Pregnant and nursing mothers have become more aware of the importance of a well-fitting bra in recent years. Lingerie Insight rounded up a number of industry experts to discuss this trend and what’s driving innovation in the maternity lingerie market.
On the panel:
Penny Clayton, director of European Operations at Bravado Designs
Jules Canterbury, director of Amoralia
Tracey Montford, creative director at Cake Lingerie
Tom Kavanagh, UK sales manager at Naturana
Lorna Drew, managing director of Lorna Drew Nursing Lingerie
How has the maternity and nursing lingerie market evolved over the last five years?
Tracey Montford: The maternity and nursing lingerie sector has received a great deal of attention in the past few years. Even the more traditional maternity and nursing bra companies have started to evolve their offering to include cute prints, lace detail and better designs. Women are generally keen to celebrate their newfound form in pregnancy and post birth compared with 10 years ago. They are looking for attractive, fashion-forward garments that not only serve their purpose but look fabulous as well.
Jules Canterbury: The market is maturing – there was a flurry of new entrants around five years ago, but this has died down as retailers realise that the right brands for them are the specialists who can deliver great quality product, on time, and at the right price point.
Penny Clayton: In the last five years both mums and retailers have become more aware of the importance of a well-fitting bra. It’s not only about comfort, but about breast health. We’ve always known that pregnant and breastfeeding mums should try and avoid underwires, but in the past five years there have been some incredible innovations, which means mums won’t even miss them. Our Bliss bra has a Flexi-Fit Support Channel, which gives fantastic shape and lift.
How have fabrics and technologies changed in that time?
Lorna Drew: Within the industry we have seen much development, with brands such as ourselves developing different technologies, including fabrics infused with silver to promote healing of the skin, and flexi wires to allow for underwired styles to be worn during breastfeeding. We launched our lingerie into the market three years ago with a patented adjust-to-fit clasp system, which allows mothers to adjust each cup size individually over three cup sizes. After this we developed the first moulded breast pads, which mould around the mothers breast discreetly, providing both an enhanced shape and a seam-free finish.
Jules Canterbury: We brought out our Cupcake flexi-wired nursing bra for SS12 and since then, there have been constant improvements as new materials and components are developed. Carriwell’s GelWire is the perfect example of this – offering support and shape with gel was unheard of five years ago. Other brands have used fabrics with added anti-bacterial or heat-regulating properties to gain an edge. The focus at the moment is around multi-sizing; offering a bra that can fit many different sizes and reduce the retailer’s SKU holding. Some have succeeded better than others.
Tom Kavanagh: There is more demand for all-day comfort, using natural products, which is why our 5089 style is 100% cotton, allowing the skin to breathe.
What is driving innovation in the market?
Tracey Montford: I believe it’s the modern woman’s lifestyle and her choices that is driving innovation. Women are generally more active and mobile than they previously used to be during pregnancy and post birth. Women are demanding products that fit and suit the different occasions.
Tom Kavanagh: Comfort, control and the continuing development of fuller-figure lingerie are the key factors right now. Our 5089 style goes up to a 44F cup. Also driving the market is choice, which is why we created our specially-designed underwired nursing style, 7095. The underwire is reduced on the side to allow for ease of use of the drop-down cup.
Penny Clayton: Industry standards have become much stricter – all our bras are certified Oeko Tex standard 100 [an independent testing and certification system for textile raw materials, intermediate and end products]. There are far more materials being used to create maternity and nursing lingerie, with brands striving to bring mums the best in support and comfort. Our Body Silk Seamless, Confetti and Sweet Pea bras are all stretchy to accommodate fluctuations in shape and size, and this has proven very popular.
How have consumers’ spending habits changed when it comes to buying maternity lingerie, if at all?
Jules Canterbury: With the uncertain economic climate, consumers are keen to understand the added value of a piece. A beautiful design or colour, a fabulously soft fabric – it helps them to justify the added cost. However, we have also seen that there is a real price sensitivity – women who wouldn’t baulk at paying £150 for a special occasion bra simply won’t spend more than £40 on a nursing bra, no matter how pretty or innovative it is. It’s simply not that important to them – in fact, they prefer to spend whatever money they do have on baby kit and a few maternity essentials
Penny Clayton: Mums are definitely more aware of maternity and nursing lingerie. We have found they are buying earlier in pregnancy, and that they choose quality over quantity. Mums realise that
it’s far better to invest in a few quality bras than many cheap ones that don’t provide the support and comfort they crave during this time.
Four out of five women are wearing the wrong bra size. Is it the same situation when it comes to maternity and nursing bras? If so, what is the consequence of this?
Lorna Drew: Wearing the wrong bra size is very common during pregnancy, mainly due to the fact that the mother’s body is in a huge state of flux. Most mothers are aware that they are wearing the wrong bra size but are reluctant to make purchasing decisions until they become very uncomfortable, as they know their body is still changing. Unfortunately, it is detrimental to the mother’s health to be wearing a bra size that is too small during late pregnancy and breastfeeding. Medical problems like mastitis and breast abscesses are caused by external pressures on the breast tissue, which then leads to infection. It is therefore vital that mothers are fitted correctly with a bra that allows for further breast growth.
Tracey Montford: I am not sure if this problem will ever go away. Some women are driven by price and are not so concerned with product quality, fit and durability. I do think, however, that women generally are more aware of the benefits of getting fitted correctly during pregnancy and post birth. A good-fitting bra will provide the wearer with comfort, support and ease of use. It will also help to avoid pre-mature sagging of the breast tissue.
Tom Kavanagh: We have found that the maternity market actually bucks this trend, and that women are more likely to seek advice about getting themselves properly fitted at this stage rather than at any other time of their life.
What benefits do retailers see from stocking maternity lingerie?
Tom Kavanagh: For retailers, stocking maternity lingerie demonstrates that they are there to support and provide a well-rounded service to meet the demands of all their customers. It also provides an opportunity to attract new customers to their shop.
Penny Clayton: Finding a good maternity bra is not always easy, so if retailers stock a good range they are guaranteed to have some very satisfied customers. Breasts can be tender and sore in pregnancy and a quality maternity bra can really make a difference. This gives retailers the opportunity to really shine, share their specialist knowledge and win mum’s trust.
Lorna Drew: Retailers benefit from a very community-based social market when they stock maternity. Mums communicate very well to other mums through social networking and word of mouth. This
makes them an excellent target market
for bricks and mortar stores who provide fitting expertise.
Are some retailers reluctant to sell maternity lingerie? If so, why?
Lorna Drew: Yes. Budget concerns always arise in niche markets. But maternity is a very social market, with friends recommending friends and networking mother groups, such as antenatal classes right on their doorstep. Maternity is an ideal market for independent shops; it’s very easy to find your customers and spread the word. Some lingerie independents are very proactive and therefore have a very strong maternity sector.
Jules Canterbury: I think some retailers find maternity lingerie a challenge because they are worried about stock holding, don’t want to discount fashion ranges at the end of a season, yet need to respond quickly to a customer’s needs. It’s no use telling a customer to come back in six months time when the new season stock is in. This is why we have a policy of no minimum orders, a two-three day delivery, and continuity styles in a large range of sizes – it meets all the retailer’s needs.
How can we change these perceptions?
Tracey Montford: My advice to a retailer who is not currently stocking maternity lingerie would be to start small. Go with one great supplier, who offers a fantastic service and a great range of product. Supply product your current customer would purchase i.e. a great nude and black T-shirt bra, a seamless transition bra, one fashion bra in a neutral colourway and one contour cup option. This small range will cater for most pregnant and nursing mums’ needs.
Penny Clayton: Everyone in the industry needs to work together to ensure that mums are aware of the reasons they should invest in a maternity bra. We need to promote proper fittings, and get mums to realise that a maternity bra is just as important as a nursing bra. Retailers can promote in store, but it is up to us, as the leading brands in the industry, to make our message heard in as many places as possible.
Where do you see the future of the maternity industry heading?
Lorna Drew: The market is very competitive, which means more developments and better products at more competitive prices. This is good news for the customer.
Tracey Montford: Women are going to continue to have babies and our lifestyles are only going to get busier. I see the maternity industry continuing to grow from strength to strength. Technology and consumer demand will ensure products remain exciting and innovative, bringing the more traditional maternity and nursing bras into the same realm.
Jules Canterbury: We see the trend for consolidation continuing, with retailers focussing on trusted and proven brands and styles. Any product which makes their life easier and offers some flexibility on sizing is going to be a best seller. In terms of consumer interest, there’ll be another spike in sales when Royal Baby number two arrives. Watch this space!