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‘We See You, We Hear You’: Inclusion Now a ‘Competitive’ Priority, Research Shows

Adaptive lingerie label Intimately will use $1 million in new funding to expand as fashion retail moves to make inclusion and representation a bigger priority.

Entrepreneur Emma Butler launched Intimately from her Brown University dorm room in 2019 to reach more than 600 million women worldwide with disabilities or chronic conditions who need undergarments tailored to their unique needs.

UK venture capital firm Venrex and the British Fashion Council participated in Intimately’s $1 million raise. Away co-founder Steph Korey, Peanut founder and CEO Michelle Kennedy, Sarah Drinkwater on behalf of Atomico, and Alexandra Fine, founder and CEO of Dame Products, also contributed.

“Typically investors see adaptive fashion as not worth their time, but trends show that the adaptive apparel market is similar to the maternity and plus size market,” Butler said. “This further validates that the clothing market for disabled people [is] valuable, and that disabled customers matter.”

Functional features are camouflaged by feminine designs.
Intimately merges function with feminine design. Intimately

Butler said her mother struggled to find suitable bras or underwear when she was diagnosed with a chronic illness a decade ago. “We would shop together, and she would look for disability-specific clothing or Velcro closures,” she said. “There was no word for adaptive apparel at that point, and all she found were ugly, medical-looking options.”

In response, Butler launched Intimately as a marketplace for adaptive intimates and clothing, building an in-house brand over the past year that offers sexier, reasonably priced lingerie with greater functionality in a wide range of sizes.

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Intimately’s branded assortment includes bras, underwear and sleepwear priced between $25-$58 based on crowd-sourced suggestions and requests from disabled women and incorporating proprietary closure technology and features such as loop grips, Butler said.

“We worked for almost two years to get the perfect functional and sexy lingerie that anyone, really anyone, will want to wear,” she said. “As a non-disabled person myself, I am obsessed with not only the style but also the comfort and ease of dressing.”

Intimately encourages customers to share their stories and read a blog that touches on issues facing disabled women. The site also features a quiz for those interested in disability activism, and a forthcoming app will offer new ways to connect and engage.

“Disabled women can make new friends and chat about sex, fashion, beauty, confidence in a safe space,” Butler said. “This is incredibly important to us because it aligns with our mission of amplifying disabled voices and bringing confidence to disabled women.”

A pull-loop on a pair of Intimately underwear.
A pull-on loop on Intimately underwear. Intimately

Interest in and funding for Intimately come as consumers increasingly look to support brands that make meaningful strides with diversity and inclusion, according to Coresight Research.

Marginalized shoppers are seeing themselves represented through new product lines, marketing and corporate-level representation, it added. Gender and size-inclusive products developed for wearers with disabilities and made by diverse founders and designers are gaining traction, representing new opportunities for established brands and those looking to break into the fashion space.

“Inclusivity is no longer a secondary consideration,” Coresight senior analyst Erin Schmidt told Sourcing Journal. “It’s absolutely a necessity for a retailer or a brand to be competitive today.”

The social unrest of 2020 helped accelerate the movement toward corporate-level inclusion. Nordstrom pledged to grow its purchases from Black-owned or founded businesses tenfold by the end of 2030, while Target outlined a plan to spend $2 billion with Black-owned suppliers by 2025, adding more than 500 companies with diverse founders to its roster.

According to Coresight’s 2021 analysis of inclusivity in retail, the movement toward even broader inclusion represents a “long-term change” already driving billion-dollar growth in apparel, footwear and beauty.

Schmidt highlighted American Eagle’s Aerie as a leader in size inclusivity, having launched its #AerieReal campaign in 2016 to showcase bodies of all sizes and shapes. “They are the best example of a brand or retailer that has incorporated inclusivity and seen a tremendous impact on sales,” Schmidt said. American Eagle’s Q4 earnings show that Aerie achieved its 29th quarter of consecutive growth and its market share in women’s underwear grew from 2.1 percent in 2016 to 9.6 percent last year.

Gap Inc.-owned activewear label Athleta extended its range to include sizes 1X-3X last year and secured a Times Square billboard featuring plus-size models and store mannequins representing different body shapes. “It’s that representation that says, ‘We see you; we hear you,’” Schmidt said.

The brand's assortment has grown from intimates to activewear, loungewear and swim.
TomboyX Courtesy

Coresight pegs women’s plus-size apparel sales at $36.9 billion in this year, up from 2021’s $34.3 billion. Revolve is branching out from its straight-size focus to court this consumer group with a creative partnership with Remi Bader for a size-inclusive capsule in sizes XXS-3X. Known for creating “realistic” clothing try-on videos for her 2.5 million combined TikTok and Instagram followers, the 26-year-old Muse NYC model has made a platform out of showing the world how many big fashion brands don’t make clothing that fits her size 14/16 frame. “Please Revolve, just make some larger clothing,” she said in a TikTok video announcing Remi x Revolve, dropping this fall.

Meanwhile, the gender-neutral apparel category, a much newer space with high potential for growth, is also heating up, Schmidt said. Young consumers largely drove conversations about gender identity that ramped up at workplaces and schools in the past two years, and “helped drive the emergence of the gender-free product category in retail,” Coresight wrote. Luxury names including Altazurra, Marni and Telfar released all-gender lines, while French footwear and accessories brand Monsieur L launched gender-free footwear in January. Tommy Hilfiger collaborated with actor Indya Moore on a genderless capsule in July, while skate and surf retailer PacSun opened a gender-neutral kids apparel store last fall.

Gender-inclusive underwear and activewear brand TomboyX achieved B Corp certification last month, scoring high marks for taking consumer sentiment into consideration during the product development process. The Seattle, Wash. queer-owned brand, founded in 2013 to create an inclusive boxer brief for wearers of all sizes and genders, has grown to include a range of intimate apparel, activewear, loungewear and swimwear made with eco-conscious fabrics. Celebrities such as Lizzo and Brooke Burke number among the supporters of TomboyX, which Nordstrom recently added to its online assortment.

TomboyX’s overall score of 94.9 on the B Corp impact rating scale, well above the median score of 50.9, means it scored at least 80 impact points in the environment, workers, community, clients and governance categories. The company’s diverse C-Suite is 80 percent women, while 63 percent of managers and those above them identify as LGBTQ or minorities. Another 39 percent of the TomboyX team identifies as either LGBTQ or minorities.

“As queer women, we know what it’s like to not see ourselves represented in fashion,” co-founder Naomi Gonzalez said in a statement. “We believed that if we created a sustainable product that focused on fit and quality and offered a broad range of sizes we would fill a white space that desperately needed visibility.”

LGBTQ-founded gender neutral underwear brand TomboyX has been certified as a B Corp.
Newly B Corp certified TomboyX makes gender-neutral underwear. Courtesy

“By becoming B Corp Certified we are committing to continuous improvement in our mission of radical inclusivity,” Gonzalez added, along with “using sustainable practices and transparency within our organization for the benefit of our community, workers and customers.”

Meanwhile, adaptive apparel and footwear found supporters in brands including Tommy Hilfiger, whose inaugural 2016 collection continues to expand. Alongside Kohls, Target, Zappos and JCPenney, Tommy sponsored the Runway of Dreams fashion show and outfitted catwalk models with chronic conditions and disabilities in an event that LVMH streamed during a viewing party at its New York City headquarters.

Of the inclusivity categories Coresight assessed, “adaptive [a]pparel has been the slowest to gain traction, but we are seeing some really positive signs” that the market is poised for growth, Schmidt said. Its research showed that shoppers last year spent an estimated $1.3 billion on adaptive apparel, a total potential addressable market valued at $64.3 billion.

“Adaptive apparel and footwear have been some of the hardest products to design, but we are seeing some movement in the space,” Schmidt said.

Additional reporting by Jessica Binns.