I’ve been converted. It wasn’t a particularly auspicious time or place, but nonetheless I experienced a revelation that has changed my life forever.

On Sunday afternoon, I realised that if I carry on going to the gym daily, I need more than one sports bra. Weight training in an underwired bra is the kind of mistake one only makes once. I went to Marks and Spencers in Brent Cross, since to order one from my employers would take a couple of days and my other one has been temporarily mislaid. Since the cat has taken to stealing articles of underwear from the laundry basket, it’s possible that she’s cached it somewhere.

In order to reach the sports bras, I had to go through the rest of M&S’s lingerie collection. Usually I only give these designs a cursory glance to see which designer label they’ve ripped off. For some reason, this time I had a closer look today.

For £12, M&S sell a range of pretty, lacy, embroidered padded bras. If you’re not bothered about peanut smuggling, you can get an unpadded version for £10. On a whim, I tried a couple on. The fit and quality is fine, and it was in the changing room that I had the Damascene moment.

If a bra in normal use will last from six months to a year before the elastic goes saggy and it has to be retired, then why spend £30 when you can get a perfectly good, well fitting knock-off for half the price? For example, M&S’s Per Una range does a facsimile of Lejaby’s Rosa design. Lejaby’s bra retails at £39, M&S’s for £20.

It was with this in mind that I purchased a matching set for a princely £18. It looks remarkably similar to a Gossard bra that sells for £25 on its own. The sports bra I eventually chose is eerily reminiscent of a £40 Natori model, only M&S sells it for £20.

If you’re concerned about the ethics of purchasing cheap clothing, it’s worthwhile asking the shop. While my own company would have difficulty in giving absolute guarantees, because we only buy finished goods from brand names (meaning that we have no involvement in manufacture or design), M&S will have far more control over how and where their garments are produced. I asked them anyway. They have minimum requirements covering wages, working hours and the age of workers. Not great, but the best you can hope for.

Should you continue avoiding Nike or Gap products, when both companies have made an effort to clean up their act? If that’s the case, what’s the point of campaigning in the first place if you don’t reward the company concerned when they try and change? I’m no fan of either conglomerate, but I will say this. The Chinese industrial revolution has many worrying implications – selling arms to Sudan and increased pollution are just two. However, for an individual Chinese person, working in a bra factory which has decent conditions (not unusual) must be better than toiling on a windswept subsistence farm – mustn’t it? We have to make a stand and say that we will *not* buy sweated products, but we must also appreciate that many goods are *not* sweated. It is up to us, as individual consumers, to do the leg work and ask retailers for honest answers.

A few words of caution. Always try bras on before you buy them. Wave your arms about and check the fit. If the wires dig in or the lace itches when you’re in the changing room, imagine how it’s going to feel in the office at 11am, with the rest of the day stretching out uncomfortably before you.

Take a range of sizes into the changing room and don’t be dogmatic about your size when dealing with bargain lingerie – if your customary 32B doesn’t fit, try a 34A or a 30C (and good luck to you on that one, by the way).

Check the quality carefully. A £10 bra that dissolves in the wash is £10 down the drain. Treat it with respect: it may have been cheap, but someone worked hard to make it and you should appreciate the effort. Don’t treat it as disposable and don’t buy it if you won’t wear it.

Treat your budget bra with kindness. Machine wash gently or even hand wash if you want to prolong its lifespan – your £40 Lejaby bra might forgive you, but your £20 knock-off probably won’t. On no account put it in the tumble dryer.

If you have big knockers, you’ll have to spend more. Be reasonable – the fit will not be as good, the material will not be as supportive and the garment will not be as comfortable.

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