Fitting by eye
Brava first opened its doors in 2006 with one store in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran.
As a retailer, if we are not keeping up with changing body shapes, we will be left behind.
Windram says she was “quite naive” and didn’t know anything about bra-fitting but quickly worked out using tape measures didn’t work with a fuller bust because breasts are all about volume.
“We realised we needed to take a more holistic approach and threw the tape measures away,” she says.
Brava’s fitters now “fit by eye”, which Windram says comes with experience and “feels gentler than wrapping a tape measure around”.
Online shoppers use Brava’s virtual fitter to create a profile, including their likes, dislikes and “challenges” with bra-fitting in the past alongside a photo of themselves in a bra.
The business has grown to six stores across Victoria and New South Wales with a turnover of around $7 million.
Windram says Brava’s sales continue to increase due to its adoption of technology and the growing breast size of Australian women.
“If we are getting bigger as a society, our breasts are going to increase along with that,” she says. “As a retailer, if we are not keeping up with changing body shapes, we will be left behind.”
Brava adopts a mantra of body positivity that stems from Windram’s own experiences buying bras.
“As a teenager, when bras wouldn’t fit I felt I didn’t fit,” she says. “We want women to have a positive bra-fitting experience so we have always tried to use customer photography instead of supplier images and we are very mindful of our language when we speak to customers.”
Obesity and the environment
A spokesperson for bra manufacturer Berlei says 20 years ago B cup was the most common size in Australia but now the most common size is a C cup, which has not changed over the last four years.
The spokesperson says over the last four years, Berlei has also seen a “small increase” of 2 per cent in cups sizes over a D.
Professor of Women’s Health at Monash University Susan Davis says she is “fairly confident” breast sizes have increased in recent years.
“The bras are only walking off the shelves because people are buying them,” she says.
Professor Davis says the increase in breast size is likely to be a result of increasing obesity and environmental issues.
Her research team recently looked at about 7,000 young Australian women between the ages of 18 to 39 and found 22 per cent were overweight and 25 per cent obese.
Professor Davis also points to exposure to chemicals and compounds called endocrine disruptors such as BPA found in many plastics, which can disrupt hormonal balance.
“We don’t understand what they are doing but it appears they affect reproduction and potentially have an effect on breast growth,” she says.
Turning to technology
In her Brisbane store Big Girls Don’t Cry Anymore, Karen Edbrooke has seen firsthand the increase in breast size.
“The statistics show everyone is getting bigger,” she says. “We have had to change our business model over the years to cater for society.”
Edbrooke started the retailer after she had a major car accident and put on 30 kilograms in eight months, which meant she couldn’t buy bras in Australia.
Big Girls Don’t Cry Anymore now stocks up to cup size N, with 25 staff serving customers in-store and online.
The retailer and wholesaler turned over $4 million last year and is on track for $8 million in sales this year.
“September was our busiest month in 27 years,” Edbrooke says, putting the store in sharp contrast to the general retail downturn, which has seen Australians buying everyday goods at the slowest rate since the 1990-91 recession.
Edbrooke says focusing on a niche and growing area, along with adopting technology including targeted advertising on social media and virtual fittings, has boosted the retailer.
“You can Skype and FaceTime into our fitting rooms and get a fitting,” she says. “We also ran Big Girls TV, a live fashion show [that] we streamed on Facebook and Instagram where people could ask questions and stop the models on the runway.”
Edbrooke says these innovations set her store apart from retailers that don’t have a website and don’t use social media.
“Traditional retailers are not keeping up to date with technology,” she says. “Customers check you out online first.”
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Cara is the small business editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne