5 reasons your sports bra is so freakin’ expensive

Did you have sticker shock the last time you purchased a sports bra? I get it. As someone who has worked in apparel manufacturing for over 15 years, I know when a garment is worth the retail price, and when it’s not.  When it’s not, it’s annoying. I’m often asked why sports bras are so expensive.  I’ve heard, “There’s so little fabric, why does it cost so much?” Although this logic might seem to make sense, it’s not that simple.  There are legitimate reasons for the high retail cost of quality performance sports bras.


Your sports bra does more than just hold you up.  It’s a piece of equipment that protects you from the effects of velocity and force.  It needs to perform under extreme conditions: sweat, heat, humidity, hours of use during high impact activity.  That means a lot of R&D, and testing, goes into the design of a sports bra.  Sports bra development usually takes years and can involve multiple researchers and hundreds of testers.  When scientists get involved…cha ching. Compare this to the development of an everyday bra which usually takes a few months and only requires a few models. (And scientists need not apply.)  Athletic shoes also have “so little fabric” but most of us understand the high price is justified.  The R&D that goes into your shoes is comparable to the R&D that goes into your sports bra.

Spandex / Lycra® / Elastane

They all stand for the same thing – one very expensive fiber.  The cost of fabrics with high spandex content can be up to 10x as much as a 100% cotton fabric.  And, generally, the more your spandex your bra has, the better it performs.  Why do Spanx® work so well? Because approximately 50% of the garment uses spandex.  The more your sports bra feels like Spanx, the more expensive it will be.  Regular bras use a fraction of the spandex needed for performance sports bras.

Photo by simonkr/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by simonkr/iStock / Getty Images

Factory scarcity

Only a small percentage of the numerous factories in the world that make clothing have the equipment to make bras.  Fewer sources means higher demand, which means higher cost.


In order to support during high impact activities, sports bras need to be constructed with multiple layers of fabric.  Where a regular bra can get away with one layer, a sports bra needs two or more layers.  More fabric equates with higher expense in materials cost and sewing cost.

Advanced construction techniques and machinery

Sports bras are the most technologically advanced bras on the market and often use the latest and greatest technologies to improve support and comfort.  For example, bonding technology allows fabrics to be pieced together without sewing, and therefore, without seams that might chafe.  But that requires bonding material and bonding machines, which is more expensive than sewing.

The next time you buy a sports bra, examine it.  Does it stretch and recover like Spanx®? Are there only a few sewn seams? Can you feel multiple layers of fabric? If so, you’ll know the reasons determining the price tag.

By Laura Tempesta


Laura Tempesta is a bra expert, apparel innovator, and a designer of multiple patented inventions. After receiving her BA in Anthropology from Stanford University, she began her career in business strategy. Realizing her true calling was in product creation, she later pursued apparel design and development. During her tenure as Sports Bra Innovation Director at Nike, she helped guide and develop sports bra innovation, and is the only person in North America with a master’s degree in lingerie design (contour fashion). She serves as a consultant to the bra industry, and is the founder of Bravolution®, a consumer advocacy group and resource providing bra reviews and education.