The Shape of Things to Come? A Conversation with CUUP

Words Olivia Sleet

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a woman has two types of bras; the slobby, and the sexy.

The slobby; worn almost daily, it’s usually broken in, slightly faded, perhaps some anti perspirant marks here and there. You probably bought it in 2013 when you were a cup size smaller, but it’s comfortable. It might not do you many favours – there’s no push up, no black and-red, no hoisting up to your earlobes, but who cares? You’re only wearing it for everyday.

Then, there’s the sexy. You probably bought it on a whim, and you probably bought it with someone else in mind. You might have to do a couple of sit ups before feeling brave enough to wear it, twice a year, along with a liberal application of moisturiser and an assurance of complete hairlessness under arms, on legs and bikini line. Only after which, you feel ready. You’ve done it. You are sexy.

This has been the polarised story of women’s underwear for decades. Popularised by industry giants, chief among them tiny lingerie-and-decorative-wings purveyor Victoria’s Secret, sexy is the aim, but slobby is often the reality – and we feel vaguely apologetic about both. And to exacerbate matters, we’re probably not even wearing the right size.

But a change is coming. Confidence and comfort need not exist in mutually exclusive circles. You do not have to choose which woman you are today, and even better, you do not need to have ‘trained like an angel’ for 4 months, sport a frankly alarming spray tan or blow lacquered-lipped kisses to achieve peak sexiness. The backlash recently experienced by Victoria’s Secret following their annual catwalk show is part of a cultural disruption that’s much bigger than them and has been a long time coming. And into the reality void left by mainstream retailers, steps CUUP.

“Bras are uncomfortable, and this is just what I have to deal with.” Abby Morgan, Co-Founder

“The industry’s been poking at them for years” says Abby Morgan, co-founder of CUUP, the lingerie brand that’s putting women’s sizing and confidence first, “like hey, update yourself, get with the times.” CUUP’s ethos is exactly that; to update the perception of women’s underwear, and by extension, women. Whether you’re an F cup or an A cup, they create sculpted, carefully made underwear to fit. And the usual rulebook that has governed women’s underwear manufacturing has been rewritten too; where most brands stock 15-18 size variations, CUUP stocks 35. And those 35 were carefully developed through an intensive 18 months of over 80 fittings (other brands do just 12). Traditionally brands start from a 34B and expand each size by incremental increase or decrease of measurements from there; CUUP measures each size individually, especially as in today’s market two-thirds of women are a D cup or larger.

Born from personal experience of being repeatedly mis-measured by high street providers, and subsequently being stunned by the lack of choice in larger sizes, Free People colleagues Abby Morgan and Lauren Cohan, together with Kearnon O’Molony, created CUUP. They realised that issues not only lie with this outdated form of bra measurement, but also in how women are represented in underwear campaigns – the models and the marketing are often woefully one-dimensional. “I remember walking into the CUUP offices and they had all these pictures of the kind of world their women are in; everything was so beautiful. They weren’t salaciously showing skin, being provocative. No one was playing up the camera. It’s got a very deliberate tone. It’s such a beautiful idea to include women, not divide. This was friendly, flexible and celebratory of women,” says CUUP model and customer Chloe Hayward. CUUP has been keen to provide an antidote to the homogenised beauty presented by traditional lingerie brands, casting a diverse array of models.

“I’m excited about using CUUP to shift perceptions; different women, different sizes, different backgrounds, different styles. That’s the goal.” Abby Morgan, Co-Founder

However, one consistent theme runs true throughout CUUP’s products no matter who wears them. The brand has a relentless commitment to quality; “We did a lot of R&D, and had a dialogue with our customers – people don’t want to be minimised, or pushed up, or squished. There is a majority of women who want to just enhance what they naturally have.” And Hayward agrees, this is where CUUP comes into its own; “I like CUUP because I think it’s sensual; it fits your body in a sculptural way. Other brands don’t really think, ‘well, how do women like to look?’…they want to look natural. It seems so obvious. They’ve managed to say there’s not a special category that makes you feel ‘I’m so much larger’. You can get the same bra and it’s tailored to support you. That’s actually ground-breaking.”

In creating these carefully designed garments that look good under clothes as well as without them, CUUP aims to destigmatise bra sizing; sample models wear E cups and A cups, there is no special ‘for the fuller bust’ category. Each style is subtly amended to cater for many variations on shape, and the brand is constantly asking for feedback from customers to improve; “special occasion and everyday should be one; with CUUP we really focus on this uncompromising approach to fit, function but also style, because we think you should be able to have it all.”

Indeed, you can ‘have it all’ without even trudging to a store; CUUP is an online brand with characteristically innovative solutions to finding out your size. They’ve developed a ‘FitFinder’, whereby you tell them your favourite bra and they match a CUUP equivalent size. They’ve also rewritten the measurements you take to be fitted for bra to be easier to do from home. But that’s not to say CUUP doesn’t have big ambitions; the brand is planning pop-up stores around the US to meet customers face to face and provide them with a contemporary, inclusive and experiential way of bra shopping. 

“The fact that I don’t work all the time is a good sign. I go to castings and it’s such an amazing display of diversity. We don’t just want this one kind of thing.” Chloe Hayward, CUUP model and advocate

CUUP is only available within the US at present, but such a creative approach to online service allows for expansion in future.

Ultimately, lingerie brands trade in confidence; the promise of having it if you wear a certain brand, or look a certain way. And indeed, CUUP trades in confidence too, but a quieter self-assuredness that you’re wearing the right size, that it’s been made with you in mind, and that whatever your shape or style you’ll feel welcome and seen. “Women are owning the view of sexy; we’re redefining that for ourselves,” says Morgan, “If a woman feels sexy in whatever she’s wearing, that’s the most attractive. [We want to] instil that – look at all these amazing women, all shapes and sizes, owning their bodies, owning themselves.” In a post #MeToo world, this new, accessible, plentiful approach to ‘sexy’ is almost a modern requirement, and it’s what Victoria’s Secret – among others – have failed spectacularly to grasp.

“If we start illuminating to women that you have other options, you don’t have to shop [there]. Your money is power. Don’t spend your money on something you don’t identify with.” Who wants to subscribe to a brand that presents a view of hyper-attractiveness that’s unattainable? “There’s no such thing as a perfect body. You already have the perfect body, because it’s yours. Yes, [VS] is a fantasy and it is aspirational…but it’s like they’re saying this is the only taste a woman can have” continues Hayward.

If Victoria’s Secret was a famine, CUUP is a veritable feast – of diversity, of image, and of quality. And it seems women have been going hungry for a long time.

“We’ve flooded girls with this imagery for so long…that needs to be gradually undone. We need to empower girls that maybe they’ll never have those dimensions – not many people do.” Chloe Hayward, CUUP model and advocate

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