There was a blog post I came across yesterday that stirred-up quite a debate. A young Hollywood actress, who recently had a breast reduction, was criticised in the media for her choice.
When I first saw the headline, and then the post, I was upset. I had felt that people who didn’t know this woman were judging her and shaming her for her choice. Many others felt the same way, commenting their concerns towards the author. The article did share some of the same concerns that I have about poor education surrounding bra fit, as well as sizing information shared from surgeons.
The author of the blog had advocated for properly fitted bras, and I am too a huge advocate for wearing properly fitted bras, so much so that it’s become a part of my life, as I’ve focused my education and career around it. A good fitting bra literally changed my life.
But I can relate to this young actress, at the age of 17, I considered a breast reduction, and had a consultation with a surgeon. Only out of sheer fear did I not proceed. I am completely terrified of needles and the idea of willingly allowing surgery on my body was just too much for me to handle at that time. The whole process also seemed too quick, or easy, and I was scared to make such a lasting decision at 17. There were real risks, scarring and weeks of healing. All I had to do was say "yes" and I'd have been on the 1-year plus wait for the surgery. That's a lot for a 17-year old girl to take in.
I was active during high school, a member of the track & field club and even competed (only once!) at the provincial level as a sprinter. My breasts were out of control. I was buying both 38DD and 40DD from Wonderbra, and it was miles too loose around the back. I reckon I was likely a 34/36FF. It was because of some of these issues that I had investigated this option.
My relationship towards my breasts changed when I finally was properly fitted, and began to buy bras that were imported from Europe. As a young woman in Canada, there were no other options to find a 36G or H in traditional retail stores. These bras cost a small fortune to a student, that in the end I had to get a job at the shop so that I could get a small discount on these necessities. The change in size and structure of the bra was incredibly painful for the first week to ten days. I had felt bruised and raw from the pressure of the bra on my frame, but looking in the mirror, and knowing how a good bra fit, I knew that I had to push through. If I hadn’t, I’d likely still be in that horrible Wonderbra, in another life, doing a job that I didn’t love.
That properly fitting bra did change my life though. I slowly became more comfortable and confident with my body. I felt supported physically and was not fighting with my bra so much throughout the day. The straps were not slipping, the band was not riding up, my breasts were not trying to escape from the bottom. My clothes fit better, as did my seatbelt! My wires were also not breaking, so I was no longer replacing my bras, but building a collection. I finally felt sexy, being able to get the colours I wanted with bottoms to match in beautiful and luxurious fabrics. Something that was never available to me, even in a 40DD.
These days, I still have a love-hate relationship with my breasts. I’m more confident in my figure now than I ever was in my youth, but most days, my breasts hurt. I now regularly sleep in a Bravissimo sleep top in order to contain them. I find without a sleep bra, my tender or swollen breasts (more so during certain times of the month) get in the way, or my skin is pinched, or my long hair gets trapped or wrapped around them.
I’m a lingerie designer, and I’ve spent the last year and a half working with some of the largest lingerie retailers for big cups in Europe. I still struggle to find bras that are comfortable for my squishy frame and fussy brain. Wires that poke and dig, or flimsy laces that don’t support, bands that cut or dig, as well as shoulder straps that are too short, or even fold in half and bunch up, are just some of my fit issues.
I’m not certain that I’d have a breast reduction at this stage in my life. I know I’m not at my healthy body weight. There was a period in my life where I had nearly reached my goal weight, and I was able to fit into a 32F in a brand that had a smaller fit. I can only imagine how someone may feel if they were happy with the rest of their body and their weight if their breasts were causing them a lot of physical, mental or emotional grief. I would also encourage anyone considering surgery to try to find the best fitting bra that they can, and attempt to reach their goal weight, if they are drastically far from it. Surgery isn’t the only choice, but for some it’s necessary for their body or mind, and shouldn’t be criticised by others.
The article also criticises the sizing of the young woman, before and after her surgery. They go as far to suggest that she wasn’t wearing a properly fitted bra. We all know that brands fit differently - and we all know that not everyone, including surgeons, are up to speed on bra fit education. It is frustrating, because as a bra fitter, I have seen the disappointment so many times on women’s faces when they realise that their after-surgery size is still a large cup.
It’s been in my experience, a great number of times, that women post-surgery are usually not too far off from their pre-surgery size. A great deal of breast tissue can be removed, but I have found that the width of the breast root, has stayed relatively similar for a large number of these women, instead the depth of the breast has been reduced. If I had infinite resources, this would actually be a strong lead for my next round of studies, like pursuing my Masters degree.
I’ve had women in tears where they were a 36H prior to surgery, and still require a 36FF post-surgery, when their doctor had told them they’d now be a C cup. It’s disheartening because these women have very much tied their bra size to something emotional, and a surgeon, has led them astray. The opposite can also be true. Many women with smaller busts having enhancement surgery, believing they’re a 36A or B, and then get fitted post-surgery in 30G, where the style options are radically different from what they were expecting.
But with that said, I can't think of a single woman that told me she had regretted her decision. Of course, post-surgery, these women will still struggle with finding well-fitting bras, but many have been released from they physical, emotional and mental issues surrounding their breasts.
In general, so much more needs to be done to educate women about bra fitting. There also needs to be increased access to more sizes in retail stores around the world (I’m looking at you North America) and they have to be available at all price points.
I believe so passionately in that last statement, that it’s my life’s mission. That is the goal I am working towards, and I hope to be able to make a difference in the lives of women, so that they too can experience a good fitting bra. I really do believe a good fitting bra can change your life, I feel that I’m living proof!
Share - have you had a breast surgery, or ever considered it?
The first 35 days.
I’ve officially been a lingerie designer for 35 days. Seven weeks. Two-hundred and forty hours (give or take the time I’ve spent looking for an apartment, getting a bank account, registering with various bureaucratic agencies, etc).
Is it what I thought it would be? Yes, and no.
I’m working on projects that are really pushing me to think, to problem solve, to be creative, to be resourceful. I enjoy that. It can be difficult though when there are days when I honestly am out of my depth, being a recent graduate, and there’s not a lot of people to turn to, we’re an incredibly small team. Other days are amazing when I feel like I’m in control of my projects and everything is trucking along just fine.
I’m learning. I am learning so much. Since I’ve just started, I’ve not got through a whole collection, or season just yet, but it’s really opening my eyes to some of the complexities of the industry. Working with various suppliers in different countries with different languages and unfamiliar terminologies has certainly led to challenges. Nothing that I can’t overcome, just things I will pick up over time. Do wish me luck that all the components I’ve ordered arrive on time for our upcoming production run!
I’m so incredibly fortunate to work for the company that I do. The unique position of being both a retailer and manufacturer allows me to see products from leading, competitive brands right in our own warehouse and pushes me to consider and evaluate details that I may not have considered, or been familiar with. With a focus on fit, and access to an in-house fit model, it’s simpler to see things immediately and consider the adjustments that need to be made to patterns.
It’s challenging to be on a small team, most days its just me working on design projects, with direction from the company owners, and supporting our freelance designer in another country, but it pushes me to solve problems on my own, and to recognise when I need to ask for help. I can’t help but feel that it’s both a pro and a con. I get to be involved in projects nearly every step of the way, responsible for everything that comes across my desk, but on the other hand, I don’t have a technical mentor directly at hand, she’s 763 miles/1,228 kilometers away.
Did university prepare me for my role? Not even close.
The focus at university was incredibly creative. A great amount of time was spent on such things as sketchbooks, and developing our own original ideas and designs. So far, not a minute of my ‘new’ career has utilised that. Costings. Fit evaluations. Pattern amendments. Usage calculations. Some of these things were obviously covered, but not in the depth that I need. This past week I felt really let down by my education while doing some fit evaluations. I am a highly experienced bra fitter, I know what I want things to look like, but when I’m standing there, looking at a sample on my fit model, and I’ve got the one and only garment produced, and it doesn’t fit, like at all, it’s hard to know where to begin to communicate the changes I want to someone else who can’t see it. It’s led to some confusion, and I need to find some new ways to communicate these thoughts.
I mentioned my frustrations on this gap in my education to my boss, and wish that we would have spent more time at university critiquing samples in a group setting a university. Doing fit evaluations as a group on what we think is good, what needs improvement, how to determine pattern amendments, and how best to describe these to the people that will be making the adjustments. It’s one thing to look at your own work, something you know what the pattern pieces look like, and what the final outcome should look like, but what about when it’s a pattern you didn’t design or make?
As a further ‘diary’ or personal sort of post - part of my new career has seen me move countries. Germany. Wow. Another language and culture. The environment I work in supports me for the most part in English with my day-to-day activities at work being primarily in English. Google translate is my best friend. It’s certainly a challenge to navigate such things as the bureaucratic elements like immigration and visas, registering for ID numbers, health care, bank accounts and finding an apartment when you don’t speak the local language. I have been able to easily make friends outside of work, but honestly, I wasn’t worried about that. I’m struggling greatly with the language (German is tough!) and it will take me a long time, with a tremendous effort to be able to have a simple conversation with German speakers.
My partner, who lives in the UK, has also been able to visit me once in Germany, and I will go to the UK for Christmas to see him and his family, along with my UK friends. The whole process has certainly been challenging, but also very rewarding. This opportunity gave me the chance to be home with my Canadian family and friends for six weeks and attend my sister’s wedding. The job that I have is exactly what I want to do, allowing me to be involved in all aspects of the design, pattern cutting, production AND retail process. I’m feeling incredibly lucky to be where I am and I am looking forward to all that is in store for me over the next few months, and hopefully years to come in Germany, my new home.
My final project was handed-in back in May, course commitments were over in June, Graduation Ceremonies were back in July…so now that it’s August, what happens next in life after the Contour Fashion program ends?
Well - it’s been a busy few weeks, and that’s what’s kept me away from the blog. It’s still hard to believe that I’ve had a mini trans-Atlantic move in less than a month. Here’s a recap of what’s happened…and a crystal ball forecast for the future.
It was July 26th when I got the email through LinkedIn. Never underestimate the power of your network and your contacts. I first met Peter & Charlotte, from Germany, in December of 2012 on a short course. I had only moved to the UK a few months prior for the start of my course. I had become close with one of my lecturers, David Morris, as we’re both technically minded, and my willingness to be a fit model for his short courses, and extensive bra fitting experience, worked as an advantage to both of us.
Fast forward to September of 2014, where I cross paths with Charlotte again, and two of her staff, on yet another short course through my mentor David. Since first meeting Charlotte, her lingerie retail business has expanded - and she’s now in the midst of designing her own brand of swimwear, lingerie and full-bust blouses. She’s working with freelance designers in the UK to produce the patterns, one of whom turns out to be a part-time lecturer at my Uni that following October who specializes in BOTH full-bust lingerie AND Lectra Modaris. Is this a dream come true?
So, when that email shows up that fateful day in July from Peter regarding some freelance work for their lingerie brand, my heart sinks just a little bit at the word ‘freelance’ and the fact that their company is based in Germany. Since the spring, I had been actively looking for work in the UK. It had been a huge challenge to find jobs that I was remotely qualified for, and that might meet the strict requirements to obtain a UK work visa. Oh, the joys of being foreign. I had one single interview for a Lingerie Grading position in South London, and my intuition was that it wasn’t going to happen. The company didn’t have a licence to sponsor me, and I dreaded the thought of the process and paying legal fees upwards of £6,000 - £8,000. All for an entry level job in a city I couldn’t afford.
Peter and Charlotte arranged a phone interview late in July, and it was not at all what I thought. There was no freelance position - but an actual full-time job, on a 12-month contract, in Germany, and it was mine if I wanted it. They were both aware of my skills, and had met me personally, and they too, were close with my mentor, David. Without even seeing my resume or even having ever visited Germany, an offer was made, a contract was sent, and the wheels were set in motion. I would need to return to Canada, as quickly as I could, to apply for a German visa.
So why is it easier to me to go work in Germany than it is to stay in the UK? This is a question I ask myself nearly every day. I had wanted to stay in the UK as I had made it my home over the last three years. I have made lifelong friends through the university and my work networks, along with my partner. It’s been very difficult to leave these relationships behind, but they will all continue, with my partner being incredibly supportive of this journey. My adventure to Germany is still fraught with visas and approvals, but through the Youth Mobility Program, a reciprocal partnership that Canada has with many foreign countries, I am eligible for a 12-month visa to live and work in Germany, which is perfect for the job that I have been offered. It’s funny how things work out at the end of the day, as there is a similar program between the UK and Canada, although the keyword is ‘YOUTH’. The eligibility requirements for age differ between the UK (30) and Germany (35), so having just celebrated my 32nd birthday last week, Germany is a strong possibility, where staying in the UK just wasn’t looking promising. There is still the challenge with the German visa - I have applied and I’m currently awaiting the response. It’s involved tracking down the appropriate travel insurance (difficult when your Canadian residency status is questioned) and a small amount of government paperwork, which all had to be notarized by my lawyer, which wasn’t as affordable as I had hoped.
All challenges aside, this is the perfect opportunity for me right now, at this stage of my life. So, I’m embracing it and can’t wait to start. I had the opportunity to travel to Germany for a few days to see the city, meet my coworkers and learn more about the projects I’ll be working on. It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I couldn’t be more thankful! The crystal ball prediction is that I’ll get my visa shortly, and be able to move to Germany for October 1st, and start my position shortly after. It means that I’ll still be close to the UK, with the ability to spend Christmas with my partner and his family, visit with my friends and coworkers, and attend the wedding of a friend who will be marrying next summer!
Stay tuned because there is still so much more in store for me the next few weeks! Can’t wait to have you join me on this journey!
The first term of first year involved an Illustration class and assignment, beginner pattern cutting and Critical and Contextual Studies (CCS), the academic portion of our program. We were set a project for the 1st term, the Little Black Lingerie Project where we were instructed to make whatever we want, preferably a bra and knicker set, which were to be in black.
This blog post came about as a request from Maria in New Zealand, who also loves to make lingerie. She asked more about the designs that I did at De Montfort University (DMU).
So, let me take you on a journey of the DMU Contour Fashion program…
The Contour Fashion program is the oldest of its kind, founded in 1947 to support the local corsetry industry. From the early 19th century to the end of the 20th century, main industries in Leicester were hosiery (covering many forms of clothing) as well as footwear – along with the engineering that supported these industries. There still is an industry in Leicester for textiles and clothing, but a considerable amount has now moved offshore.
Ok, so more about DMU now.
For the application process to DMU, all prospective students are invited to attend an interview day with the lecturers to show their portfolios. As an international student, this wasn’t required of me (well, the attending part!) but I did have to submit a portfolio, of which I posted online.
Once you’re accepted on the program, time flies by!! We were set a summer project where we had to purchase a 34B bra (industry sample size) and size 12 bottom and take them apart and reconstruct them. I had decided not to do this project until I actually arrived in Leicester. The results were both disastrous and hilarious. Thankfully, I don’t have any photos to show you!
Pattern cutting continued through the 2nd term, and included a new project, this time an external client project for H&M. We were to conduct market research and trend analysis to come up with a design we could imagine for sale at H&M. Other classes now included a CAD class where we were learning how to use Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, as well as a Dragon’s Den group project where we needed to present a new product for the intimate apparel industry.
Upon returning to Second Year, which we all can agree is the busiest year, we were promptly greeted by further CAD classes in both Photoshop and Illustrator, along with a specialist software class for Lectra Modaris pattern cutting. We also continued our pattern cutting classes which included both practical construction and technical pattern cutting and grading. Along with modules in the first term for Corsetry and in second term, an external client project for Lepel, for our Swimwear module. Top this off with Style & Colour trend prediction classes where we build a professionally printed trend publication AND our Cabinet of Curiosities Project where we’re encouraged to just ‘go wild’ and then all of a sudden, you realize that another year of your life has gone by. Oh, right. And then there’s ‘CCS’ the academic part of the program. An essay.
Life on the Contour program never stops. Between first and second year, we were issued with summer projects. One of which was for industry, Stretchline, where we were to come up with uses for a silicone adhesive they had developed and were actively trying to market. The other was our Six Knicker Project where we take 6 pairs of commercial knickers and recreate them.
By the time you reach third year, nothing tends to faze you anymore. Bring on the coursework. The summer between Second and Third Year saw another external client project, for Berlei, as well as the beginning of the Six Bra Project, which quickly turned into the Three Bra, and subsequent Two Bra Project nearer the deadline. Again, tasked with choosing commercial bras and replicating them. We were also set another external client project, this time for Aubade and Lectra, check out the video they made below!! Our classes involved a whole lot of Lectra in third year, as well as our CAD classes where we were taught InDesign and learned more Photoshop and Illustrator hint and tips. Once Christmas comes around, you will become immersed with your Final Major Project, affectionately known as FMP. This is your degree collection, and it’s what all the blood, sweat and tears have been about since the start of the program.
For FMP, you can choose the Aesthetic Route or the Technical Route, for which I chose the Technical Route. There aren’t too many different deliverables for the hand-in, but the marking is considerably different. For students choosing the Aesthetic Route, much more weighting is given to their sketchbooks and design development, where for Technical there is much more emphasis placed on the pattern cutting side of things. Through the Technical Route, there is also an emphasis on utilizing the Lectra Modaris software, and we were given additional instructional hours. As part of the Technical Route this year, we were given the option of making either six outfits or four outfits. If you create six outfits, you are able to present your collection to an industry panel for catwalk selection, which was our big event in London at the beginning of June. If you make four outfits, you cannot try for catwalk, and your collection will also be assessed even more on the technical side of things – Lectra Modaris. I chose to make the four outfits as I thought it would be better to have four outfits I was really proud of and that fit well, rather than have more outfits that were not as well constructed. I knew that by choosing a 32GG size, it would be difficult enough to find catwalk models anyways.
It’s hard to believe that all of this, plus more, happened in the last three years. It’s an incredible journey truly built on blood, sweat and tears. All of the students on the course make tremendous sacrifices to be here. It is an incredibly demanding program because of its global reputation and the watchful eye of industry. The financial cost of the program is huge as well. Printing costs, art and material supplies, fabrics, trims and componentry all add up with each project. It’s very easy to go overboard and over budget! We’re all glad to be finished the course now, and we’re even more excited that graduation is just a few weeks away!
As a side note, the projects change each and every single year on the course. In 2013 and 2014 enrolment in the course was much higher than in my year, 2012, and therefore the current course is structured differently. Do check out Yelena’s website as she features some of her university and personal projects, as she prepares for her final year at DMU.
An introduction, of sorts.
I’m fairly certain I was only eight or nine years old when my mother took me to Sears for my first bra. It was a traumatizing experience for both of us, as I don’t think either of us was ready to admit I needed a proper B or C cup.
Fast forward ten years through the awkward teen years of finding poorly fitting bras from a box in the back of Superstore, Zellers and all the Post-it’s in the Sears catalogue of 40DD’s, there was a ‘hallelujah’ moment when I was 18, moved to ‘The City’ and finally found a specialized lingerie boutique carrying a much wider range of bra sizes that I was used to.
Once I realized that I couldn’t really afford PrimaDonna bras as an 18 year old college student, I applied for a job in that very boutique. It was there that I found my passion for bras, and in particular, obtaining a good fit.
As a young teenager in the late 1990’s, I was certainly interested in fashion. Ripping up my Vogue magazines and blue-tacking the pages to my bedroom wall, I was surrounded by high fashion. When I was only 14 years old, we had sewing classes at school and I quite enjoyed them. At age 16, I splashed out on the best sewing machine I could get my hands on. Bernina, oh, how I love thee and miss you dearly. I began to learn how to manipulate patterns and sew basic garments. It was from that stage I was hooked. Expensive trips to Fabricland were then part of my social outings.
I did particularly well in my sewing classes in High School, but it never really felt like a career, only a hobby. Although, these basic sewing skills I had attained were what helped me get that position in the boutique, as the owner needed a seamstress. A bra seamstress, who knew?!
I worked mostly that first summer as the seamstress at the store. I was constantly ripping the back hooks off of basques for brides to make the garments tight throughout the body, lowering the cups for their beautiful dresses and chopping up wires where needed. It was demanding and time-sensitive work, and I really enjoyed being able to help these women look their best on their special day.
I was only half-way through my 2-year Business Administration - Marketing diploma at the time, so I worked alongside my studies that second year, and when I returned full-time to the shop after graduating, I stayed for a number of years as the right-hand woman taking care of marketing tasks, tradeshows, bra fittings and overseeing the seamstresses and support staff for the boutique. When it was time to move on, I still couldn’t leave bras behind.
Shortly after I left, I discovered the Fairy Bra Mother – Beverly Johnson. Beverly has a shop in Hamilton, Ontario where she retails a plethora of bra making supplies (www.bramakerssupply.com) as well as teaching classes. I certainly couldn’t travel from Edmonton to Hamilton to learn how to make bras, so when I learned that she travelled to Muenster, Saskatchewan to teach bra making, I knew that I had to attend.
I never really had the chance to attend ‘sleep away’ camp as a kid, but The Saskatchewan Stitches Conference is just that – for crafty adults. Hidden away in an Abbey, filled with Benedictine Monks, hundreds of women, and the odd man, would come for a retreat where they could learn new crafty skills such as knitting, quilting and sewing for just a day, or the whole ten days of the conference. Over three summers, I spent a week there each time, making the best of friends. It was an incredible experience – to wake up each morning and know that you got to sew all day and chat with friends while all the cooking and cleaning was taken care of for you!
Furthermore, upon discovering another bra making student from Edmonton, upon her suggestion, I began taking outerwear pattern drafting and constructing classes with Trudy Jansen, where I was able to further develop my skills.
The biggest opportunity and challenge that I faced was when I discovered the Contour Fashion program (a Degree in making underwear!) at De Montfort University in Leicester, United Kingdom. UNITED KINGDOM. That’s a pretty far off place for a Canadian girl from a small town that straddles the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. Again, I knew that if I truly wanted to make bras, I would have to investigate.
It took me a year and a half to be able to attempt to scrape together the funds (aka, a loan from the bank where I worked) I’d need to come to Leicester and take a short course. It seemed like the impossible dream that a 29-year-old woman would cash in life as she knew it (great job, family, friends, marriage, and a home) and move abroad to study. After being in Leicester for just a few days, and again, meeting new friends that were supportive of my bra sewing dreams, I realized that I couldn’t wait to make this happen. I was going to apply for the three-year program and move to the UK.
I tried to believe that everything happens for a reason, and that I was meant to come here. I have had some of the most amazing opportunities to build my skills and along with that, some of the biggest tests of my strength of character to see it through. It was ten weeks from the end of my shortcourse to the day that I arrived back in the UK for my studies. Hands down, it is the craziest and best thing that I’ve ever done for myself. Don’t be afraid to follow your dream. Do what you love. All these clichés are true.
The biggest challenge for me still exists. Finding meaningful employment where I can best use my skills in bra fitting, pattern cutting and sewing. As a Canadian in the UK, there are real barriers to overcome. I have to remain positive that it will happen. I have surpassed so many obstacles to get to this point that I have to just believe that again, this is meant to be.
So, that’s the shortest version of how I got to this stage of bra-making, and I hope that you’ll continue to follow me on this journey, as it’s sure to be exciting! I plan to share what I get up to with you, as well as take requests on the ins and outs of making bras, in particular, big ones!
Cheers and love,
Educating women on the benefits of proper fitting bras is important to Kim. Designing lingerie that complements the fuller figure, and is comfortable, on-trend and beautifully constructed is her mission.
We are in charge of our bodies, and we make the decisions that are right for us, with no judgement. Kimtimates supports those who make their own choices about their own bodies. #yourbodyyourchoice #mybodymychoice