Part II of my response to Holly at The Lingerie Addict. Here’s her post again.
This is where I calm down (mostly) and take a serious look at the sobering market insight that emerged for me as a result of this post.
What happened was that an astute early commenter called out the brands Holly featured for not doing more — not going further than G or GG. She made the same point in response to my own post on defining “full-bust brand,” which, essentially, consisted of an apologia for brands that stop at G. And, she’s not wrong. As far as unmet needs, prevalence, differentiation, all kinds of metrics, the full-bust market barely gets started by G. I still maintain, mind you, that stepwise is bestwise in making progress. I know. It’s morally unsatisfying. Strategy is a crafty business, OK? Its house is Slytherin and its god is Loki. But we can never lose sight of the big picture. And yes, getting the needs of cups over G properly served does matter. It matters a great deal.
Here’s the thing about this whole issue, though.
Because The Lingerie Addict is an awesome and powerful social media platform, with a million times more clout than my little babyblog (I haven’t even optimized social media strategy yet no time blah blah blah excuses excuses), Claudette actually responded to that comment.
And what Claudette said highlights one of the most important roadblocks any brand faces in entering full-bust.
For all except the best educated shoppers — who mail-order their bras, from Poland if necessary — there is a middleman standing between the brand and its end customer. The ultimate or end customer is the woman who buys the bra. But the brand’s immediate customer is the retailer: the bra boutique owner, the department store. And both have to be on board for the bra to sell. Which makes market shaping — eliciting the need into which you can sell the offering — a very complicated problem for an aspirant full-bust brand: education needs to happen on two levels at once, and if either lags, it can and will hold back the other.
It’s not just the full-bust bra shopper that’s got to become aware, first of the size she needs, and then of the aesthetics she wants. The retailers, the middlemen, also need to be convinced: not just that these sizes are really truly prevalent, or that this style really will resonate at a whole new level with customers, but that live shoppers are out there now — not just potentially, tomorrow, but actually, today. They’re running businesses, not advocacy groups. They need to survive on the hard numbers they can project and then realize this quarter. “If you build it, they will come” isn’t a business model in the real world.
What happens if full-bust women are waking up — increasingly aware, galvanized, ready to shop — but retailers aren’t there yet? If retailers don’t think the market is mature enough that customers exist for GG+ bras? Just as Claudette points out: it can make every bra in 28 bands and J cups till it’s blue in the face and its engineers are all sweaty and fulfilled and breathless, and nothing will change! As long as the retailers don’t believe they can sell those sizes, they are never going to order or stock them. Those bras are never going to see the light of day in an actual boutique. They’ll stay niched, obtainable only by the desperate self-educated expert shopper via mail order. Or, worse, they’ll be discontinued, or never even started — because they will be correctly assessed as unprofitable.
Retailer buy-in is a cost of entry for this business model.
It’s a bit of a tough nut. It doesn’t mean, of course, that the answer is to give up because OMG proactive market shaping is too haaaaaard and cooooomplicated. Once this problem is properly threshed out and clarified it really shouldn’t be all that difficult to address. Target retailers as well as consumers with thought-leader-driven education and awareness PR as pullthrough, carefully choosing the right channels for each audience, and so forth blah blah blah marketing fishcakes. It just, sigh, yes, may take a bit more in the way of up-front resource outlay to get at that elusive — but tremendous … srsly, the magnitude of opportunity sleeping here — ROI.
What can end consumers do?
Are we powerless?
Here’s how to help this evolution, this renaissance, along.
Don’t just meekly settle for the ability to mail-order a bra that fits. Ask for more. Define your expectations. Do it in writing. ASK YOUR LOCAL RETAILER FOR YOUR SIZE. Furthermore, ASK FOR THE KIND OF BRA YOU WANT. Mention the brand(s) that you want to see your size in … and COPY YOUR REQUEST TO THOSE BRANDS.
Advice: pick your targets for feasibility. I’m as tempted as anyone to yowl for — well, in my case, Nichole de Carle and I.D. Sarrieri (now you know) — to cater to me right this m-f instant. But you’ve got to be strategic. Go stepwise. Think about it: what you’re asking should seem like a manageable, bite-sized risk, not a huge terrifying paradigm shift, to your target brand. So choose a brand that targets the size next door to yours. If you’re a GG-H cup, ask for — and cc — that great DD-G brand you can almost sister-size into but eh, not quite. If you’re an E cup, ask for — and cc — that one brand you love that offers only a C, a D, maybe a European E. If you’re a 28 band, why not hit up that one brand that’s so goddamn tantalizing because hell, it already offers 30 bands?
The great point is: write! Make yourself heard. Build the body of evidence the brands AND the retailers need for moving forward.
Be the case for the change you want to see in the world.