When we started The Big Bloomers Company back in 2007 we had no intention of manufacturing. All we ever intended was to supply plus size lingerie – we were to be a link in the chain – the middle man.
A big surprise awaited us. Whilst loads of wholesalers and retailers were boasting that they made/supplied plus size lingerie up to size 6XL (UK dress size 28/30) this was not, in fact, the case. It was a puff, a brag, an empty promise leaving plus size women frustrated and disappointed after endless fruitless internet searches.
We made a pledge that if we couldn’t supply the item in 6XL we wouldn’t have it on the Big Bloomers website. Having stood on this high moral ground, we realised that the only way to keep to the promise was to manufacture these elusive plus size and 6LX items ourselves.
As far as manufacturing the knickers was concerned everything went relatively smoothly…… but the tights were in another league. Talk about a learning curve, ladies you have no idea!
We soon learned from our customers that nobody, but nobody, was manufacturing tights that were either long enough or had enough room in the thighs. Stories of women having to wear an extra pair of knickers over their tights to keep them from riding down as they walked were common place. Tights where the thighs were grabbing and making use of the gusset fabric because the thighs weren’t big enough were also common. We were appalled to learn that our customers were suffering such discomfort day in day out, and we were naïve enough to promise them a quick solution to their problems.
We approached our tights wholesaler and asked him to talk to his manufacturer about making tights with wider hips and bigger thighs. There seemed to be problems with this request and eventually, we were put in touch with the manufacturer to talk through our requirements. After a few not overly enthusiastic discussions it was agreed that a prototype should be produced. We were very excited – until the sample pairs of ‘extra plus size’ tights arrived at the warehouse. The manufacturer had simply widened the gusset by ten inches and continued this fabric round from the waist at the front too the waist at the back of the garment. The tights were, thus, 20 inches wider at the waist and hips and incredibly bulky in the crotch – but still no more capacious in the thighs. We sent them to our guinea pigs whose feed back was not much more than tepid, the only agreement between them all was that these tights were slightly better than anything else on the market.
My daughter Laura decided that there was only one way forward, to go toItaly, the home of lingerie manufacture, and talk to the big manufacturers. She would explain how the ‘extra plus size’ design fell short of what was required and get a solution to the problem once and for all. So, in April 2009 armed with her English/Italian dictionary, Laura set off to spend three months in the north of Italy talking to pantyhose manufacturers.
It was a soul destroying three months. Her Italian wasn’t up to persuading receptionists to allow her to speak to the decision makers within the companies. She did manage to learn that the problem was the barrel on which the tights are knitted. All manufacturers use a standard sized barrel and that dictates the amount of stretch in the thighs. ‘You can’t have tights bigger than the barrel’ they told Laura. ‘What about getting a bigger barrel?’ Laura suggested. ‘Nobody has bigger barrel’ they explained in broken English – which was still better than Laura’s Italian. ‘Nobody want tights knitted on bigger barrel’ they assured her. ‘I do’ persisted Laura. They shook their heads and threw their hands into the air, ‘There is no bigger barrel.’ Dead end!
Making them longer was not a technical problem….. but it WAS a problem because Italian men, not being overly tall could see no point in making their tights any longer. ‘Why you want these tights longer, they long enough, they fit ME’ they grinned, one after another.
Eventually, Laura had some unbelievable luck from which all of you plus size ladies are now able to reap the benefit. She was home from industrial heart of Parma after a particularly unproductive day when she stopped to answer her mobile. As she spoke, she noticed that she was parked outside a small lingerie factory. The facia looked in need of a lick of paint as did the office door. Laura pushed, tentatively on the door. A tall, plus size, forty-something Italian woman looked up from a desk, startled to see she had a visitor. It turned out that the factory had recently been left to Francesca by her grandfather and she was feeling quite overwhelmed with the thought of how she was to modernise it. Laura recognised her opportunity and grabbed it. Francesca’s ample thighs and heavy hips meant that she was aware of the problem with tights and confessed that she hardly ever wore them. She was, however, polite enough to listen to Laura’s theory that a bigger barrel was needed and NOT extra width in the gusset. Together they worked out how big this barrel needed to be and what size minimum order would make it worthwhile for Francesca to go to the expense of buying it.
That was all nearly three years ago…….. that’s how long it has taken! But now we have the All Woman tights – 25,000 packs stacked up in the warehouse and they are exactly to the specification Laura knew she needed when she left England in April 2009. They are long in the leg – they wont ride down and you won’t need to wear an extra pair of knickers to keep them up. They are wide on the hips, stretching to 100 inches if you needed them to! And, this is going to please so many of you, the large circumference of Francesca’s barrel means that they will accommodate very big thighs without grabbing at the gusset fabric. We have two sizes, Uk22/32 and UK34/44 – and whether you’re tall and big boned or short and extra plus size, one of those two sizes will fit you….. that’s a promise.