra that you want to show off because it feels barely-there but it's so supportive! Of course, even the fanciest bra needs to be comfortable and well-fitting (otherwise I won't feel fancy, just annoyed), and a practical bra needs to have some flair about it that elevates it above a basic bralet.

I had been skeptical about a bralet being supportive enough for my (usually) 32DD bust, but when I saw that Lara Intimates made a cute range of soft-cup bras in specific sizes rather than just 'S', 'M' and 'L', and offered a fitting service, I was hopeful I would be able to find something suitable. 

Lara Intimates is run by two LCF graduates, who crowdfunded their first collection and run their business out of a studio in Soho. When I went in for my fitting I chatted to them about their business plan; having their bra designs made by a specialised factory would have required a minimum order for every style, in every size and every colour, and they didn't have the money for that sort of initial outlay. By making bespoke they can form a better idea of their customer base, which style, size and colour combinations are the most successful, and use their money wisely. 

I was able to try on samples in my size - different from the size I would usually buy for an underwired bra (as I mentioned in my blog post about ethical swimwear, it's always best to take sizing advice from small businesses who know their product really well) and the main difficulty was narrowing my choice down to two styles! These bras would be great for yoga or Pilates, if a very structured sports bra feels restrictive, and I was thrilled to finally find a comfortable halterneck bra that will work under some low-backed vintage 70s sundresses I have in my wardrobe. The bras are made from deadstock lingerie fabrics, and with prices ranging between £55 and £72, they are a great investment as they are so versatile. 

Buttress and Snatch's marketing focuses on pin-up glamour, but their sustainability credentials are pretty good too: their bras are made to order in a workshop in London, often using vintage fabrics, so I'd say that makes them more sustainable than a lot of brands, with the added bonus that their made-to-order business model means they can offer a really diverse range of sizes. They have a really specific brand aesthetic, and I think it's important that we don't see sustainable or ethical fashion as a "style" in its own right. At the end of the day, people aren't going to spend their hard-earned money on a piece of clothing just because it's sustainable, they are going to buy something that looks great, and works with their personal style. 

Buttress and Snatch offer several different styles of "patchwork" bra, made from offcuts of vintage fabric. Each one is unique, and the bra that was specially made for me is a kaleidoscope of floral prints, trimmed with beautifully soft leavers lace. I bought my usual size and the fit is spot on; despite the fancy detailing the overall cup shape has a smooth finish, so it disappears under all but the clingiest clothes.

Do I *need* such a delightfully frivolous bra? Technically, no. But living sustainably doesn't have to mean denying yourself fancy things, it means making better choices and treasuring your fancy things for years to come.  With prices ranging from £70 to £150+ these bras aren't going to be everyday purchases for most people, but I also think it's really important that ethically run small businesses can be part of the luxury goods market too. If you have the money for something with a designer label, wouldn't you rather have something unique made just for you? I firmly believe that clothes should help you to the best version of yourself, so buying bras that have made me feel fabulous without having to compromise on my principles is money well spent!

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