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What's behind the all-inclusive lingerie market?

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Wider social trends continue to shape the lingerie market, and brands are responding with fresh, affordable styles.

To understand some of the wider trends shaping the lingerie sector, take a look at emerging label Savage X Fenty, launched by singer Rihanna in May last year. Available via its direct-to-consumer website and on Asos in the UK, it offers an alternative to the lingerie titans that have struggled to connect to changing consumers – US giant Victoria’s Secret, for example, has watched profits slide over the past two years.

Inclusive, diverse and fashion-forward, Savage X Fenty is part of a sea change sweeping the lingerie market. It is advertised on a range of different body types and its core collection comes in shades that match a variety of skin tones. The range also carries plenty of the softer shapes that have risen to prominence in the lingerie market over recent seasons: bralettes and triangle bras comprise 42% of the mix at Savage X Fenty, retail technology company Edited shows.

Wider societal shifts such as the #MeToo movement and increasing demand for body-positive messaging are shaping the lingerie market more than ever before, from shapes and styles to marketing.

The male gaze in the lingerie market is more and more ignored. The look now is fresher, less vulnerable

Abbie Miranda, co-founder of lingerie label Beija London

“The male gaze in the lingerie market is more and more ignored,” explains Abbie Miranda, co-founder of lingerie label Beija London, which splits its range into three sizing categories – soft bralettes, underwired bras and more constructed styles – to accommodate different cup sizes.

Beija London spring 19

Beija London spring 19

“The wider market has become focused on what women want, as well as comfort. That ‘hello boys’ message [an infamous campaign slogan from Wonderbra in 1994] is very much gone. It has spread from people wearing trainers on the front row of fashion week and flown into lingerie. The look now is fresher, less vulnerable.”

She predicts this trend will continue over the coming seasons.

“I expect to see more and more brands offering wider size ranges and moving into lingerie shapes that cater for a non-binary customer that is currently only served by specialists, because that’s a growing market. We’ll also see more and more diverse models used without there being a conversation about it, which is exciting.”

Les Girls Les Boys spring 19

Les Girls Les Boys spring 19

Gender agenda

Someone who knows more about the lingerie market than most is entrepreneur Serena Rees, who co-founded Agent Provocateur in 1994. (Read an interview with the current Agent Provocateur leadership team here.) She went on to launch streetwear-inspired lingerie label Les Girls Les Boys in reaction to changing market trends in 2017. Its casual shapes are designed to take customers “from bed to street” and appeal to a millennial workforce that is constantly on the go.

Rees agrees that the lingerie market has changed to reflect a new way of living.

“What we did at Agent Provocateur changed the lingerie market. It was about empowering women to own their sexuality, to use it as a secret power. However, the industry became about perfect, unrealistic portrayals of women that were over-sexualised.

We’re saying to our customer that you can be the best just by being yourself 

Serena Rees, co-founder of Agent Provocateur and Les Girls Les Boys

“We’re now seeing the reverse. With Les Girls Les Boys, we’re saying to our customer that you can be the best just by being yourself. Customers want products that allow them to be active, are comfortable and feel good next to your skin.”

Lingerie brands today also need to be aware of the growing responsibility to work in the most sustainable way possible, Rees adds: “Sustainability is a conversation that never stops for us. We’re thinking about everything from the start of the process to the end, from what fabrics we’re using to create the product to the packaging we send items out in.

“It also about educating customers on how to take care of products so they will last as long as possible. We’re not perfect, but we’re striving to be the best we can be.”

Grand designs

Zoe Price-Smith, brand and product director of lingerie retailer Boux Avenue, tells Drapers a design-led approach is helping it to stand out in a competitive market: “We’re focusing on offering as much as possible in terms of shape and fit. We have to make sure that we are offering trend-led shapes that are constantly being updated, while also concentrating on making our core collection as strong as possible, so we don’t lose those customers.

Boux Avenue spring 19

Boux Avenue spring 19

“Another priority is making sure we cover every aspect of the customer’s life, from everyday to holiday and sportswear, and lingerie for special occasions. Focus and consistency are key.”

Another priority is making sure we cover every aspect of the customer’s life, from everyday to holiday and sportswear, and lingerie for special occasions

Zoe Price-Smith, brand and product director of Boux Avenue

When it comes to product trends, Beija London’s Miranda says unusual colourways have been popular for spring 19.

“A balcony bra in black is always a safe bet but we’ve done well with bright watermelon shades recently and the real surprise star has been lilac. Lots of men look at a lilac and think it is an old-fashioned shade, but women are loving it: it’s bright and fresh but can’t be seen under clothes.

“Another surprise has been the success of bright sunflower yellow, particularly in larger cup sizes.”

Emma Parker, founder of lingerie labels Playful Promises, agrees: “Green has done really well for us, as has mustard. The most important thing is keeping your offer fresh. You can’t just keep updating the same shapes with different colours each season, that’s no longer enough to make people take the leap and purchase.”

Price points

Brands also report a more price-conscious consumer.

“A lot of our competitors are trying to lower their retail prices to be as appealing as possible to more customers,” explains Aimee Law, co-founder of lingerie label Ivory Rose, which specialises in fuller-bust styles and is stocked by Asos.

Customers with bigger busts are questioning why they should have to pay more

Aimee Law, co-founder of Ivory Rose

“Our bras retail at about £15, which is quite low for the fuller-bust market. We achieve this by negotiating with suppliers. Customers with bigger busts are questioning why they should have to pay more.”

For multi-brand lingerie retailers, a diverse, balanced offer is key to success in this market.

“Offering a mixture of well-known brands and emerging labels is really important,” explains Gemma Illes, founder of men’s and women’s underwear etailer Knicker Locker, which stocks brands including Freya, Fantasie and Lepel London. “Customers are drawn to brands they recognise and will search online to find retailers that carry them. It’s important to keep the big names in stock, as well as offering independent labels to differentiate your offer.”

She adds that there is an opportunity for multi-brand lingerie retailers to develop their digital offer: “Smart virtual fitting rooms that show a customer what the lingerie and swimwear would look like on their body shapes could add real value for online retailers. There’s also opportunity for lingerie retailers with their own distinctive handwriting to launch their own ranges – there’s still space for a few more brands in the market.”

The lingerie market remains a dynamic and exciting sector. Retailers and brands must keep abreast of social, cultural and fashion trends to meet the expectations of increasingly customers.

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