With underwear a necessity in every consumer’s wardrobe and the push for retailers to increase diversity, all while minimizing their environmental footprint, this is a category that has seen a significant revamp.
Competing brands can no longer afford to ignore these elements if they want to remain relevant. Read on for a market view on how sizing is becoming more inclusive, the growth of eco fabrics and more.
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• Signifying the huge growth in the market, there are currently 273% more period pants currently retailing compared to 2021. Victoria’s Secret PINK and Marks & Spencer both stock over 20 own-brand options. Look to period-proof activewear and swimwear as areas of expansion.
• Recycled fabrics continue to dominate sustainably-described underwear. Of the recycled products available, 70%-79% recycled content is the most common. Look to bamboo as an eco-alternative, as stocked by Tu at Sainsbury’s and Simply Be.
• More retailers are waking up to “nude” referencing a vast range of shades, setting a new precedent for inclusivity across skin tones. Competing against SKIMS and Savage X Fenty, US brands have seen a more significant shift towards stocking underwear inclusive of darker skin tones. While UK brands have increased their offerings, nude shades are still geared towards lighter bisque tones.
• Brands are expanding their ranges to be more inclusive of larger sizes. However, fewer styles are allocated in 2XL or 3XL compared to core sizes, which can make consumers feel othered. This is reflected in menswear, where Savage X Fenty stands out as offering true inclusivity by having the same products available regardless of size.
The Period Underwear Market
The period pants sector continues to garner attention and gain momentum, as signified in the huge 273% increase of products currently in stock versus 2021. Offering consumers a more eco-friendly solution to single-use sanitary products, the likes of Victoria’s Secret PINK, J.Crew, Next and Marks & Spencer have all introduced styles over the past year.
Pure play labels Love Luna, Thinx and DORINA remain market leaders, stocked by the likes of ASOS, La Redoute, Selfridges and John Lewis & Partners. Consider partnering with third-party brands if developing a line in your own assortment isn’t an option.
Last year, the 100% carbon neutral brand Pantys introduced The Boxer, an eco-friendly transgender and non-binary underwear collection to encourage period inclusivity. It retails at £34 and is available in size XS – 3XL.
Ruby Love and Knix also currently offer period swimwear. The latter label also stocks options as part of its teen line, Knixteen. adidas made headlines last summer when it became the first leading sports brand to venture into period-proof activewear, hoping to encourage confidence in sport for people who menstruate at any point in their cycle. Its Techfit period-proof biker shorts ($45/£38) feature a set of absorbent layers with a leak-proof membrane to help protect from leaks; however, they are still advised to be worn with sanitary protection.
Recycled materials continue to make up the bulk of sustainably-described products in stock in the underwear market. Bras described as recycled have swelled 266% YoY, with greater investment from the likes of Aerie, Free People, Monki and Gap. Our deep dive into sports bras also reflected this shift to recycled compositions, with hush stocking ECONYL® recycled polyamide.
Of the recycled products available, 70%-79% recycled content is the most common, with 30% of styles falling here. PrettyLittleThing’s collection is crafted from 72% recycled polyamide, similar to Victoria’s Secret demi bra which is 75%. Just 15% of styles feature 100% in their description for either the whole garment or particular components, as noted at Tezenis, For Love & Lemons x Victoria’s Secret and Free People.
Bamboo represents an opportunity to diversify sustainable offerings outside of recycled fabrics. Bamboo has a high growth rate and typically requires significantly less water than cotton. Pure play eco brand Boody specializes in bamboo underwear, with its yarn certified organic by OCIA (The Organic Crop Improvement Association). Tu at Sainsbury’s, Summersalt and Simply Be currently utilize the textile.
The Gen Z favorite became the first US underwear label to join the Science Based Initiative, which helps brands set targets to reduce emissions. It also introduced a free recycling scheme in partnership with TerraCycle.
SilverTech™ yarn is incorporated into several underwear options. The technology covers a polymer thread with a small amount of sustainably-sourced silver to create fresh and breathable garments.
The brand launched the world’s first biodegradable period and pee-proof briefs. Created from Tencel and Merino wool, they break down into non-toxic substances at the end of their usable life and are elastane-free.
The Big Favorite
The circular company takes responsibility for the complete lifecycle of its underwear. Made from plastic-free 100% Pima cotton, products can be sent back to the brand to be recycled into new garments.
Following the launch of several digitally native brands entering the playing field with diverse skin shades baked into their brand ethos, the underwear market has experienced a shift towards more inclusive tones. Analyzing the styles in stock now in the US mass market compared to just one year ago shows how this space has grown, eschewing the notion that one nude suits all.
However, the UK market tells a different story. Despite brands like Simply Be and Marks & Spencer designing underwear in various nude shades, lighter hues still make up the majority of tones in this market. This signifies that there is still work to be done to make intimates more inclusive and presents an opportunity for UK retailers to invest in color recognition technology to pinpoint where demand lies.
Want to complete a similar analysis? Reach out to see our color wheels in action.
A BIPOC-founded brand specializing in four inclusive nude shades, PROCLAIM is ethically made in LA and favors eco-friendly materials like Cupro, TENCEL™ and Repreve.
Spanning intimates, menswear and hosiery, BIPOC-owned Nubian Skin spearheaded nude lingerie for women of color. Its skin tone match guide suggests a hue based on foundation shades.
Since its inception, SKIMS has offered bras and briefs in core colors, with nine skin tone hues available including sand, ochre and cocoa. It’s recently ventured into hosiery, with four skin tones.
At the end of 2021, the sustainable Brazilian brand partnered with AMARO on a range of menstrual briefs in five inclusive shades.
As a category synonymous with sex appeal, major lingerie brands have rewritten their narratives to represent a broader audience. There’s been a significant shift from advertising geared towards cis straight men towards products designed with comfort in mind and more inclusive sizes. Victoria’s Secret underwent an extremely public image makeover, swapping its infamous Angels for a more modern and diverse VS Collective. Compared to last year, the brand has increased the proportion of styles stocked in fringe sizes like 2XS and 2XL and introduced options in a 3XL.
Similarly, Gap US and Monki UK have increased underwear options in a 2XL vs. last year. However, all these brands are still focusing on serving core sizes like XS-XL. Retailers unsure about the payoff of inclusive sizing only need to look at the likes of Savage X Fenty and SKIMS. These labels have an equal distribution across sizes, allowing customers to purchase the same products regardless of body shape. Recently, Savage X Fenty secured $125mn in funding to expand to brick-and-mortar, while SKIMS doubled its valuation to $3.2bn.
While diverse body shapes have been embraced in women’s underwear campaigns, they are noticeably lacking for men. Despite the average US male having a 40-42 inch waist (usually an XL in underwear, though it may vary depending on brands), retailers continue to prioritize casting lean and muscular male models. Once again, Savage x Fenty again has disrupted this space, including plus size male models in its runway shows and product campaigns to accompany its menswear range, where all underwear styles are available between XS and 3XL.
Analyzing other brands in comparison reveals minimal investment in larger sizes. While Calvin Klein offers underwear up to a 5XL, the options are limited to a small range of multipacks. As Target stocks specialized big and tall brands like Harbor Bay, it has the opportunity to cater to larger sizes. However, from 2XL upwards, there is a significantly lower proportion of products allocated than core sizes. There’s been a wave of size inclusive DTC women’s intimates labels taking market share from established players. It is only a matter of time before we see this in men’s underwear indicating retailers need to recognize this opportunity, or risk falling behind.
Opportunities & Considerations
More than 100,000 US women undergo some form of mastectomy each year, making it essential for retailers to consider this inclusive bra style in their assortments. Towards the end of 2021, Victoria’s Secret and Oysho introduced their first designs, including inner-lining pockets for prosthetic inserts and detachable unicups.
Catering to a diverse representation of body types is paramount in the shopping environment to prevent consumers from feeling alienated, especially given the intimate nature of purchasing underwear. Savage X Fenty’s debut physical store features size-inclusive mannequins. The retailer has partnered with technology platform, FIT:MATCH, which gives customers an augmented reality 3D body scan and a more personalized shopping experience based on their fit and shape.
While efforts to design for those with disabilities have grown, the adaptive market remains widely untapped, especially within underwear. Brands need to consider underwear with pull-off velcro flaps, easy access for catheters, magnetic clasps and larger armholes on sleepwear for people with limited mobility to more easily dress and undress.
Underwear currently comprises 8% of the maternity category mix, up from 6% LY. As the comfort movement continues to underpin assortments and sell outs, seamless, cotton and stretch are key descriptors. Providing a chance to highlight your nursing bra range, World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated from August 1st-7th. Last year, Bravissimo shared a nursing bra guide to help educate consumers. With Rihanna announcing her pregnancy, watch out for maternity developments from Savage X Fenty.
Contributions by Katharine Carter and kayla.
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