As the fashion industry has shifted in the last few decades, the intimates sector has evolved, reflecting not only consumer trends but also wider societal change. Recent industry research has indicated that the global lingerie market will reach a whopping $59.15 billion by 2024–that figure alone is proof to how influential the sector is.
This is thanks in part to the rise in the “HER Economy,” as women have become liberated, they have developed greater purchasing power, demanded more choice, and in turn, influenced the industry with their dollar power.
And the trend is expected to continue.
What’s most interesting is how trends have shifted, from the historic use of underwear as a form of control of the female form, to now being an extension of one’s personality, or even a fashion statement. Trends in the fashion industry will start to funnel through into the lingerie sector, with greater interest in environmentally friendly and sustainable fabrics that offer key properties like comfort, functionality and style.
The diversification of the intimate wear industry is not a new phenomenon, in fact, it can be linked to historic changes in the concept of the feminine form. Lingerie has long been a form of control for the female form, with the emergence of the corset during the Renaissance period not only appearing as a fashion statement, but also a symbol of status. The corset, which is rigid and impractical, separated women by class and status and hindered everyday movement. By the 1920s, war and economic freedom left the corset in the past and the female form was moving toward liberation, but it took the birth of “bikini” in 1946 to represent the ideological and cultural shift toward the freedom of the female body.
In 2018, the sector saw an ushered in era of functionality, form and sustainable credentials. Brands now recognize that female consumers need more than just a pretty bra. Consumers want to ensure the product they are buying is functional, eco-friendly and comfortable.
The push into this space is also due to the purchasing behavior of Generation Z and millennials, who are increasingly aware of sustainability. A recent report published by PwC indicated that 21 percent of respondents to a survey were willing to send an additional 5 percent on sustainable fashion, which signifies the value of the sector.
In high-street terms, women have higher purchasing power than ever before, with intimates moving beyond function and into fashion and lifestyle aimed at what a modern woman wants and needs. Many fashion brands are also diversifying into the intimate wear space. Labels like Free People and Stella McCartney, are examples of eco-conscious and trend-led brands making intimate wear and changing the space that was previously dominated by industry leaders like Victoria’s Secret. By doing so, they are also changing the products they offer in line with the consumer mindset.
Take the bralette, for example. A decade ago, this item would be hard to find. Indeed, the purpose of the wire in intimate wear was to create the “ideal” female body shape, which is no longer the sole purpose for a bra nowadays. The bralette has now risen to the top of the intimate item ranks, with women citing enhanced comfort and changing fashion for why the style has become so popular.
The expansion of the intimate market is set to continue due to rising consumer demand across various sectors, ranging from maternity to multifunctional intimates. With this diversification, we would also expect to see rapid technological advancement in intimate wear production, with growing new technologies that support multiple functions in intimate wear catering to consumer needs. Fiber and fabric manufacturers also need to adapt accordingly, recognizing the power of the consumer and market demands.
Tencel Intimate cellulosic fibers (Lenzing branded Lyocell and Modal fiber for intimate end application) is one such example of fibers that offers consumers all of these characteristics specifically designed for the intimate industry. With elements like enhanced breathability, color retention and superior hygiene properties, Tencel Intimate is a key addition to the intimate market. Uniquely derived from renewable wood sources using Eco Soft technology, TENCEL™ Intimate cellulosic fibers answer to both the demand for sustainability and comfort.
To further drive the industry, more manufacturers would need to take the lead and produce materials that are not only technologically advanced, but also offer exceptional performances and comfort–all while not neglecting their “green credentials.”
Based in Lenzing’s Taiwan office, Judy has been with Lenzing for 18 years. She spent the first 10 years as Marketing Manager until moving into her role as head of the Innerwear segment, developing key relationships between the supply chain and brands.