The nation is working, socialising and exercising at home in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and demand for loungewear is increasing to cater to consumers’ new normal. What are shoppers looking for?
The lives of consumers have been altered dramatically by the impact of the coronavirus crisis, and social distancing and working from home have shifted requirements for categories such as workwear and going-out attire, to items suitable for a life lived in the home.
The gravity of the national situation is supercharging an already burgeoning demand from shoppers for the cosy, comforting and comfortable.
Loungewear has even made its way on to the catwalks, which have been brimming with luxe iterations such as oversized knitwear and elevated comfort dressing for several seasons.
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on overall spend, consumer confidence and shopping habits is already dramatic. The government last week told fashion retailers to close stores, which count as non-essential, in tough new measures introduced to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Research firm GlobalData anticipates that UK clothing and footwear spend will fall by £11.1bn in 2020 as a result of the virus.
Some retailers, however, are reporting that sales of loungewear are remaining steady as shoppers tentatively embrace their new home-based realities. With physical shops closed, consumers can only order from their online channels.
When people are working from home a lot, there’s a need to feel that you are ready for the day
Jo Hooper, Nrby
Mike Mikkelborg is CEO of data business Pilot Digital, and a former New Look and Gant supply chain director. Writing for Drapers last week, he observed that retailers had already reacted to the changes, and refocused their marketing efforts on loungewear and comfortable pieces such as hoodies and tracksuit bottoms.
Additionally, the findings from Drapers’ Covid-19 coronavirus survey, showed retailers reporting that loungewear, leisurewear and sleepwear were all categories that customers were still buying – despite declines elsewhere.
Even before social isolation, increasingly flexible working habits, and the UK’s growing freelance workforce had already led to increased demand in a relaxed, more lounge-focused approach – and several brands have launched in recent years seeking to target this burgeoning market.
Jo Hooper, former womenswear director at Debenhams and John Lewis, launched womenswear brand Nrby in March 2019. She explains that the brand was in part launched to cater to the new working reality for many women.
While the brand’s store on Elizabeth Street in London’s Belgravia is currently closed, Hooper says there has been an increase in online interest in recent weeks: “Peoples’ working lives were changing: wherever there is coffee and wi-fi, that’s where people were working. When people are working from home a lot, there’s a need to feel that you are ready for the day – that you’re reasonably presentable.
“Our strapline has been ’Clothes for home and nearby’ since we launched. We knew it was right, but we didn’t expect to be catapulted into this scenario so quickly. We started the brand because women’s working lives were changing, and now our offer is more relevant than ever.”
Hooper continues: “A small element in the popularity [of the ’homewear’ trend] is the cocooning, comforting, wrapping effect of these clothes. It is a trend that we’ve been seeing for some time, as people were dealing with other challenges – but no one could have predicted anything like this.”
Bestselling items for Nrby are minimalist, versatile basics. Hooper highlights button-free shirts and a slouchy cashmere sweater as top sellers, and says comfort is crucial, but adds that shoppers still want innovation in “everyday” purchases.
“We use a lot of sustainable and natural fabrics, such as organic cotton, wool and Tencel to make things as comfortable and practical as possible,” she says. “It goes back to how it makes you feel – how do the clothes feel on your body? For example, elasticated waists are not a dirty word any more, and drawstring waistbands are a trend that is performing well for us.”
Serena Rees, founder of streetwear inspired, unisex lingerie and loungewear brand Les Boys Les Girls, also stresses the importance of comfort in an uncertain world: “With everything that’s going on right now – people crave comfort and security: people are nesting. Families and communities are coming together – everyone wants something cosy and comfortable.
“People like comfort and versatility – they are the number one factors that people want in their loungewear. Products need to work for all age groups for both male and female.”
The importance of comfort and functional details are aspects that several other brands flag as integral to loungewear offers that will satisfy customer demands.
It’s exciting to see the category develop, as consumers are wearing it both in and outdoors more often
Zoe Price-Smith, Boux Avenue
Lingerie retailer Boux Avenue is planning to launch its first loungewear collection for autumn 20, based on the increasing demand from customers for versatile clothing that fits into modern lifestyles. The range will include soft separates, with a modern, minimalist aesthetic, says brand and product director Zoe Price-Smith.
“Comfort is definitely key, along with the versatility to allow the customer to style and wear the product in tune with their own style,” she explains. “The Boux Lounge collection will contain many mix-and-match and transferrable pieces, to allow the customer to style the collection in her own way.
“It’s exciting to see the category develop, as consumers are wearing it both in and outdoors more often, so we’re seeing more trend-led styles and shapes emerge that have a real fashion-forward, luxe look.”
John Lewis & Partners is also increasing the scope of its loungewear offer, both with its own brands, and third-party partners including DKNY and Hush.
“Customers are looking for comfort and practicality; pockets in trousers, cuffed trousers and comfy elasticated waistbands,” says nightwear buyer Hayley Wilmington. “They’re also looking at the aesthetic, and the matching two-piece has proved really popular.”
Luxury sleepwear brand Desmond & Dempsey has become known for its dramatic print pyjamas, which blur the line of sleepwear and daywear.
Co-founder Molly Goddard also stresses the importance of balancing functionality with bold, eye-catching designs: “Our prints really set us apart and we focus on making them the best that we can get them.
“We’ve done a lot of research around speciality ‘sleep’ fabrics. But we’ve found that lots of them we can’t print on, and that’s so much an important part of our identity. Instead of using technical fabrics we’ve really focused on natural materials such as cotton and linen, that are easy to care for and wear.”
People are prepared to spend more on these items because they are spending more time at home
Molly Goddard, Desmond & Dempsey
Goddard says that although womenswear shoppers appreciate functional details, menswear shoppers are particularly demanding. All men’s pyjama trousers from the brand include pockets that close up and fit mobile phones, as well as having button-down flies – two features introduced due to customer feedback.
Desmond & Dempsey is one of several premium loungewear brands with a presence in the UK – others include Hanro and Olivia Von Halle – and its products retail from £15 for an eyemask to £310 for a robe.
“People are prepared to spend more on these items because they are spending more time at home,” says Goddard. “People are increasingly house proud, and Instagram does play a role too.”
Genevieve Sweeney, founder of the eponymous British luxury knitwear brand also notes that shoppers are happy to spend on loungewear items and wear them regularly: “All my pieces are quite versatile – they are high quality products which are worth the money, and people like that. I’ve seen an uptick in interest in the loungewear styles [since the coronavirus outbreak took hold], and generally a rise in people being interested in local, sustainable items to purchase.”
Focusing on a strong loungewear offer is clearly no panacea for retailers, but in troubling times, adapting to changing demands from shoppers will be more important than ever. Cosiness, practical details and a slightly more premium quality are all aspects that appeal to shoppers – and in the current climate, retailers and shoppers alike are looking for comfort wherever they can find it.