Throughout my search for American made apparel, I’ve struggled to find American made bras that were not only pretty but also actually served their purpose (because if I didn’t need one… I just wouldn’t wear one, right?!). After being introduced to Brook Delorme, founder and designer of Brook There, and testing out the product, I’m happy to have found a great brand to recommend. Brook and her husband and partner Daniel are awesome – totally committed to creating quality, handmade products using organic and sustainable materials in Maine and to supporting American made.
Read on for an interview with Brooke on her business and what she has learned… and also for some insight into the sizing and design process. I am always asked why brands don’t carry broader size ranges and Brook’s answer and thoughts on sizing applies to almost all apparel. If you have additional questions, please leave them in the comments!
WHAT MADE YOU START BROOK THERE?
We started the organic lingerie line because I couldn’t find the type of pieces I wanted to wear: wireless, soft cup, made of organic cotton that also felt sophisticated. So many of the wireless & soft-structure bras on the market are made of materials that I’m not crazy about, like foam, nylon, lace, or other synthetics.
I’ve been designing clothing for myself since I was twelve, and started selling one-of-a-kind pieces during college. Focusing the need to sew and make into a brand was the impetus behind Brook There.
HOW DID YOUR PAST EXPERIENCES LEAD TO BROOK THERE?
Daniel – my husband and business partner – and I also run Seawall, a menswear focused brand, also cut & sewn in Maine. We went to college together, in Portland, after which he went on to do graphic design and worked at Rogues Gallery (a mid-2000s mens brand in Portland that was super hot for a moment). I went and worked in technology for five years. We reconnected through the fashion and art scene, started a conceptual art gallery, and then decided to go back to what we know – clothing.
WHAT DRIVES YOU?
I love everything about clothing and fabric- I think that’s why I’m so sensitive about using synthetics. They smell bad to me. I love touching fabric, figuring out how things should go together, and the process of pattern-making or sewing.
Of course, the reality of running a business is that design really can only happen for about two months of the year. The rest of the time, one has to be happy with designing other aspects of a small business.
WHAT MAKES YOUR DAY?
Hmm. Should I interpret that as “what makes your day great?” or “What makes up your day?” I’m going with the latter.
coffee. feed cat. reading or writing. coffee again. workshop. current samples/ photos/ web/ production tasks. shipping. long long conversations with Daniel about our businesses. feed cat. he cooks dinner. sleep.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOURSELF WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED?
1. To have more patience about designing good systems and finding the right people. It’s important to be really, really picky about who you work with, who you bring into your inner circle.
2. To understand inventory. For a few years, I did the thing which was very popular at that time- making to order. We moved away from that completely a few years back for a bunch of reasons. I think that experience led me to misunderstand good inventory management.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE AMERICAN MADE BRANDS?
I love my 3sixteen jeans – I bought from their first season of women’s jeans and wear them almost everyday.
WHY IS AMERICAN MADE SO IMPORTANT TO YOU AND YOUR BUSINESS?
One of our “hobbies” is reading and talking about economics and economic theory. It’s never seemed particularly rational that America should or could completely outsource manufacturing.
As a small business, it’s very costly to manufacture overseas. The per unit cost might be significantly less, but the other costs add up and aren’t really off-set until a business has reached a certain scale. Finally, the oversight of safety and ethics is extraordinarily hard for a small company producing overseas.
Working in Maine, we can personally know every person who touches our garments in the production process, visit them in their workspace, and not have to worry that the production might be secretly farmed out to a second or third sub contractor.
WHAT SHOULD WE LOOK FOR WHILE PURCHASING LINGERIE? HOW CAN WE MAKE SURE THE FIT IS RIGHT?
It’s important to try to find a brand’s size chart and fit instructions. A size chart should include actual body measurements- not just garment measurements. Garment measurements can be useful on non-stretch pieces like pants or button shirts, but are really not useful on pieces made of stretch fabric.
Bra sizing has practically no standardization, which is why finding the fit instructions is super-important. There are several different methods for calculating band and cup size, and these differ across regions of the world. They also, most confusingly, may use the same numbering system- so a 36B in an American size schema is a 32D in a newly-popular British schema! I’ve written more about this here and posted a size comparison chart, because this is a complex topic.
When we look at what’s going on in the market – especially with the ongoing discussion about women not wearing the correct bra size – it feels like we’re back in the 1950s. What women should look for is a style that fits, and is comfortable- in the way they want it too. Often, this will take trying on several brands and cup styles. Aesthetically, I prefer the more natural shape and silhouette of a soft cup style.
Personally, I avoid clothing that is too tight, has metal parts like hooks or underwires, or has any sort of itchy fabric or trim. This influences our end product design significantly, and we end up with a product that is most definitely niche.
I SEE A LOT OF COMMENTARY ON SIZING, WHICH I UNDERSTAND TO BE A COMPLICATED SUBJECT. CAN YOU HELP US TO UNDERSTAND WHAT GOES INTO SIZING WHILE BUILDING A LINE AND WHY IT IS SO HARD TO CREATE A LINE THAT CAN FIT ALL SIZES?
I’m always happy to answer questions about sizing! Forgive the length, but it takes a while to explain sufficiently.
First thing to know is: All brands, from the biggest to the smallest have a fit model. This is someone who the brand perceives to be in the middle of the size range of their target audience. In the majority of small brands, the designer acts as a fit model, because she/he is up close and personal with the clothes, and has the vision of how they should fit. (editor’s note – also, s/he is free!)
The fit model needs to be in the middle of the size range because patterns are graded (sized) up and down from there. Grading is, for the most part, algorithmic or rule-based. There’s only so far a pattern can be graded in one direction or another before it begins to lose integrity in relation to the population who might fit that size. It’s hard to have a size range of more than 6 or 7 size-steps without bringing in additional fit models and starting a new range from a new middle. (editor’s note – this would essentially be making an entirely new item – new patterns, cuts, etc.)
All these points become exacerbated if a brand is making tailored, fitted pieces of non-stretch fabric. Many brands avoid this end by using loose, unfitted cuts or stretchy fabric, like we do, allowing pieces to work on a wider size range than they otherwise might.
As this relates to bra sizing: All the same points apply, with regards to fit models and size ranges. We currently offer seven bra sizes, and since the cups and body are made of stretchy fabric, we overlap the cup sizes (34AB, 34BC, 34CD) and so forth. When the patterns are in development we fit on a range of cup sizes, AB, BC, and CD.
I am not sensing much or any demand from larger busted women for the style of bra we’re offering because I don’t see us ever adding underwires or many styles with back closures (editor’s note – again, this would be an entirely different product, require different machines, etc.). We are in the process of rolling out a broader line of the 34CD and 36CD sizes, and if these sell well, we’ll explore adding more.
Please note: I was given a Brook There set to try after completing this interview – and I really do love it. As always, I only write about products I would happily recommend.