As more fashion brands look to add intimates to their portfolio, the Bodywear Office is stepping in to offer its design expertise and provide individual supply chain services. Already a licence holder to Hackett and Madame SuperTrash, the company is hoping to widen its customer base, says MD Annique van der Zande
In the age of social media, the blogosphere and the like, it’s easy to find information about anything and connect with anyone. A simple Google search will produce a fountain of knowledge on any given subject, place, person or company.
But, Google the Bodywear Office (tBO) and all you’ll find is a brief description of the company on LinkedIn, a Facebook page that leads to nowhere and a website under construction.
In the coming weeks, tBO will wake up to the world of online marketing with the launch of its website, but over the last three years, the company has been quietly establishing itself through good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth.
“When we started, we never expected to have so much feedback. And even though we don’t have a website, we’re not mentioned anywhere,” says managing director Annique van der Zande.
“But through the network and talking to people we became so busy and we now have four offices, our own sample room and around 25 employees. So we have been growing so fast and we didn’t really need the website because customers were coming to us anyway. But we thought, ok, we are more established now, it’s time to establish the website and explain to everyone what we are doing.”
The Bodywear Office was launched in Rotterdam, the Netherlands in 2011 after van der Zande and her partner saw a gap in the market for a company that designs and distributes intimate apparel for established fashion and lifestyle brands.
Van der Zande had set up the bodywear division for Tommy Hilfiger in Europe after seeing the brand struggle to develop underwear lines in-house, and an idea was born.
“There was a change happening in the market; we were seeing more and more apparel brands coming up with underwear lines and intimate collections because they are part of a lifestyle. But we also noted that apparel brands were struggling to do that,” says van der Zande.
“Fashion brands find it difficult to manage intimates collections because they have no knowledge about the industry, the technicality of the product and the long production lead times compared to apparel,” she explains.
“Also, lingerie speciality stores that focus on fitting are wary about buying fashion brands, as they don’t always have a good experience with them.
“Even though [Tommy Hilfiger] invested a lot in underwear – they set up a team of 30 people – it was still difficult to manage. So after five years of doing that, we really felt we wanted to continue in intimate apparel and we wanted to set up the Bodywear Office,” she adds.
tBO offers a complete set of supply chain services as an intimate apparel licence holder, including sales and distribution. But the company also offers individual services for apparel brands, including design, product development and sourcing.
“Our customers can take what they want from this complete offering,” says van der Zande.
Since the company launched, tBO has gained two licences, one for Madame Supertrash and one for Hackett. The firm also has a wide portfolio of direct customers that use its services.
“So we offer private label production, design for certain brands and we are quite happy where we are today,” explains van der Zande.
“We thought that licensing would be something we would look at in the future, but it already happened quite soon. We are also in talks with some interesting brands, which I cannot name, in the US. They are interested in licensing and we are hoping that we’ll have that finalised in a couple of months.”
tBO took over the license for Madame SuperTrash for SS13, just one season after SuperTrash owner Olcay Gulsen first launched the collection with the aim of expanding her portfolio of apparel and footwear into intimates.
The range already had 150 stockists worldwide, and now, thanks to van der Zande and her team, Madame SuperTrash is expanding its collection and quickly becoming known as a brand on its own.
“The business is doing very well. We have noticed that there is a demand for fashion lingerie,” says van der Zande.
But it hasn’t always been easy establishing Madame SuperTrash as a brand outside the Netherlands, admits the MD.
“In the Netherlands, a lot of people know the brand, but, outside the Netherlands, it’s almost like introducing a new lingerie label because people don’t necessarily know about Madame SuperTrash.”
“But we have noticed that it’s picking up very well, especially in France, Belgium and Italy. At the moment, France and Belgium are the biggest markets for Madame SuperTrash. I think it’s because those markets are very lingerie-orientated.
They, more than any other markets, have been really waiting for something new and fashionable, but, still, they are very particular; they want something that is feminine,” she explains.
But the UK market, which was introduced to Madame SuperTrash two years ago, is also growing, with collections now stocked at high-end Chelsea boutique Petits Bisous, as well as Prohibido and Figleaves. The luxury label will also make its debut with ASOS in AW14.
“We have a full-time sales representative in the UK at the moment and she is really focussed on travelling with the collection. She’s doing quite well, so there will be more retailers that will be buying into the collection. But, we really look carefully at the retailers we want to be in. We really want to be in the fashion retailers who really fit with our brand,” says van der Zande.
For AW14, Madame SuperTrash is launching another fashion collection. “We always do is look at the trends and things that are happening in the fashion business and try to translate that into intimates,” van der Zande continues.
The selection of bodies bras and briefs for the new season also feature the brand’s signature boudoir and vintage-inspired 1940s and 50s shapes, along with brand new styles and decorative details.
“There are a lot of details like pearls and laces, but they are used in a different way, with special embroidery. The colours are also very fashion-orientated and not the typical intimates’ colours, but we do seem to notice that it does work. When you look into stores, everything has the same pastel tones and we really believe that strong and bright colours are important for Madame SuperTrash,” says van der Zande.
The response to the new collection from buyers has been very positive, she says. “Every time we get good responses, but I felt like this time there has been a big step forward in the collection.”
With tBO’s expertise, the MD and her partner have also expanded Madame SuperTrash’s latest range and made three big deliveries that all customers can buy into.
“This is important, especially in Europe, where everyone has such different tastes,” she says.
“It’s important that we can cater to all of those markets. Every country has their own particular preference to groups and colours.”
So what’s next for the tBO? At the time of writing, the company was finalising the last few details for its website launch.
Van der Zande describes the content: “We just want to give a good vision of what tBO stands for, so we want to show what we do, give an overview of the services we offer and the brands that we work for. There are other companies that do what tBO does but they are not necessarily focused on the fashion side of the business, and this is something that we really want emphasise on the website and all the ways that we represent ourselves.”
Looking ahead, the MD hopes tBO will take on new brands, offer its services to a wider portfolio of clients, and introduce unique lingerie lines to retailers.
She says: “We hope to grow globally and to make our mark on the intimate apparel business by offering fashion brands to the business, because even though the market is changing, it’s still dominated by traditional brands and we want to make a difference there.”