Shapewear is becoming as essential to a lingerie collection as a basic T-shirt bra, but as an increasing number of designers roll out thigh-smoothing shorties and waist cinching camis, how can retailers decide which are the best products to stock?
By Sarah Blackman and Laura Higgins
There has been a huge influx in demand for shapewear over the last five years or so, driven primarily by celebrities like Beyonce and Lady Gaga discussing it on the red carpet or donning provocative corsetry.
As a result, shapewear is appearing much more in the consumer press and in blogs, influencing younger consumers to buy into this market.
According to Heather Thomson, founder of US shapewear brand Yummie, 10% of shapewear customers are women aged between 18 and 24.
“Though the sweet spot is still women aged 45-64 (40% of the business), this younger demographic is growing, which helps add to the shapewear bottom line. And, as a designer, this is so exciting because the younger ladies are realising the importance of investing in their foundations.”
Ambra brand manager Helen Austen agrees: “Gone are the days of shapewear being worn primarily by larger sized, more mature women – it is the Friday-night essential for the 18+ woman to help them create that ‘body con’ look that is so popular in fashion right now.”
Industry influencers have also targeted new consumer groups to the market, says Peter Hack, member of the executive team at German intimates brand Naturana.
“Spanx has made the revolution with targeting new consumer groups and consumer channels. The corselet is for the older and classical consumer, but thanks to Spanx’s products, we have new consumer groups that we haven’t had before,” he explains.
So, as the demographic of shapewear consumers widens, the range of brands and products is growing, giving both buyers and customers more choice.
But, with so many options out there, how can retailers decide which brands offer the best quality garments, and how can they find a point of difference to offer their customers?
Mary Carmen Gasco-Buisson and Serena De Maio, co-founders of luxury brand Grace & Wilde believe that the shapewear market has grown to the detriment of retailers.
“This is because most offerings lack differentiation,” they say. “For consumers, this also results in lack of meaningful innovation and a crowded category, where it is difficult to choose among very similar – and often low quality – options.”
Peter Oldham, UK and Ireland director for Esbelt agrees, and adds: “The principal change in five years has been the continued expansion and influence of Far East manufacturing resulting in the majority of established lingerie companies having created or expanded their catalogue into shapewear.”
“With the ever increasing focus on the price rather than quality, much shapewear is thin knitted garments which sell en-mass but don’t do as good a job as the traditional, established brands still do,” he says.
Happily, there are some shapewear brands – both new and heritage – that are using the latest fabric blends and technologies, and taking inspiration from fashion trends, to create high quality, functional garments that stand out from the crowd, enabling retailers to select the best lines for their customers to choose from.
Most retailers have embraced shapewear, with some high street stalwarts like Marks & Spencer creating their own. But many boutiques and high-end retailers have opted out from carrying these garments because they don’t believe the aesthetic of current brands match with the other collections they carry.
Other retailers have tried to step back from selling shapewear because the thought of buying thigh-smoothing shorties and waist-cinching camis in nude and black doesn’t exactly fill them with excitement.
But times are changing and some manufacturers are beginning to offer products that look good, both on the body, and the shop floor.
“Shapewear is designed against the paradigm of it being something to hide, not designed to make a woman look and feel sexy on its own. This gap is what inspired us to create Grace & Wilde,” state Gasco-Buisson and De Maio.
“We wear lovely lingerie and the idea of covering it with unsightly shapewear was very disturbing to us. We decided to create shapewear so beautiful that a woman would never hide to take it off,” they add.
For AW14, Grace & Wilde is offering outerwear-ready styles with couture finishes and tailored fits for garments that can be worn under clothing and as ready-to-wear – a first in shapewear.
“High-end retailers and bridal boutiques are embracing us and carrying us in their stores, as our garments deliver luxurious aesthetics, super fine premium fabrics and unrivalled shaping functionality and comfort,” the co-founders continue.
Yummie has also cottoned on to the importance of offering functional, yet fashionable shapewear, playing with bold colours and stylish finishes.
“I am constantly incorporating smart design features,” says Thomson. “I design from the perspective of a designer and a woman, which means I need to ask myself, ‘How can this be sexier, smarter and more flattering?’”
Over at Naturana, designers are working to create younger, fashion-orientated shapewear lines to add to its Perfect Body line, a basic panty girdle in nude. For the new season, the brand has developed high waist knickers and a matching cami top made with mesh fabric featuring a black and white polka dot print.
A second line features an underbust bodyshaper in black, and a metal heart pendant provides added detail.
Chris Eve, managing director of Patricia Eve, the UK distributor of popular brands Naomi & Nicole and Miraclesuit, says that shapewear collections have now started to evolve with the mantra of working with current fashion shapes and trends, making shapewear garments an important part of the everyday wardrobe, even if they aren’t seen.
“As the 4×4 changed from just functional to trendy so has shapewear, and I think it will continue to evolve in this way while there are celebrity endorsement. This will cause an effect on the design and retail of the products,” he says.
“As much as some buyers might like to see it disappear, the demand [for shapewear] is still there and is increasing. As a nation, we are becoming more body conscious and we aim to make sure that everybody, where possible, has a reason each day to feel good.”
New to Miraclesuit for AW14 are four additions to the Sexy sheer collection. Sheer panels allow the garment to adjust to the body for a perfect fit, while the double panels provide extra firm control helping to shape and smooth.
Naomi & Nicole, meanwhile, has developed two new collections for the new season. “Soft & Smooth is made with a new fabric that has a cotton element. This makes the fabric extremely soft, and the seams are strategically placed to provide a smooth finish while offering firm control and shaping,” says Eve.
“Sensual Sheer, combines an airy, lightweight fabric and double panels to provide control and shaping. These garments are designed to slim the tummy and hips and look good under all types of fashion items.”
As much as style is becoming increasingly important when it comes to buying shapewear for your customers, this category of garments must also have substance. So it’s essential that retailers select the most functional garments for their customers.
“Fabric blend developments have been very important over the last few years,” says Eve.
“Fabrics have become thinner and smoother, yet they are stronger. This means shapewear manufactures have been able to produce lightweight, breathable, very comfy but effective shapewear. And because of their soft and smooth exterior they allow even flimsy fashion garments to hang more naturally.”
Thomson seconds that and adds: “The advances in technology and innovations like laser cut treatments and lightweight microfiber blends have played a major role in modernising the business.”
The designer created her Patented Yummie Tummie Tank in 2008, after deciding to develop a product that didn’t look like her grandmothers girdles, but would hug her midsection.
“Since then, we have tapped into innovations such as Outlast technology to offer pieces with temperature control, for example.”
“Our Ultralight Shape panty collection is an everyday bottom designed for ultimate ease and comfort,” she continues. “It is made with Fiber J fabric which is environmentally friendly, incredibly smooth, and thinner and stronger than elastane, and offers more breathability, plus no muffin top—a grand slam. The collection consists of four styles: a bikini, thong, hipster and boyshort.”
Grace & Wilde, meanwhile, has developed a patent-pending Perfect Cleavage adjustable bra. This enables the wearer to adjust the coverage of the bra from a high neck to a deep décolleté. This garment is made with no-seam bonding for a smooth finish.
Ambra is also embracing new technologies to improve its collections. It’s Killer Figure Featherlights are made from lightweight microfiber with compression. “Featherlights allows the wearer to experience a slimmer and more toned looking figure,” says Austen.
“The softest of yarns are used during a high-tech knitting process to create a comfortable, side seam-free and body hugging fit with near invisible finishes. It is our plan to introduce this range to the UK marketplace later this year or early next year,” she adds.
So, as retailers rummage for the best quality shapewear brands out of the hundreds available on the market, will selecting the labels with the most innovative and fashionable designs come at a price?
Eve says no, shapewear will continue to be an affordable category of garments. “Miraclesuit and Naomi & Nicole have not had a raise in prices for the last few years, and new garments are similar in price to the garments they replace, meaning the customer benefits from being able to buy more advanced garments for the same price.”
Thomson feels the same way. “We will continue to price our products competitively while still offering quality collections,” she says. “I am a firm believer that we must invest in our foundations – our bras, panties and shaping – they’re the closest thing to our bodies and the confidence it gives will show through. And if you feel good, you’re going to look it," she says.