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Why are sports bras for big boobs so hard to find?

IMAGE VIA GIRLFRIEND COLLECTIVE
WORDS BY JASMINE WALLIS

Despite all the progress in the fashion inclusivity space, it’s an area that’s still lacking.

Recently, my editor asked me to write an article road-testing sports bras for big boobs. Considering I have to wear three layers of clothing to reduce even the slightest hint of bounce on a run, I jumped at the opportunity. 

How hard could it be? I’d get sent a bunch of bras, try them on and the article could go live at the end of the week. Oh, how wrong we were. Trying to find sports bras in a size G was like trying to make plans during COVID – frustrating and disappointing.


For more musings on big boobs in fashion, head here


With all of the plus-size lines, racial, gender and sexual diversity we’ve seen in fashion campaigns and the sporting world over the last decade, why is finding sports bras for bigger boobs still so damn hard? 

Tish Tilly is the co-founder of She Science, Australia’s only store solely dedicated to sports bras. Born out of a lack of options, She Science now stocks up to a size K and educates customers on the importance of buying bras that fit properly. 

“When I was young, I was really active. And all of a sudden at age 16 I just kind of withdrew from an active participation in life because of my boobs,” Tish tells me over the phone. “I weighed 45 kilos and had an H cup. And back then there wasn’t specialty fitting and most of the bras we stock now just didn’t exist.” 

Wanting to play sport again, Tish opted for breast reduction surgery at just 17 years old. “That gave me back my confidence and desire to participate in life again but it’s a pretty extreme procedure for a 17-year-old to feel like that was the answer.” 

Knowing how alienated she felt by the fashion industry, Tish set out to create her own store to help women navigate the world of bigger breasts and exercise. While Tish’s story is on the more extreme side, it’s a situation that most women above a size D would resonate with. The pain of exercise, the frustration of not finding your size on the rack and even opting out of sport and exercise altogether because it’s just too hard. But is it our fault?

Finding the right size

According to a study by Sports Medicine Australia, 88 per cent of women wear a bra during exercise that doesn’t fit correctly. Tish believes this is contributing to women not being able to participate in exercise properly as well as the lack of sizing among brands. 

“Bra fitting is not an easily accessible thing in Australia so most women think that they are middle-of-the-bell-curve-size when they’re not,” Tish explains. 

“So brands capitalise on that a little bit because it’s much easier for them to just produce a narrower size range. It’s expensive to hold a broad range of sizes in such a specialty product.”

More fabric, more money

The argument around the cost of producing larger sizes is the same one the plus-size fashion space has been battling with for years. 

An article by Christina Binkley for Vogue Business chronicles the story of a chief fashion executive and creative director who deemed it “unfair” to share the cost of producing larger sizes across the regular range they already had. Instead of coming up with a solution, the plus-size range was shelved altogether. 

When looking at big, global corporations that don’t stock a sports bra above a size DD, it’s not hard to feel that the same conversation is happening across the sports world, too. In defence of these brands, Tish tells me that creating a sports bra is a technically demanding design process. 

“While a crop top is extremely cheap to make, a technical bra will have up to 40 different elements to it. There’s metal elements, mesh, elastics, hook and eye and adjustment pieces. So it’s really hard to mass produce and they are expensive.”

But considering there are thousands of styles of sports shoes, equipment and activewear with technical elements stocked by mainstream brands, this argument is hard to swallow. 

Is it the expense or is it just laziness? 

One woman who is including people with bigger boobs in the fashion world is Sophia Argyropoulos, the founder of Melbourne-based swimwear brand, Raq

Much like Tish, Raq was the result of Sophia’s pure frustration of not being able to find swimwear that was cute, fashionable and fun for people above a D cup. 

According to Sophia’s market research, about 60 per cent of Australian women wear a D cup or above, meaning there’s a huge group of people who are not able to find products easily. Sophia notes that that 40 per cent is what the market focuses on and again, it usually comes down to ease and small profit margins. 

“That 40 per cent can fit into extra small, small, medium and large sizes, so four sizes. Raq specialises in D cup and above and we currently cater to over 30 bra sizes. So I just think it’s a lot of work for brands.” 

When I ask Sophia what the fashion world needs to do better for women sized above a D cup, the designer says brands need to be truly inclusive if they want to use diversity as a marketing technique. 

“It’s great that small independent brands have been able to break through but what I’ve noticed is there’s a lot of bigger brands that are doing a good job of including models with diverse backgrounds and disabilities in their marketing but I don’t think that it’s necessarily reflected in their sizing. Sometimes they’ll go into the larger sizes, but it won’t necessarily be band and larger cup sizes so I think that there’s an opportunity to expand.”

Tish thinks we should ditch the small, medium, large sizing charts altogether. “Unless somebody is perfectly in proportion, that sizing doesn’t end up serving many people and then they get burned by that product… they’ll feel defeated by the whole experience,” she explains. 

A two-way street

From speaking with both Tish and Sophia, it’s clear that there are some important changes happening in the fashion space for women with bigger busts, but brands won’t help us if we don’t help ourselves. 

“For the sake of womankind, we need to educate people about the fact that if a bra doesn’t fit, it can’t function,” says Tish. Purchasing a sports bra should be treated with the same care as purchasing running shoes, so we should get fitted by a professional. Rather than being seen as a niche market, people like the team at She Science are ensuring that those of all body types have access to the tools they need to exercise. 

Because at the end of the day, what’s the point in selling an XL activewear shirt when people above a D cup can’t exercise without feeling self-conscious? Fashion industry, take note: we’ve still got a long way to go. 

For more on living with big boobs head here

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