Heyo! I’m back! Welcome to Curious about clothes!
I know it’s been a while, and I’m sorry about that. But I’m back and pumped to chat with you all about what’s happening in the world and it’s manifested in the things that we are currently wearing.
This week I want to talk about a specific subset of apparel start-ups- the direct to consumer lingerie industry.
I know, very specific! But I promise, it’s worth digging into, it’s super fascinating and is directly related to all the other things happening in the world right now- economically, politically, technologically, and culturally.
Just to keep everyone on the same page, if you’re unfamiliar with the term “Direct to Consumer,” or DTC for short, it means any brand that is selling exclusively on their website or catalogue, bot not through any department stores or retail stores of their own.
If you need an example of this- One of the big names in this industry is Bonobos. Bonobos started out as a DTC company, although they are now owned by Walmart, they still operate as a DTC company. They do have stores where you can try on the clothing and figure out the right size, but you can only shop online or through their catalogue.
Okay, back to lingerie.
Let’s talk about the more recent history of lingerie, specifically bras, and how we’ve ended up where we are now.
Bras haven’t really changed much in in the past 30, maybe 40 years. Ever since the 1970s when it became in vogue to have a more natural shape to your bra (ie- no more pointy bras of the 1950s), the bra-world hasn’t changed much. Up until recently bras were either rhinestone and pushup, or utilitarian. Sports bras were sports bras and they were in a world totally of their own.
If you’d like to visualize this, think back to the year 1995, the year that Victoria’s Secret had their first runway show. If you think back to those televised runway shows and the super stardom of Victoria’s Secret Angels, it was all about stilettos and rhinestones and impractical but beautiful lingerie.
Fast forward seven years and we start to see some change in the lingerie industry with the opening of the Victoria’s Secret Pink brand in 2002. This brand was not only aimed at a younger consumer, it was (and still is) also a more playful company, selling product that was less dramatic and serious. The initial Pink product was sort of an early athleisure- a mix of feminine sweat pants and sporty but girly bras and underwear.
Along this same line, in 2006 we see the opening of Aerie, the American Eagle underwear brand aimed at teens and young adults
And in 2008, Abercrombie & Fitch launched their lingerie brand, Gilly Hicks.
Pink, Aerie and Gilly Hicks were and are different brands from an aesthetic point of view, but were all aimed at the that younger, millenial customer, who wanted their undergarments, lounge and sleep wear to be comfy, cozy and cute. No high heels, no rhinestones, but maybe a little bit of glitter.
A quick disclaimer- I’m sure there were smaller, independent brands doing similar things at that time, but I’m focusing in on Pink, Aerie and Gilly Hicks because these were the brands most accessible to the public at large.
Up until 2010, this was primarily the state of lingerie.
Then, in 2010, Pinterest and Instagram were launched.
I’m going to argue that Pinterest and Instagram are what brought us to the place we are now, from a cultural standpoint and even lingerie standpoint.
Pinterest and Instagram took away the monopolized advertising power of brands. Prior to 2010, any image we, as Americans saw, was an image crafted by a magazine or a company trying to sell us their product (and sometimes, those were one in the same, like the infamous Abercrombie and Fitch Quarterlies). We were being told what was fashionable, what was sexy, what was cool.
Sure, OK, I’ll acknowledge that there were style and fashion blogs out there, but surely the launch of Instagram and Pinterest helped those bloggers promote their personal images to the greater world.
This was the was the genesis of the term “influencer,” because no longer did you have to be associated with a brand, famous, a super model etc. to influence popular trends.
Of course we saw some cross-over in this area. People who were famous already, but used their fame to become influencers, for example, Kim Kardashian.
Even those without huge followings around the world started sharing images of their idea of what “beautiful” was.
Simultaneously, from about 2010 onward we have seen the growth of a new form of feminism, specifically, the idea of “inclusion.”
Inclusion can refer to a few things in the fashion world right now, for instance, inclusion can mean using an ethnically diverse group of models to showcase your clothing.
Inclusion can also mean offering gender neutral clothing to include people who feel that they don’t fit in either shopping men’s or women’s clothing. This gender neutral clothing could be aimed at a women who feels that she is marginalized by wearing very feminine clothing and wants clothing that is more gender neutral but tailored to fit her body.
This idea of inclusion can also refer to sizing- expanding your sizes to include a wider array of size options so that people of all sizes and shapes are able to shop your brand.
For our purposes today, we’ll be diving into the sizing portion of inclusivity, since this is my area of expertise. But all forms of inclusivity are worthy of a deeper conversation because there really isn’t one right answer for how to be inclusive as a brand, and that’s why we are seeing so many new brands try to answer this question- how can you be inclusive as a brand?
Alright, back to fit.
What does it mean to offer inclusive sizing?
Well, let’s talk about how sizing works today.
Every clothing brand has a size that they call the “base size.” Generally speaking, this would be somewhere in the middle of their size range. So lets say a women’s brand offers size XXS to XL, often that “base” size would be a size small or medium.
This means that when the style is being developed, it’s looked at in size small or medium. The fittings are done on a size small or medium model. The fit is evaluated on this particular size.
All other sizes, size XS or size Large, are create by making that garment either bigger or smaller.
In other words, the size XS and large are a derivative of the base size (size small or medium).
And this fact- that the other sizes (other than the base size) are derivatives and not evaluated and designed for that particular size, is what is encouraging a lot of new brands to offer clothing for a particular body type.
For instance, in the past, plus size women’s garments were generally extensions of that “base size” garment. Although most companies fit their plus size garments on a model, that garment is still based on the same design and proportions as the size small or medium. Some companies might change the plus style to have a thicker strap or add a short sleeve to a sleeveless garment, but generally speaking, a plus size garment is just a larger version of the base size garment.
This is the particular issue that has inspired a lot of new brands specifically aimed at the plus size customer. We are seeing a lot of plus size influencers and bloggers who are calling out the fact that clothing isn’t designed for them- That making a garment bigger doesn’t mean that the garment fits and flatters them.
I’m always weary of statistics, but word on the street is that the most common women’s size in America right now is size 14, yet most of our women’s clothing is catered to a size 4, 6 or 8.
If size 14 is the most common size, it means there is an untapped market out there, a market of size 14 and up who are not being thought about in the design process. A market of women who may be very excited about a brand that makes them look and feel their best. A market of women who are willing to spend money on clothing catered to them.
And because of this opportunity for sales, we are seeing new brands who are catering specifically to this 14 and up market.
You may think I’ve gotten a bit off topic from direct to consumer lingerie companies, but actually, this tangent has brought up right back home. Because it’s through this same line of thought, offering product specifically for the women’s size 14 that has brought us where we are now, with new, direct to consumer lingerie brands offering product specifically for a larger busted customer.
I spent some time this week perusing the Trusst Lingerie website. This is a brand who points out that the fit, flatter and comfort issues of a smaller busted woman are totally different from a larger busted woman.
So, Trusst Lingerie has developed and designed their bras specifically for a larger busted women
Trusst Lingerie uses 3-D printing and bridge engineering principles to harness the "core of your body to lift your breast weight from underneath the bust, reducing strain on the shoulders and back."
The Trusst bras are also lined in the Garmex brand fabric called “Kottinu,” a fabric lauded for it’s cooling, wicking and anti-microbial properties.
But, the proof is in the pudding, as they say, so I read a some customer reviews of these bras and found one happy customer who simply titled her review, "Lifesaving," that was particular inspiring.
This woman says that she had tried "literally every bra out there, including ones allegedly specifically designed for busty girls with smaller ribcages...I was legitimately considering surgery as a last resort until I saw an ad for this company and figured, what have I got to lose? Best decision ever."
As someone who works in fashion and focuses on fit, this kind of comment is what gets me out of bed every morning and sometimes even brings tears to my eyes.
I'm excited about all of these new bra companies, not just because they are interesting from a fit, marketing, technology and logistics perspective, but also because they are serving a customer who had previously been left out, a customer who deserves, like all of us, to find clothing that fits them and flatters them and makes them feel like the best version of themselves :) .
Well, that’s all from me this week about the Direct to Consumer Lingerie Industry and INclusive sizing. If you’d like to learn more, you can check out my blog, the address is www.curiousclothes.com. You can also find me on instagram at curiousaboutclothes.
Thanks for listening!