This women-led Canadian brand makes bras that are actually comfortable

Sep 20 2021, 6:45 pm

Let’s be blunt: people with breasts understand the struggle to find a good bra is seemingly never-ending. 

Bras are either comfortable and supportive but ugly or pretty but lacking proper support — and whatever they end up being, they rarely fit just right. 

It can be frustrating, to say the least, but luckily there are a few brands who are taking notes and vowing to do better for bra-wearing people everywhere. Understance is a women-led, Canadian brand that not only makes comfortable bras, it also does so in an ethical way — with both people and the environment in mind. 

But what do these bras actually look like? 

Understance products are not only stylish, they’re incredibly comfortable with a wide range of support levels — pretty much a win-win. 

To get a sense of how Understance is changing the undergarment industry, we asked their founder, Jiayi Lyu, what they’re doing differently, and what it means to run an ethically driven brand today. 

“I struggled to find a good bra. I’m a picky person, and I wanted one that is comfortable enough to wear all day, supportive enough for the office or a dinner out, ethically manufactured, marketed with an inclusive and kind perception of what it means to be beautiful, and looks good,” Lyu tells us. Unable to find something that checked all these boxes, she founded Understance. 

“I remember shopping for bras and thinking that most things in life have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. Phones, cars, even shoes have gotten more comfortable. Yet somehow, bras have stayed pretty much the same. I always thought that was really strange,” explains Lyu.  

Bras, she says, are often treated as fashion rather than technology, with brands focusing on the trends and colours versus how they can make them more comfortable. “The reality is, half an inch on a bra is vastly different than half an inch on other pieces of clothing. Bras are a functional product, require a close fit, and should be well-made in order for them to be comfortable.”

Genevieve Fontanilla, Understance’s senior marketing specialist, admits that “a lot of women wear the wrong size bra,” and this is something that contributes to the fact that it’s not comfortable for them. “We had someone come in for a fitting last week, and she had scars on her side simply from the bras she had been previously wearing,” she notes.

“People make a lot of compromises when it comes to bras because it’s hard to find ones that fit. There have been tech breakthroughs available that make these compromises unnecessary now, and we want them to be available to people.”

Continuing, she says, “The best part of your day shouldn’t be taking off your bra.” And to make sure of that, Understance takes a “curated-by-size” approach, which means most of their bras only come in three cup sizes, with different designs made specifically for different sizes. 

This means you’re always able to pick the bra that’s going to fit you best. “It would be easier and more profitable for us to mass manufacture our bras in each size, but we’re here to create bras that are a perfect fit for every type of body,” says Fontanilla. 

As a technical clothing item, bras are difficult to get right. In fact, they can have anywhere from five to 16 different components and take anywhere from 60 to 120 steps to complete. “There are a lot more materials involved than a t-shirt,” adds Lyu. “We think of [the manufacturing process] as craftsmanship.”

Bras are expected to provide coverage and lift, hug the body closely, feel like nothing, and look good all at the same time. “It’s often tough to create something that fits a variety of body shapes while still fulfilling all these expectations,” Lyu says.

“All our fabrics go through four rounds of testing to ensure their durability: colourfastness, dimensional stability, stretch recovery, and pilling,“ she explains. “It takes us nine months to bring new products into the market because we fit-test all our bras in all their sizes on everyday people before manufacturing them — and most of our bras go through up to four iterations to make sure we have the perfect fit.”

With this kind of attention to detail, it’s no wonder an Understance bra is also going to last a really, really long time. 

On their website, bras are categorized by wire or no wire, shape, lining, and material, which means you can easily filter and curate the kind of bra that best suits you. From their Moonlight Sheer Plunge Bra — with its vintage applique and mesh details — to the sleek and understated Soft Embrace Wireless Contour Push-Up Bra, their styles are designed for everyday life — how excited are you to say bye to discomfort? 

They also make beautiful and comfortable underwear, designed with the same ethos as their bras — because who doesn’t love a matching set of lingerie? 

The brand recently expanded their size offerings to 44E and 42F, with even more size options coming early next March for those looking for sizes 44G, 46F, and 48E — more reason to love this inclusive, women-led, Canadian brand and to shop local.

During our conversation, Lyu recalls a time when she was in high school, and someone asked a friend if they were going to watch the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. “Their response was, ‘No, I don’t feel like torturing myself today,'” she says.

“Displaying flawless and unrealistic women creates a lot of problems [and] body-image issues; we believe it’s a type of psychological bullying, and it’s harmful.”

To ensure Understance has “proper representation,” the brand doesn’t photoshop, retouch, or airbrush models. “We always aim to represent humans as they are, and part of this industry is about featuring the tall, skinny models. It’s not a reflection of everyday people,” she says.

“We want people who wear the bras to see themselves in our brand.”

On top of being 100% women-led, the company uses 50% less wastewater when making their products than the average undergarment manufacturer — and all their tags and packaging are made entirely from recycled materials.  

Sustainability, Lyu says, is a work in progress; it’s more than just a catchy slogan. “There are a lot of things that we can be doing better, and we are trying to.”

“For us, ethically made means when deciding who we want to partner with to manufacture our products, we asked ourselves, ‘Who would we want to work for; how would we want to be treated?'” Fontanilla says. As such, the brand partners with two factories: one practicing water conservation and another that is a family-style factory. 

“Craftsmanship is so important to quality. [With Understance products] you can take comfort in knowing that the people who made these items were treated fairly, paid on time, and enjoyed sustainable working conditions,” Fontanilla says. “Our factory employees are paid 20% above the average in the region.”


To explore Understance’s curated-by-size approach or learn more about its ethical manufacturing processes, visit understance.com.

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