Victoria’s Secret’s reign has come to an end.
The once preeminent franchise, which sold sexy successfully for 42 years, is desperately clinging to relevance. That’s because the retail world has begun a metamorphosis—and it’s the unlikely category of intimates that’s leading the charge when it comes to personalization and inclusivity.
As consumers have started to drift away from big box retailers and mall chains in favor of specialty direct-to-consumer brands and online marketplaces, opportunities abound for women’s lingerie brands that have something to sell other than sex appeal.
“Today’s customers have the convenience of choice that they didn’t have before, with rise of direct-to-consumer and e-commerce. With that, they are looking for more out of brands and products from a style, functionality, and accessibility standpoint,” said Michelle Cordeiro Grant, founder and CEO of Lively, a lingerie brand that also sells swim and athletic pieces.
“In the lingerie category alone, products were previously made in such a way that women had to conform to fit into them, rather than the product conforming to their bodies,” Grant said, referencing a longstanding problem of limited sizing within the category.
She also believes lingerie was made without an understanding of “how women want to perceive themselves.” Shoppers are increasingly looking for comfort, versatility and functionality over sexy silhouettes.
Because of that shifting perspective, retailers and brands like Lively have learned to cater to women on a different level. “Customers today prefer brands and products that reflect their personal values, have good design, and are also inclusive of different shapes, sizes and skin tones,” she said.
Lively recently launched a new Full Support series, adding a range of cup sizes from 38DDD through 44DDD/46DD to its collection. And, the company’s Go Nude launch added a selection of bras, bralettes and undies in five different skin tone-inspired color ways. Regardless of size, all of the brand’s products are priced equally—sadly, a revolutionary concept for intimates and apparel.
The brand relies heavily on consumer feedback to determine gaps in its line and to address fit issues. “We have an open dialogue with our community through social media and at our in-store events, Grant said. “Additionally, we survey for everything from what kinds of products to innovate next, as well as new styles, and even colors.”
Lively’s brick-and-mortar stores in New York and Chicago serve as venues for personalized fit sessions, where associates can glean insights from women in the flesh.
“Inclusivity is at the core of our brand values and it’s why we exist,” Grant said. “Never before have bras supported human uniqueness.”
The concept of catering to women as they are—and not as society wants to see them—is a driver for Ra’el Cohen, chief creative officer of ThirdLove, a direct-to-consumer lingerie brand that specializes in comfort and fit.
Cohen believes that the meteoric rise of brands like hers is “partly a reaction to the dominant players in the industry, like Victoria’s Secret and Calvin Klein, who have marketed a male fantasy to women.”
Maintaining that fantasy is no longer a driver for shoppers when it comes to intimates, evidenced by those heritage retailers’ rapidly shrinking market share. Instead, women are looking for a tailored fit for optimal comfort and wearability.
“Determining a woman’s shape is incredibly nuanced and no two women are the same,” she said.
Because of that philosophy, Cohen said ThirdLove has abandoned industry standard fit models, who often wear a size 34B, and instead looks for more varied representation from women of all sizes.
One of the brand’s revelations was that many women fell outside of the parameters dictated by traditional bra sizing standards.
“One of our earliest ‘aha’ moments came when we looked at some of our customer data and realized about 40 percent of women were falling in between cup sizes,” Cohen explained. “That’s when we invented half-cups.”
On the ThirdLove site, shoppers can order a size 34C ½, for example. But how does a woman determine her fit without trying on first?
“Our revolutionary FitFinder acts as a kind of virtual bra fitting,” Cohen said, going on to explain the brand’s minute-long online quiz, which helps consumers determine their best size and style. The quiz poses questions about current bra size and brand, as well as fit issues that wearers frequently experience.
So far, Cohen said, 14 million women have taken the quiz, and the FitFinder’s machine learning allows for more accurate results as the data accumulates.
The learnings led ThirdLove to launch 24 additional sizes last year. “We set out to make great fitting, comfortable, beautiful bras for every woman’s body,” Cohen said of the brand’s mission. “We didn’t consider using the phrase ‘plus size,’ because we believe your size is simply your size, period.”
When asked why the intimates category seems to have taken up the mantle for body positivity and inclusive sizing, Cohen and Grant agree that it’s a no-brainer.
“Lingerie is the article of clothing that is closest to your skin,” Grant said. “Messages of body positivity in this category represent a shift in focus toward what women want to feel when they look at themselves in the mirror, rather than how they feel when others look at them.” She added that the $13 billion industry has been dominated by one point of view for years—and women aren’t buying into it anymore.
“A bra is the most intimate piece of clothing you own and also the most functional,” Cohen echoed. “Women deserve to feel confident and comfortable in their bras and underwear for themselves first and foremost. We believe apparel brands can learn to develop products for every woman, regardless of her shape, size, age, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation.”