Globally, the lingerie market is expected to hit $325.36 billion by 2025. Thinking of launching an underwear category? Consider these findings first.
In an age of diversity, the lingerie industry has seen a significant shift over the past few years. DTC brands have disrupted the market, gunning for market share from legacy players. Silhouettes have evolved with comfort at their core, “nude” shades don’t just cover one skin tone and a greater emphasis is placed on catering to all body types.
While strides have been made to be more inclusive, lingerie still has a long way to go. And it’s something brands competing in this space can no longer afford to ignore if they want to remain relevant.
Today, underwear makes up 4% of womenswear products currently retailing online across the US and UK markets combined. This may seem small, but on a global scale lingerie is expected to hit $325.36 billion by 2025 according to Allied Market research, making that 4% worth owning. Read on as we decode the current state of this category and the opportunities in the market.
The EDITED Retail Decision Platform can help businesses demystify this category, taking the guesswork out of planning, pricing and phasing assortments. Get in touch here to see EDITED in action for your category.
The shapes to back
While lingerie is often linked with flirty and seductive silhouettes, there’s a greater need to reflect the wider industry demands for function and comfort. In the last few years, the increase in active lifestyles have pushed consumers and retailers alike to move away from the bust-emphasizing bra styles popularized in the ‘90s.
Over the past two years, investments in push-up styles across the market have fluctuated with the shape backed primarily by Victoria’s Secret. Despite some spikes of newness across the market, the push-up continues to trend down in comparison to triangle bralettes, which are more stable investments. As consumers continue to respond to this shift, the number of bralettes selling out in 2019 eclipsed push-ups by 16% in the US alone.
Comfort and functionality are winning right now. In 2018, a push-up bra averaged $39.81. It’s now declined to $27.70, which is on average cheaper than its less technical but more popular rival, the bralette at $33.30.
Push-up styles are the fourth most invested bra shape across the US and UK markets combined, beaten out by sports bras (the third most-stocked bra style right now) and bralettes (second). Even though this shape is declining, padded bras are the most significant style currently on the market, particularly in the US. However, retailers need to be careful about investing too heavily as the number of padded bra styles in stock are down 36% across both markets compared to two years ago.
Across both markets, briefs make up the majority of panty styles. However, the US is more invested in thongs when broken down by region. The UK is catching up though as it has increased the number of thongs in stock by 13% since 2018. Higher waist panties continue to be the preferred underwear cut. The number of these styles retailing has grown by 29% over the past two years, while hipster styles have dropped by 68%.
Recent successful brief styles:
Much like beauty, a greater variety of shades fall under “nude” as more brands work on setting a new precedent for inclusivity across skin tones.
UK brand Nubian Skin, has emerged as a market leader. Favored by Beyonce and Lizzo, the brand offers a carefully curated collection of lingerie and hosiery to women of color. Its site includes a handy guide for women to shop from four tones (cafe au lait, cinnamon, caramel and berry) based on foundation shades. Nubian Skin recently expanded its offering, branching out into athleisure and men’s underwear and was also awarded £500,000 of promotional space across London’s transport network to challenge advertising’s “one-dimensional view of blackness.”
Further eschewing the notion of one nude suits all, last year Savage X Fenty‘s released a core T-shirt lace bra available in seven shades of nude. Coined as ‘the new neutrals,’ Rihanna’s label often drops new skin-hued shades to its bras and briefs lines, helping to reach a more diverse audience.
ThirdLove’s 24/7™ Classic T-Shirt Bra is available in at least five tones ranging from a soft pink to espresso. Victoria’s Secret’s T-shirt bra is currently available in three nude options, while Aerie’s core bra lines come in at least four natural shades.
Monki emerged as a new player in this space last year, launching a new range of nude underwear in five skin tones paired with a campaign promoting messages of inclusivity and self-love.
The demand for size inclusivity
2019 saw more brands champion body positivity in their advertising. Tu by Sainsbury’s stood out with its “All Boobs Welcome” campaign, while ThirdLove promoted “Every Body Is Beautiful” in December.
Runways are still slow to showcase diverse body shapes, particularly in lingerie. However, we are now seeing designers redefine outdated ideas of “sexy” and empowering women. According to The Fashion Spot, plus-size representation increased significantly for Spring 2020 with 86 plus models appearing across the cities, up from 50 in Fall 2019. New York led the way with swimwear label, Chromat, as the most size-inclusive show.
With inclusivity at the heart of her brands, Rihanna has included plus models in Savage X Fenty since its inception, catering to sizes spanning 32A to a 44E and XS to 3X. The artist also disrupted the traditional Fashion Week format back in September by showing her collection as a televised production and including models of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and identities.
There is still a long way to go for inclusive sizing in this market, as appetite for plus size lingerie continues to grow. Google searches for the term continued to grow over 2019. Currently hitting its peak as February rolls around with consumers potentially looking for size-inclusive lingerie for Valentine’s Day.
Analyzing panties currently in stock in the US market (counting items sized by XXS -XXL) reveals minimal investment in fringe sizing. Sizes across S, M and L all have equal weighting. XS and XXL equal 18% and 17% of sizes, respectively. Only 5% of underwear is in size XXL, while XXS and smaller equals 2% of the total and XXXL and larger is 1%.
For more insights into size inclusivity in the lingerie market, check out our latest podcast episode with Beija London Co-Founders, Abbie Miranda & Mazie Fisher.
Shapewear’s growing – thanks Kim
Consumer interest in shapewear piqued last year when Kim Kardashian West disrupted the market with her Skim’s collection. Shapewear is considered an essential item and is generally unaffected by seasonal trends. Brands stocked at third-party retailers generally rely on replenishment orders of their core styles to move inventory, making newness in this category minimal.
Interestingly, shapewear sell outs across the US and the UK have seen a considerable spike since the end of June and continues to outpace the number of new styles arriving to market. This uptick correlates with the news of when Kardashian West launched a shapewear line, indicating the growing consumer interest for this category.
A profitable sector in its own right valued at $83bn, lingerie brands are starting to infiltrate this market. In January, Victoria’s Secret launched a limited assortment of shapewear in partnership with Leonisa.
How sustainable is this market?
Considering underwear is worn daily, the lack of sustainable and eco-friendly options presents as both an oversight and an opportunity. Brands with sustainability as part of their ethos cater to this, but even then underwear is only a small part of their business. This category only makes up 3% and 2% of products currently retailing at Reformation and Everlane, respectively. Topshop also offers a small collection of bras using recycled lace.
This leaves the market open for new entrants and innovation. Emerging and cult brands of note include:
Organic Basics: offers undergarments made from high-quality natural materials as well as products using SilverTech. This consists of silver woven into organic cotton, which makes these pieces antibacterial and heat regulating, requiring fewer washes.
Boody: uses viscose created from organic bamboo, low-waste production and recycled packaging. It also offers men’s, women’s and children’s apparel as well as underwear.
THINX: known for underwear with period-proof technology, THINX products are responsibly made with recycled and organic fabrics by women in fair-wage workplaces in Sri Lanka.
Pact: A certified B Corp offering 100% organic cotton products and works to promote transparency across its entire supply chain.
Thinking of launching an underwear collection? Consider this
Like most product categories, lingerie continues to feel the pressure from fast fashion brands claiming a stake in the market. Nasty Gal doubled its underwear range over the past three months compared to a year prior, while boohoo’s investment has grown 34%. The average advertised full price of bras at major players started to decline YoY to be more competitive. Bras stocked at Victoria’s Secret Pink dropped $3 from $33 to $30. Then the average at Savage X Fenty has come down from $47 to $43 and ThirdLove $70 to $67.
This doesn’t mean businesses need to sacrifice margins to match competitors. Using EDITED’s pricing charts, retailers can understand the way each market stocks by price and the price points selling out, highlighting opportunities to plan smarter.
Both the US and UK market place the most emphasis in retailing underwear at $20 (£20) and lower. The US market could push harder into its upper price brackets, given that the popularity of underwear at these prices outstrips the weighting given to options. There is also the opportunity to price higher in the UK, particularly within the £60-80 bracket, which is currently under-invested.
An estimated 75% of women are wearing the wrong bra size and with the rise of digitally native entrants to the market, brands are placing an invested interest in online fitting services. Lingerie startup Cuup, which recently secured $11 million in funding, is one to watch. While most online lingerie brands promote size guides or an algorithm quiz to advise on the best size, Cuup offers personal video conference fittings. This feature has been so popular, the service now has a one-month waitlist. Also striving to be size-inclusive, the brand also offers bras across 40 sizes — 30A to 38H.
Lingerie will continue to be a category that comes under scrutiny for its environmental impact due to the disposable nature of cheap underwear, the amount of dyes and the use of polyester fabrics. As with most categories, sustainability will remain paramount with the mounting pressure from Gen-Z and millennial consumers who are typically more vocal about these issues.
Diversity and inclusivity within lingerie will also continue to be of importance with these cohorts, demanding a reassessment of the traditionally sexualized imagery of the industry. Already seeing the opportunity for gender-fluid products in this space, key players to watch are Les Boys and Les Girls, as well as Australian brand JBC Lingerie.
With multiple product styles at various price points and so many factors to consider, lingerie is a tricky area to unpack. Luckily, the EDITED Retail Decision Platform can help simplify this category, giving you the power to make the best decisions for your brand using real-time data.
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*Google Trends Interest Over Time: Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity fo the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means that there was not enough data for this term.