Traditionally bras were manufactured with cut pieces sewn together to form a 3D cup to fit the breast profile. However, the sewing skill set requirement and high manufacturing costs dominated this technology. To address this issue fabric of foams sheets molded to a 3D shape were started being used.
Molded or Seam-Free Cups
Molded cup bras have seamless cups with possibly thicker linings than the traditional one. It retains its shape due to the molding technology. The term ‘molded’ actually refers to the technology that is used to make the cups. The material is heated over a mold to provide the distinct shape to the cups. They are thus heat-molded round forms of synthetic fibers or foam. These cups are used in padded bras, t-shirt bras, contour bras, etc.
The Reason behind Success of Molded Bras
Molded cups offer three basic advantages.
- Seamless finish gives a smooth appearance to the silhouette.
- They provide sufficient coverage even without the hefty seams hence work best with fitted garments like t-shirts.
- Lastly, and most importantly, it offers a comfort level along with providing the proper shape.
Compared to the traditional cut-and-sewn bras, molded cup surface allows a natural configuration with unlimited design, comfort, hand feels and support possibilities.
The Origin of Molded Cup Technology
The driving force for intimate apparel sector since the 1960s has been conforming, support, lightweight, and invisibility under outerwear.
Wonderbra in 1974, developed and applied the thermal molding technology to create the first seamless cups bra ‘Dici’. However, lack of essential seam-bonding and welding technologies delayed this technology to reach the mass market.
Victoria Secret developed first seam free bra in 2002, where the underwire was sandwich bonded between the fabrics before molding into a one piece bra. Other companies like Bogart opted for an alternative route. They bonded material over the face of molded cups using traditional sewing.
Bogart’s range facilitated the use of decorative material and the Victoria Secret’s encapsulation of wire gave their product more underwire comfort and one-piece bra juristic appearance. Both these kinds offered a reduction in visible seam lines and improved comfort resulting from the elimination of the bulky seams.
The countries that mastered this technology
Asia, mainly China is the global hub of molded bra manufacturing technology. The Chinese town of Gurao is known for its lingerie industry and offers molding technology to global buyers. Apart from that Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, France, South America and Italy have also mastered molding technology.
Bra Molding Technology
In the molding process, a pliable material is given a specific shape by forcing it into a mold and holding it within a rigid cavity at high temperature. After reaching the softening temperature, the morphological hard segments and the soft segments within the material are rearranged to enable its conformity to the desired shape.
There are two major molding machines used, namely, bullet head molding machine used on fabrics and a contour molding machine used on foam.
Bullet head molding is generally used on fabrics. The fabric is placed on an open plate and a heated bullet head is driven downwards pushing the fabric down in the cavity. Heat and pressure are maintained for 30 to 60 seconds to develop permanent 3D shape.
All knit fabrics made from synthetic fibers are suitable for molding. Non-woven and spacer fabrics are fit for this purpose, as per the need of the design.
Contour molding machine has a pair of metal molds with desired profile shape. Here the heated molds stretch and compress the flat foam sheets between them at a preset temperature. The high temperature in this method is maintained for a minute to allow it to transmit through the foam sheets.
Technological developments in China
China exports lingerie to over 200 countries globally. It caters to US, Japan, Europe, Hong Kong and Romania lingerie markets. Being on the most lucrative product groups for China, universities in the country also offer Degrees in Bra Studies and have a town (Gurao, Guangdong) specifically known as the “Town of Underwear” due to the presence of most of the lingerie producing factories of the country here.
Saturation of domestic and global markets and fierce competition is forcing Chinese lingerie industry to consolidate. This consolidation is not just eradications smaller players, but also changing the technology Chinese manufacturers used to prefer traditionally.
Hence, Chinese manufacturers catering to high and low-end markets both are shifting towards the trends of molded and spacer bra technologies. Chinese manufacturers catering to the low-end market also are shifting their focus to molded bras from cut-and-sew pieces, due to the manufacturing costs savings, form precision, quality, and higher global demands.
- Molded Cup Bras. Linda The Bra Lady.
- Caldwell, C. Types Of Molded Bras And How To Wear Them. Lingerie And Swimwear.
Liveabout. MARCH 31, 2016.
- K.L.Yick, S.P. Ng, L. Wu. Innovations In The Bra Cup Molding Processes. Advances In Women’s Intimate Apparel Technology. Woodhead Publishing Series In Textiles. Number 182. Pg 69-87
- K. L. Yick, L. Wu, J. Yip, S. P. Ng, W. Yu. An Evaluation Of The Three-Dimensional Geometric Shape Of Molded Bra Cups. Fibers And Polymers. July 2011, Volume 12, Issue 4, Pp 556–563
- An Introduction To Molded Bras. Intimate Apparel Journal.
- Bleak Times In Bra Town. Industrial Clusters. April 16th 2016. Gurao. The Economist. https://www.economist.com/news/china/21697004-one-product-towns-fuelled-chinas-export-boom-many-are-now-trouble-bleak-times-bra-town
- Xie Jun. As China’s lingerie market grows, industry experiences consolidation. Shanghai Source: Global Times Published: 2017/3/14 18:33:39
- Roshan Shishoo. Recent Advances In Garment Manufacturing Technology. The Global Textile And Clothing Industry: Technological Advances And Future Challenges. Woodhead Publishing Series In Textiles. Pg:145