Behind the brands: Gossard and Berlei

After acquiring Gossard and Berlei in 2007, Courtaulds vowed to get the brands back to being the major lingerie players they had proved to be in the 1990s. Sarah Blackman visits the Nottingham-based company to find out how the brands’ ground-breaking garments of the past have been modernised for today’s market.

Almost seven years ago, Courtaulds Brands Ltd, Britain’s largest producer of lingerie and swimwear, took labels Gossard and Berlei under its wing.

DB Apparel had sold the companies to the Nottingham-based business to focus on core brands Playtex, Shock Absorber and Wonderbra, which made up about 90% of its sales.

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At the time, Gossard and Berlei were making relatively small turnovers, but these labels were once major players in the industry.

Gossard was at its most powerful in the 1990s, when the iconic Glossies billboards featuring a 19-year old Sophie Anderton caused a stir with the risqué strap line, ‘Who said a woman couldn’t get pleasure from something soft?’, and has always been renowned for its innovation, creativity and tongue-in-cheek humour.

Berlei, meanwhile, was recognised for its technical achievements in developing lingerie and sportswear solutions, including the world’s first minimiser bra.

Based on these success stories, Courtaulds wasn’t about to scrap everything the brands had accomplished. Instead, the group planned to build on what had once made Gossard and Berlei thrive in a competitive market.

“Over the past three or four years, our key objective has been to get the brands back on track,” says Tony Jarvis, managing director of Gossard and Berlei. “It has been a great opportunity for us, but like everything in life, you’ve got to go right back to basics.”

“For Gossard, our key objective is to make sure we’ve got the DNA right, we’ve got the fashion positioning right and then it’s a whole process of developing the right range and making sure the quality and fit is exactly what we want,” adds Jarvis.

“So we sat down, looked at the brand guidelines and really tried to establish Gossard as the fashion brand it is, which is very much focused on plunge and cleavage.”

Courtaulds Group manufactures its products in China, Sri Lanka and Europe, but its close-knit production team, complete with designers, technicians and a R&D division, is based in the UK.

From here, the team has taken classic Gossard and Berlei styles from the past and enriched them with innovative design.

“Our R&D department is constantly trying new threads, new machine techniques, all sorts of things,” explains Gossard assistant designer Laura Wade. “If they find anything really useful, they’ll bring it to us in a meeting and then we’ll develop it with our China factories. Each season, even if it’s the same garment, we are constantly thinking about how we can improve it technically,” adds Wade.

The Gossard range is now twice the size it was two years ago due to
feedback from customers and retailers and the development of core continuity product.

Superboost Lace, Gossard’s best selling collection, available in ‘Lollipop’ red for SS14, originally consisted of a plunge bra, but with the growing demand for non padded and non-wired garments, the brand is now offering a Deep V Body in sizes 32-38B-DD.

The Glossies range has also been reintroduced and, last month, Gossard even reunited with Sophie Anderton to recreate the original campaign for the signature collection 20 years on.

But Gossard didn’t just replicate the Glossies sheer bra; using the latest moulding technology, the brand has developed a garment that lifts, supports and projects even the largest of cup sizes. Where the bra was once available in cup sizes up to DD, the garment can now be bought in sizes A-G.

“[The Glossies sheer bra] used to be a great product, but it was a front fastener, so when it went up to larger sizes you had issues with fit, and actually we weren’t very happy with some of the larger sizes and the fabric that was used in the past,” says Jarvis.

“So we went right back to the drawing board and worked really hard on developing the range, and now we have a product that is fantastically acclaimed and has received really good reviews. And, of course, the nice development now is the fact that we’re introducing new products into the range in a variety of colours,” he adds.

The Glossies sheer bra features a smooth moulded cup shape with a seamless sling, providing hidden lift and projection; a shimmering fabric with double the strength of the material used in the original design; and wider strapping for extra comfort and support.

“Anything we do core size, we obviously have to adapt it so it
goes all the way up to the larger sizes,” says Wade. “So for the Retrolution Staylo plunge bra, we had to adapt the deep v shape with our supplier so that it would go up to a G cup without bending or disfiguring. For us, to achieve a G cup in the Glossies range with such a light fabric has been amazing,” she adds.

One of the most exciting new developments for Gossard is the launch of its first digital print made exclusively for its AW13 Edina range.

Wade explains: “Screen printing is what we’re most famous for doing, but this is a lot quicker; you can do smaller runs and it’s a lot cleaner. It’s more expensive but the pros outweigh the cons. We’ll start building on our digital prints each season now.”

A driving force for Courtaulds’ brands is innovation, as it strives to create a differential for its end consumer. And Berlei, with its heritage, is in the perfect position to just that.

Founded in Australia in 1917 by Frederick Burley, the brand made a commitment to develop innovative bras and briefs that enhance, shape and transform women. Today, the label still stands by that DNA.

Like Gossard, the brand is staying true to its core products, but is
working with new technologies to develop an entirely new range for the UK and international markets.

Sports is one of the fundamental areas that Berlei has focused on in the last few years, with styles like Fresher, made with intelligent technologies and fabrics, set to launch next year.

Fresher uses LYCRA Fresher FX technology, which provides a cooling fabric with moisture wicking properties. Jarvis comments: “It’s actually a product we have offered before, but we’ve really updated it.”

“LYCRA Fresher is a fabric which will actually cool your skin by up to two to three degrees. We’ve had a fantastic reaction in the UK and the US to this, so we are hoping to get it out to market for around February next year,” adds Jarvis.

Berlei is also working with England Hockey to develop a new high-tech bra, the name of which cannot yet be revealed. The brand will supply the bra to the women’s team this year, with the hope that players will wear the product for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Berlei signed up to be a sponsor of England Hockey in December, in a four-year deal that also saw the brand become the official partner of its ‘Back to Hockey’ initiative.

The initiative, promoted as “Back to Hockey, supported by Berlei”, offers informal hockey sessions for women looking to stay in shape without the need to commit to ongoing club membership, regular training and competition schedules.

“Back to Hockey has around 70 clubs, but with the new season starting at the moment, they hope to get to 200 clubs. The scheme runs in six to eight week blocks,” says Jarvis.

Berlei also works in conjunction with Loughborough College and the Elite Athletics Performance Centre, supplying sportswear and talking to youngsters about the importance of wearing a sports bra. The children also help the brand with design ideas.

Berlei’s best-selling product in its sportwear range is the Running bra, which features ‘ultrasonic’ welded cups to give support under the bust, as well as at the apex.

This underwired bra, designed to look like a regular bra, is lightly
padded to reduce pressure and tension and is made with double layer fabrics to provide extra support.

Berlei has also introduced Aquatrek for SS14, a niche product designed for water- and land-based activities. Jarvis explains: “This is a combination of design and innovative touches. The fabric dries very quickly so it benefits people going from the water and onto their bike. It’s quite a difficult technology to get right, but it has gone down exceptionally well.”

On the lingerie side of Berlei, the brand focuses on providing the best solutions in comfort and support. Staying true to the brand’s roots, the range features a minimiser bra, which is designed with a double lamination moulded cup and a ‘trapped flower system’, which conceals the nipple.

Jarvis says: “We are getting a real name for ourselves on the minimiser side of things and we’ll actually have three minimisers in the range by the middle of next year. If you look at the market, minimisers are appealing to a lot of youngsters, especially as you get
more girls with smaller backs and bigger cup sizes.”

The new Heaven Lace range also features a minimiser, as well as a nonwired, wired and padded bra. This collection is centred on comfort, with soft textured lace and cotton lining. But no Berlei range would be complete without an innovative technology, providing the brand with a unique selling point. Enter Bioform.

“Bioform is a new technology that we have developed here in our research and development department, where we use a special machine that actually encompasses the wire into a tube, which goes into the bra, so you don’t have any digging in, and it’s a lot more comfortable,” explains Daniella Vincent, marketing coordinator for Gossard and Berlei.

“It’s already started in one or two products, but it will develop through the range in 2014. So, there’ll be specific styles within the range – both in Gossard and Berlei – which will roll out from January/February next year,” she adds.

The best-selling garment for Berlei lingerie is the B510, a very basic
design, which originated more than 30 years ago. This garment is part of the brand’s Classics range, which has become synonymous with Berlei for its years of support and comfort. The bra features a cross cradle for a better fit and freedom of movement.

Upon acquiring Gossard and Berlei, Courtaulds knew these labels were capable of achieving big things. They had been successful before, and Courtaulds knew they could be successful once again, with the right research and development.

Seven years later, with a solid combination of retrospective and innovative design – or, as Gossard would say, Retrolution – the brands have proved Courtaulds right.




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