Byline: Karyn Monget, with contributions from Holly Haber, Dallas; Georgia Lee, Atlanta; Michael Marlow, L.A.

NEW YORK--While the cleavage-enhancers and seamless styles have been getting a lot of credit for lifting the bra business over the past year, there's a third winner as well-- the sports bra.
And merchants are betting on sports bras to finish strongly again this year.
The classification is a small part of total bra business, but it's growing fast. Dollar volume in sports bras increased 48.9 percent from 1991 to 1994 to reach $249.2 million last year, according to NPD Group, a consumer research firm.
In 1991, according to NPD figures, sports bras accounted for 6.9 percent of the overall bra business pegged at $2.41 billion. In 1994, that share grew to 8.7 percent, figured at $2.85 billion.
Retailers cite several factors as boosting sports bra business:
A greater number of women are participating in a wider variety of sports.
Comfort--more women are wearing sports bras for everyday wear.
A growing demand for performance brands, especially crossover names from the men's field such as the Champion name combined with Jogbra.
The general momentum in the bra business over the past year, ignited by the hype about the Wonderbra.
Moreover, the average bosom size has increased. Many bra makers say their most popular size now is 36C, whereas a couple of years ago it was 34B. As the bosom becomes heavier, women turn to the comfort of a sports bra for support while exercising.
At retail, discounters in recent years have consistently claimed the largest dollar share of the sports bra business. In 1994, according to NPD, discounters took 46 percent of the business; national chains--J.C. Penney Co., Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward--were second with a 17.6 percent share, and department stores were third, with a 12.9 percent share.
However, retailers contacted across the country in various types of stores proved to be sports bra fans.

At Kmart Corp., Karen Wilson, divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel, stated: "Sports bras are a major business for us, especially our Chic program, which has become very important."
Wilson credited consumers' "active lifestyles" as a key reason for the boom, as well as more women wearing sports bras every day, because they are "very comfortable."
At Bradlees, Braintree, Mass., Phyllis Epstein, buyer of foundations and panties, noted, "Sports bras are a strong business for us, but we are trying to differentiate ourselves from the crop tops shown in the activewear department.
"We are focusing more on functional bra styles that have underwires, are cup-sized and have front and back closures," said Epstein. She singled out the Bestform and licensed Fruit of the Loom by The Warnaco Group as top labels.

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