Is lingerie the new athleisure?
Just before Valentine’s Day, US clothing company Madewell launched a 42-piece collection of wireless bras and underwear, a first for the J.Crew-owned brand better known for its jeans and modern bohemian look.
“The collection is a little bit tomboy, a little bit sexy and – above all – feels amazing on,” said Joyce Lee, Madewell’s head designer, in a statement. “Our ultimate goal is to create pieces that are equally beautiful as they are functional.”
Around the same time, Hong Kong-based online retailer Grana added four lingerie essentials to its range of wardrobe staples like cotton t-shirts and cashmere jumpers.
Meanwhile, Amazon recently debuted its own line of intimates in the UK and Europe under the Iris & Lilly label, including bras priced at less than US$10. The collection is rumoured to be launching in the US soon.
Just as retailers added leggings and tanks to their apparel range in the hopes of getting a lift from the athleisure gravy train a couple of years ago, some early movers now believe lingerie can deliver a similar boost.
“You’re going to see more and more retailers do lingerie and be more competitive with it. It doesn’t just have to be Victoria’s Secret,” US retail analyst Jan Rogers Kniffen Rogers told IRW.
Disrupting the market
One reason retailers think the category has potential is economic. The delicacy of the fabric notwithstanding, lingerie punches well above its weight when it comes to margins. According to IBISWorld analyst Andrew Ledovskikh: “Lingerie is a lucrative market, and lingerie sales are quite profitable.”
Grana CEO and founder Luke Grana told IRW that the ability to disrupt the market on price was a driving factor in his decision to launch a lingerie line.
“We saw other retailers selling lingerie at seven to eight times the cost of production and realised we could undercut the price through our direct-to-consumer business model and have a really strong value proposition,” he explained.
Since launching the collection five weeks ago, Grana has already sold out of and replenished two popular styles.
“It’s a big category for us to grow into in the next few years. We see some items becoming hero products,” Grana said.
But price is just one part of the equation. Speaking to IRW, Grana’s senior contour designer Sarah Platts explained that changing fashions and social norms are driving much of the consumer interest – and retail opportunity – in lingerie.
“There’s been a lot of movement in the category in recent years. Consumers have moved away from very structured styles to more natural styles, and this has led to a shift in what lingerie is and how it’s designed,” she said.
The impact of athleisure is clear to see in this shift. Casual, comfort-driven fashion is the order of the day, even in women’s underwear drawers. Kniffen backs that up: “I do think athleisure is driving this. Women are more casual and they want lingerie that can go along with that.”
Betting on bralettes
Enter the bralette, an unpadded, wireless bra often created from lace or mesh. Young women in particular are donning bralettes and their cousins – crop tops and stretchy bodysuits – in place of more traditional underwire bras.
Layered under loose-fitting tops or worn solo with a jacket, bralettes are often a visible part of women’s outfits, blurring the line between lingerie and general apparel. This is part of the current ‘underwear as outwear’ trend in fashion, which some retailers are already tapping into.
Carly Cazzolli, head of ASOS in Australia and New Zealand, told IRW that the company has seen double-digit growth in lingerie sales in the year to date and said ‘underwear as outerwear’ has helped drive that growth.
“Our biggest growth this year has come from specific styles such as bodies [bodysuits],” she said, adding that flatlay photos of lingerie are among the company’s most engaging posts on social media.
“[There is] certainly scope to diversify the offering, as customers are demanding more than just function from lingerie,” she said.
Cazzolli sees a parallel between this shift in lingerie and athleisure, which she says was driven by men and women wanting to both look and feel good during exercise, which spilled over into everyday wear.
“There are definitely similarities with lingerie, especially as you no longer have to look to high-end brands to get something unique,” she said.
Easy to produce and requiring virtually no technical knowledge to get the fit right, bralettes will soon be offered by retailers at every price point, according to Kniffen.
“You’ll see Walmart, Target, Lululemon offer it – why wouldn’t they? Anyone that can make athleisure can make bralettes and panties. It would be a big surprise to me if they didn’t do it,” he said.
The new athleisure
The athleisure trend has been going strong for years. Despite frequent speculation about its demise, the category still grew 11 per cent in the US in 2016. But it’s fair to say the trend is waning rather than waxing. Will lingerie take its place? Kniffen thinks so.
“Athleisure is topping out in sales growth and volume, it’s an old trend. In comparison, the bralette is in its infancy – it’s only 18 months old,” said Kniffen. He expects the lingerie trend to last for at least three to five years, creating opportunities for retailers in the process.
“There is plenty of money to be made by efficient retailers. If they do it well, get in early and have the right price and style, they will prosper. The people who get in late will go broke. That’s the way it always works,” he said.
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