Today underwear makes up a larger proportion of the US market – 4% – than it has at any point over the last four years.
That 4% might seem small, but we’re talking a segment worth $12 billion to the US.
And on a global scale, lingerie is expected to hit $55.83 billion by 2024. It’s a 4% worth having. We’ve checked out the opportunities in it.
Push-up, sports bra or bralette?
In the last few years, the increase in active lifestyles have seen consumers and retailers alike move away from the bust-emphasising bra styles so popular in the 90s. Primarily, the push-up.
It’s fallen down the hit list, replaced by sports bras (the third most-stocked bra style right now) and the softer lines of the triangle bra/bralette.
The first chart shows how closely aligned new arrivals of triangle bras and push-up bras were at the start of 2016.
By late 2016 that had shifted, with triangle styles forging ahead. Push-up bras have now flatlined and are unlikely to see further change, after all there will always be a consumer who has a place for this style in her wardrobe, regardless of dominant trends.
At the start of 2016, a push-up bra was averaging $32.60. It’s now declined to $29.49, coming in on average cheaper than its less technical but more popular rival, the bralette, at $32.88.
Sports bras, which have seen growth focused around summer and January spikes, have increased average price point by 5% from $44.95 to $47.37. Comfort and functionality is winning out right now.
Briefs & Padded Bras
Even though push-up styles are declining, padded bras are the most significant style of bra currently on the market, as the chart below shows.
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The number of padded styles in stock has grown by 17% since this time two years ago. Meanwhile, nursing bras are up 36% and bralettes are up 123%.
Meanwhile thongs are, erm, climbing, up by 15% since 2016. That’s the same pace at which briefs are growing. Both trail behind shapewear, a small but growing proportion of the underwear market, up 29% in two years.
Increase in nude colors
Another interesting development in the category is the recent increase in best selling nude shades of women’s underwear. In fact, best selling nude tones were up by 101% in the last three months.
Best selling nude tones in underwear were up by 101% in the last three months.
Without question, there’s still a long way to go. Target define five skin tones in its nude offering, which is the same number of colorways on the most diverse lines at Nordstrom.
However, recent news that Rihanna is pairing up with TechStyle Fashion Group on a lingerie line suggests greater diversity is on way. The star’s incredibly successful Fenty Beauty line has 40 shades of foundation.
Victoria’s Secret is Out
There has been some shifts in retailers’ underwear assortments, with ASOS having grown its own brand assortment 24% in the US in the last year and Forever 21 up 49%.
That’s put pressure on these guys:
In fact, Victoria’s Secret is declining emphasis on underwear categories. At VS, underwear currently represents 39% of the offering. A year ago, it accounted for 44% of the offering. Tops, bottoms and accessories are all expanding as the retailer loses market share thanks to its former emphasis on push-up styles.
Across the VS portfolio, bras and knickers are declining in price point. Bras at Victoria’s Secret are priced $30.04 on average today, down 4% from a year ago, and $23.96 at Pink, down 12%. Knickers have declined 24.5% at Victoria’s Secret, to $10.59, and are down 14.2% at Pink, to $9.93.
Thinking of launching an underwear category? Consider this first:
Take a close look here. It shows the proportion of product currently in stock that the US and UK place on each price point (up to $160). For example, both the US and UK price 29% of underwear at below $20.
Alongside that information is a breakdown of pricing of the best selling underwear – stuff that sold out full price.
Analyzing the way each market stocks into price and sells out of price points highlights some opportunities.
For one, the US could push harder into its upper price brackets, given that the popularity of these outstrip the weighting given to options. Big opportunity here for the luxury retailers, like Farfetch (already up 193% from 2016) and Net-a-Porter (up 26%).
In the UK, retailers can probably buy deeper into the lowest price point, given how much of full-priced sell outs it accounts for. At this lower end, underwear styles that sell well should be moved into retailers’ core and shouldn’t sell through.
The UK too could build out the upper ranges of its pricing, specifically $60-80.
The underwear market is going to receive pressure from two directions: one, the digitally native entrants to the market, like Lonely, The Nude Label, Lively and Negative Project. They have easy-to-shop assortments focused on comfort and strong online communities centered around body positivity.
The second pressure will come directly from consumers, specifically younger consumers who will demand greater inclusivity and diversity and a reassessment of the traditionally sexualized imagery of the industry.
Serena Rees, former co-founder of luxury brand Agent Provocateur, has seen the opportunity coming. Her new brand Les Girls Les Boys is a range of underwear for gender fluid millennials. Times are a-changing!
Want more lingerie insights?
Here are the top 5 lingerie lessons we learned from 2018.
The Savage X Fenty strategy: how Rihanna is slaying the lingerie game
A guide to the $83bn shapewear industry pre-Kim Kardashian West