OPINION: Claire Franks on the Fifty Shades trend

Lingerie and swimwear business guru Claire Franks, founder of Intimate Apparel Consultancy, offers her regular insight into lingerie retail, fitting and design.

When times are challenging, retailers and businesses need to constantly look for and react to the latest trends.

Being aware of what people are looking for and offering them solutions and a diversity of product to match their current needs is the aim of the game. Supermarkets have this down to a fine art, predicting the finest of food trends influenced by weather, politics, current news and sports events.

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Seeking out influences

During the last two years a huge trend was sports, and for us this transpired into lingerie being all about sports bras. It was everywhere, becoming a huge focus thanks to the London Olympics. Another less obvious trend recently has been nightwear: with three cold winters under our belts,
the focus is back on this troublesome category with sales increasing on onesies, pyjama sets, loungewear and bathrobes. So what is the latest must-have to affect our wonderful industry? What should we be looking at closely?

Fifty shades of play

Sales of the Fifty Shades of Grey series have been nothing short of phenomenal with over 70 million copies written in the English language sold worldwide, of which more than 14 million were sold in the UK alone, equating to a “Fifty Shades exposure rate” of just over 20% of the UK’s population! Digital retailers all over the world have been quick to jump on the Fifty Shades bandwagon, sensing both a rare and golden opportunity to attract mainstream customers, and this is key “mainstream consumer” as, despite what we may think, this book has bought the whole BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) scene to the forefront of everyday people’s lives.

Trial and transform

While the sex toy industry has seen individual products spike in the past – selling millions of Rabbit Pearl vibrators after it appeared on Sex and the City – the difference with Fifty Shades is that it specifically references an entire category of products. Aside from making millions for the author and publisher, I see the book’s success as a transformational opportunity for our sector, specifically the BDSM market. There are a lot of people who have never considered buying handcuffs or a riding crop, and now they are intrigued and interested in trying their own little versions of Fifty. This is a boon for lingerie companies who are willing to trial and invest in this category, which continues to enjoy growth this year of 20-30% – not to be sniffed at when trade is so tough. You may be surprised by who actually buys these lines.

Indecent retail proposals

But have we embraced this new money making opportunity? I don’t think so. So why not? Is it that we are embarrassed? Believe it to be inappropriate? We don’t know how to present it in store, sell it
or are simply concerned that it would offend our customers? There are many possible reasons why we may not have welcomed this new cash cow with open arms. But rather than focus on the many reasons why not, let’s discuss why we should. The Paris trade show in January was littered with stands selling all types of sensual products and toys, some so discreet they defy being understood let alone offensive. Packaging was tasteful, contemporary, some very feminine and pretty and worthy of presence on any retailer’s shelves. A wide choice was there, including the Fifty Shades of Grey branded toys and accessories.

Don’t knock it before you try it

If you fancy trying it without going too full-on out then look at creating a mini-section “inspired by” Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe even offer a free book with every purchase. Products can include anything from a scented massage candle, satin and lace night dresses, lace underwear sets with matching hand ties, cushions or blindfolds through to a set of vibrating nipple clamps and much more! Look at this opportunity with open eyes; don’t submit to the stereotypes that you connect with those who buy and are attracted to these products. Displayed discreetly, these products can be
sold in a tasteful, sophisticated way to a like-minded, everyday consumer, while you can enjoy the additional profit margin and turnover that they bring and the additional excitement and
interest in your store.

The trend that keeps giving

Is this a fad that could be over before it has already got going or a trend that is here to stay? I don’t think so. I believe it will be around few years more yet – and why? Because in late March, Universal Pictures secured the film rights for an estimated $5 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Fifty Shades is with us for the long haul, whether we like it or not.


  • Always keep an eye on social and cultural trends that might affect your sales.
  • Fifty Shades has opened up a market for people who wouldn’t have considered BDSM purchases: you can offer a safe, reassuring environment for them.
  • Tasteful packaging and stylish offerings make this more approachable than before.
  • Think of ways to try this out without too much commitment, such as a mini section in the shop, low-key options such as massage candles, and giveaways.



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