As the economy slows and consumers change their spending behaviour, brands are looking for ways to reinvent the market in order to attract new customers and increase revenues. The underwear and lingerie sector is leading the trend by reinventing itself, repositioning and even attempting to fill the gender gap.
Between bras that glow in neon hues and a bra designed to be implanted under the skin’s surface, lingerie manufacturers can’t decide whether undergarments should be prominently displayed in glitzy ferocity or kept completely invisible from the naked eye.
Over-the-top innovations in underwear include electrifying eco-friendly underwear, gender-bending lingerie for men and quirky cut-out panties to show off your best assets.
Innovation in the sector isn’t anything new. But as times change, retailers are looking for ways to broaden their market and customer base.
Japanese online lingerie retailer, the Wishroom, is one such retailer looking to fill a very wide gap in the market and has recently brought to market a new range of bras. But what makes this brand stand out is its target audience - men.
Since launching two weeks ago on Rakuten, a major Japanese web retailer, the Wishroom shop has sold over 300 men's bras for 2,800 yen (£15) each. The shop also stocks men's panties, as well as lingerie for women.
The male bras are designed to be worn discreetly under men’s clothing and aim to hide and secure what is described as “man boobs”.
Consumer research firm Mintel says that innovation and differentiation are increasingly crucial for success in what is a crowded market.
It’s research shows that 56 per cent of adults only buy underwear when it needs replacing - pushing the need for retailers to drive more desire to the market.
This means that companies, such as Wishroom, are having to reposition themselves as being practical, must have items.
By garment category, bras account for 56 per cent of global retail sales, briefs at 32 per cent, and daywear and shapewear (corsetry) taking the remaining 12 per cent.
Brand marketers should note that although global growth has come from the developing world (up 8.1 per cent between 2004 and 2007 and led by the Indian sub-continent), the biggest opportunities are still in Western Europe and North America, which between them account for 65 per cent of the lingerie market, according to research from industry website Just-Style.co.uk.
Mintel’s research shows that retail sales of adult underwear in the UK have reached a value of £3.3 billion as sales grew nine per cent, year-on-year between 2002 and 2007. Bras and pants were the key driver f the upsurge, accounting for 17 per cent of sales.
Just-style's global market review estimates that the retail market for lingerie will grow to $33.57 billion (£17bn) globally by 2014 - a rise of 12.2 per cent over 2007.
Growth in the market may have been helped by the numerous celebrity campaigns - a growing trend for underwear brands. Who could ever forget David Beckhams famous appearance for Armani pants, or Kelly Brook’s campaign for her own underwear line at high street retailer New Look.
Last year, traditional women’s underwear brand Triumph honed in on the power of celebrity by launching a campaign starring footballer’s wife Louise Redknapp that aimed to breath new life in the dated brand.
Redknapp was brought in with the aim of changing the perceptions of the brand, which was founded in 1886.
The classic corsetry manufacturer needed to shake-off its associations with being a brand for mothers an grandmas and install a little bit of “sexy” into its offering.
However, Mintel says that a celebrity face isn’t always enough to attract new customers, “There is a desirability in celebrity associations. While the high street aims to emulate such associations, it is ultimately the design and innovation of the product, and the emotion that it engenders, that drives real desire.”
Triumph followed-up its new positioning in April this year when it launched a diamond G-string worth £80,000 as the highlight of a lingerie fashion show in Singapore in April this year.
The Triumph Luxurious Diamond Thong had 518 brilliant-cut diamonds, totalling 30 carats, studded into the front of a black lace G-string in a floral pattern, modelled by Romanian model Danielle Luminita.
The underwear sector has changed dramatically in the past two decades offering consumers a wider choice with more personal pieces.
In the 1990’s, G-string underwear was popularised by shows such as Baywatch and the catwalks of New York. As of 2002, G-string underwear was one of the fastest-selling styles among women and many brands looked to cash in as the entire market sector for underwear was turned on its head.
Australian underwear brand Bonds, owned by Pacific Brands, found itself in a position where it was forced to update itself in order to have wider appeal to consumers as underwear trends began to change.
It enlisted the help of model Sarah O’Hare and tennis ace Pat Rafter to ignite interest and passion in the brand while also giving it wider appeal to both men and women of all ages.
With its funky designs, styles that ranged from G-Strings to boxers to boylegs, and risqué advertising billboards, the brand turned around an increase of 10.9 per cent in profits and the customer awareness level rose to 78 per cent.
Fashion trends and innovation are a key driver of growth in the lingerie and underwear market, according Mintel.
The research firm predicts the main opportunities for future growth in the sector are to make underwear and lingerie more desirable across a broader demographic and across both genders.
More men are also now interested in looking good in the right underwear says Mintel, and retailers must now look to fill any market gaps with innovative new products if they want to succeed and maintain profits throughout the economic downturn.
“The outlook for the sector is that it will be a tough trading climate. There will be bright spots, even in a crowded market, but there is scope for retailers to grow if they are focused on what they do best and create real USPs,” advises Mintel.
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