The Value of Quality
I was fortunate enough to see the Prima Donna/Marie Jo facilities in Belgium recently and the experience has heightened my appreciation for the value of quality lingerie.
The process that goes into manufacturing lingerie means that we are often asking small scraps of lace and fastenings to do a big job – one that, when done properly, requires engineering and design as well as artistry.
The sheer magnitude of the different raw elements involved in producing a brassiere, for example, can be surprising – but to see the operations of one of the top quality brands in action is eye opening, even to someone immersed in the trade.
Once the company has gone through its process to determine which lines they will move forward for production, they create a book that specifically outlines each product in minute detail, in order to guarantee uniformity. The book goes to a level of details that mandates not only the color and thickness of thread used, but the exact kind of stitches required and how many stitches per centimeter. For fabrics and lace, the exact pattern is determined, so that every single garment has an identical appearance in its size. This means that for a patterned fabric, every garment will be cut in exactly the same place in the repeat of the pattern.
When you take a minute to contemplate the challenges of maintaining continuity while minimizing fabric waste, the complexity is staggering – particularly when you consider some of the company’s annual numbers:
1,000 miles of embroidery
18,500 miles of shoulder strap
6 MILLION cups
What’s fascinating is the mixture of technology and manual labor that goes into creating Prima Donna and Marie Jo quality lingerie. On the one hand, machines are used to unspool and respool every single bolt of fabric that comes into the factory, to ensure that all fabric being used has the same tension. As the fabric is goes through this process, it is examined for imperfections – this is done by a person with good eyes and a roll of tape, and they are only allowed to perform this task for 3 hours per day, maximum. Machines are used to test the tensile strength of each piece of fabric the company is planning to use, to ensure it has the ability to hold up under the strain of use, especially for fuller busted women. At the same time, wear testing is done with a series of consumer-grade washers. (I did note that they don’t even attempt to test their fabrics in the dryer. If you’re a consumer putting your lingerie through the dryer, you’re venturing into uncharted waters, and it’s about as highly recommended as swimming with hungry sharks wearing a chum-drenched swimsuit.) Finally, to achieve maximum uniformity with minimum waste, computers are used to generate exact cuts on each piece of fabric. Cuts are designed into the bolt of fabric, with a razor-thin margin between cuts. Lace, on the other hand, is hand cut with a press die designed for each specific garment.
Once all of the pieces for a garment are assembled – and we’re talking upwards of 50 elements for a single piece of lingerie in some cases – the components are shipped overseas for assembly according to that very specific, aforementioned book. Then the lingerie comes back to the company’s facility in Belgium for the inspection and distribution.
Keep in mind, this process is for a single garment. Each year, across all of the Prima Donna and Marie Jo lines, the company produces 300 new models of lingerie – 50 different sizes and 60 unique colors. That adds up to 8,500 unique items annually.
And then comes distribution. Across their primary lines – Prima Donna, Prima Donna Twist, Marie Jo and Marie Jo L’Aventure – they ship 25,000 pieces of lingerie daily. This is all done from a single location in Belgium. During the busy times of year, that number goes up to 33,000 pieces each day. And every single one of those pieces is hand inspected before being packaged for shipment. This is not just a cursory glance – every piece is hand-placed, one-by-one, on a specifically designed contraption to gauge size, fabric quality and consistency.
“Understanding the process of creating high-end lingerie helps to explain its value to both employees and customers,” – Ali Cudby
Understanding the process of creating high-end lingerie helps to explain its value to both employees and customers. When every garment is given such dedication to excellence and quality checked to this degree, it’s helpful to share some of this information with customers, so they can better appreciate what goes into luxury lingerie and, by extension its prices.
Ali Cudby is the CEO of Fab Foundations™ LLC. She is also an author, bra coach and strategic marketing consultant. Ali’s bra fit advice goes to tens of thousands of people Internationally – both consumers and lingerie professionals – each month. You can find Ali online at www.fabfoundations.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AliCudbyAuthor, and on Twitter at @alicudby.