Underwear on the Rise Amid Pandemic
The jolt towards comfort that set in early during the coronavirus lockdown continues - and promises to shake up the underwear market with a twist on the essentials.
While fashion was one of the hardest hit sectors during the shutdown, with clothing retailers struggling with excess inventory and near-sustained consumer demand, many intimate brands faced the opposite problem: they struggled to keep up.
And many are still scurrying around trying to scale new parts of their business.
The desire for comfort could have been the catalyst. With so many women working from home, many turned to wireless bras. Others have chosen to go without a bra. In need of ways to capitalize on the market, Intimates brands began to focus on the underwear category.
"People will always need the basics," Kristen Classi-Zummo, director of apparel market insights at The NPD Group, told WWD. "And women still wear panties, so it was given a little more emphasis because it was more of a need category.
"There is also more emphasis on comfort," said Classi-Zummo. "Women don't go out that much. They don't have to replace their bras like they did before. Or maybe they choose not to wear a bra at all. But they still wear underwear."
With the exception of sports bras, all intimate apparel sales have declined since January. However, Classi-Zummo noted that the underwear category saw relatively small declines. Conversely, the entire basics category, which includes intimates and men's underwear, fared better than general clothing during the pandemic, with sales peaking in June.
“If you look at the rest of the apparel category, which was down around 50 percent in April but the basics only dropped 30 percent [in April], it's pretty good to go down to a negative 5 percent [in June] climb “, so Classi- Said Zummo.
The June sales surge was likely due to pent-up demand or shoppers not making purchases for several months since the quarantine began, Classi-Zummo said. (Google searches for underwear rose nearly 28 percent in the last week of June.)
"Regardless of whether adults can get by with what they had for a few months or whether there may have been inventory problems, people had to refill [their underwear drawers]," said Classi-Zummo.
During the pandemic, underwear sales, or the number of times a particular brand of underwear is out of stock and cannot be purchased on an e-commerce platform for five consecutive days, also increased - 56 percent between June and August, year for year Year - according to Edited.
"The surge in lingerie sales goes hand in hand with the huge demand for loungewear, both of which are due to a shift in consumer preference for a new wardrobe that is suitable for Lockdown and beyond," said Katharine Carter, retail analyst at Edited . "With self-care a higher priority over the pandemic, customers have purchased items to pamper themselves, including comfortable underwear and more statement designs for dates."
Examples of this can be seen across the industry. Since March, underwear brand Thinx has received five new wholesale accounts: Urban Outfitters, Free People, Kohl's, London Drugs and the Swiss department store Manor. The Period-Panties brand also launched new Thinx sleeper shorts in July, followed by a postpartum underwear collection in September. Underwire brand MINDD Bras launched its first line of underwear in June after sales of bras rose nearly 1,000 percent between Q1 and Q2. Underwear brand Parade received a $ 3 million investment from venture capital fund Vice Ventures last July after growing roughly 80 percent between the first and second quarters of the year.
Sales of the gender-neutral unmentioned category of boy smells, which includes underwear and wireless bras, increased 700 percent from January to August year over year. Underwear sales at Intimates' Hanky Panky brand are increasing year over year, particularly in briefs, thongs and multi-packs, said Brenda Berger, co-managing director of Hanky Panky. The digital bra brand ThirdLove, a favorite among millennials, expanded the underwear portion of its business last year, according to co-founder and CEO Heidi Zak.
"We've seen a really big increase in the underwear share of sales and that's a big focus for us for the rest of the year and for the next," said Zak. "We need to expand the category, add new styles and colors, and make sure our customer knows we are a go-to for that category too."
According to Zak, around 55 percent of ThirdLove's sales in September came from new customers.
"The pandemic is an opportune time for women to potentially try something new," she said. "So we've definitely seen the benefits of that."
Zak added that categories that focus on comfort, like wireless bras and all underwear, performed best during the pandemic.
"It makes sense that people want to feel more comfortable in their homes," said Katie Fritts, founder of Underclub, the subscription lingerie company that supplies subscribers with new panties every month so shoppers can try a range of underwear brands and styles . “When we sell packs [of underwear] that are bundled into our e-comm store through our subscription, it has definitely been a big driver. Our triple pack is usually our bestseller when a new subscriber joins. "
And it's not just women's underwear that is on the rise amid the pandemic. Total underwear sales as of June 1 increased year-on-year for men's underwear and the base brand Mack Weldon by 12 percent. Some individual collections had even better results. In the same period, sales of Mack Weldons AirKnitx increased by 55 percent compared to the previous year.
As of December, lingerie retailer Cosabella will be genderless and offer more men's pants, including men's bikinis, G-strings, jock straps and briefs in a variety of skin tones.
"We already have a male customer for our products," said Guido Campello, Co-CEO and Creative Director at Cosabella. "But to actually have a transition and a cross where we can actually offer the same fabrics, laces and colors [for men and women] that suit a more masculine body type, something was missing." He said a number of larger retailers have already started ordering the products.
According to Edited, there were just more styles of underwear in the market for both men and women in general retail - about 27 percent more this year compared to 2019 - and more lingerie brands, including Soma, Free People, and American Eagle Outfitters. Aerie and Rihanna's Savage x Fenty have added short skyscraper silhouettes to their lookbooks.
Additionally, the underwear category had fewer discounts than other clothing sectors, which, according to Edited's Carter, indicates increased demand for underwear. As of August, 36 percent of all underwear was discounted, compared to 55 percent of dresses and 51 percent of bottoms.
One such company that is adding new styles and selling them through its lingerie range is Toronto-based Intimates brand Knix. Founder Joanna Griffiths said the brand's leak-proof underwear continues to sell out on a regular basis.
"The pace at which we move through our underwear is nine to ten times a year," said Griffiths. “Three to four [times a year] is what everyone drives to to get healthy inventory levels. So our inventory really comes in and sold out, and then we come in more and it's sold out. It was a very quick step for us. "
Like others in the industry, Griffiths attributes Knix's success not just to locking, but to overall comfort movement as well.
"Unfortunately, there are winners and losers in the pandemic, and it feels almost arbitrary," she said. "But we have always chosen a comfort-in-innovation approach for all of our products and at Knix as a whole. We did really well this year."
Griffiths said the company's total sales - which include products like wireless bras - were up 65 percent year over year in August. Even the brand's swimwear capsule for April sold out. In August, Knix launched a new slip capsule with advanced leak-proof technology.
"Even though this is a recession, we still believe there has never been a better time to bring this product to market," Griffiths said at the time. "It's such a growing, hot category right now."
In fact, the category is so hot that other players are moving in - or expanding their existing collections. In June, the sustainable sneaker brand Allbirds launched an underwear collection. In July HanesBrands presented its own underwear collection "Hanes Fresh & Dry", which was sold out within a week.
"I find it really interesting that a major player like Hanes is looking for potential fringe innovation," said Todd Mick, executive director at The NPD Group. “[Period underwear] is something that blew in the air in the industry and no one really understands how big it could actually be. But I think there are signs that things are gushing in the air. "
Meanwhile, Mick said that many brands are finding creative ways to navigate the new normal, whether through using influencer marketing to reach a wider audience or by selling through big box retailers.
"These digitally native brands are taking a little more energy to grow and are turning to brand influencers," said Mick. Danielle Bernstein from WeWoreWhat uses skims. Kim Kardashian needs an influencer? It's amazing. But Danielle has 2.5 million followers [on Instagram]. So it's about expanding the reach and connecting it creatively. "
But, Mick added, those who are "engineering in comfort" are winning during this pandemic.
Cosabellas Campello, who also owns the Journelle boutique lingerie store with his wife Sapna Palep, agreed. "You have the freedom to wear more underwear than bras during quarantine in terms of frequency," he said, shedding light on why underwear sales may have increased compared to bras.
"What's cool, what I see in the trends is that the bottom [products] are diversifying," Campello said. “It used to be things like soft straps and simple hot pants. But now we're seeing different things, like boys shorts, which is exciting. We see underwear that you can sleep in too. In the men's market, you could have these boxer shorts to sleep with with t-shirts. We are beginning to see that this is happening on the women's side too. Normally you would look at it by brand, but even within brands we see a variety of products in the ground. "
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