There’s something happening with underwear. No really—is it us, or has inner-wear you can flaunt gone seriously mainstream? The same items once referred to in hushed tones as “unmentionables” are now a bonafide fashion statement. And brands are taking notice. Suddenly we’re seeing some serious moves being made around underwear, from claims of ridiculous levels of comfort, to loud and proud period panties complete with high-tech textiles. And really, it’s about time. Think about it — we’ve had the same players in the space for decades and things feel tired.
And not to throw anyone under the bus here, but a trusted old friend has left something significant to be desired of late. This speaks to more than just underwear, we’re talking about the women’s “everyday lingerie” space, if we can coin a term. We decided to investigate; is anyone shaking things up? Who are the ones to watch? And what are they doing to raise the bar for the modern woman’s top drawer?
We did some sleuthing, gathered some data, crunched some numbers, and made this handy chart summarizing the main players in the “everyday lingerie” space. Because we like you. And we’re nerdy like that.
Still with us? Good. Now let’s talk about some of our key inner-wear insights. First, this is a pivotal time for women’s underwear! L Brands (parent company to Victoria’s Secret, Pink and La Senza, as well as Bath & Body Works and Henri Bendel) just announced earnings of $12.7 billion—with a B—for 2015. Victoria’s Secret made up $859 Million of that. Underwear is estimated to be a $15 billion-plus industry in the U.S. meaning VS currently has a massive portion of market share. To us, that signals that the industry is verging on monopoly, and ripe for disruption.
Recognizing women’s frustrations with fit, quality and range of sizes, a few solution-oriented startups have taken on the challenge of finding a better option. Some specialize in one particular product, others are trying to change the whole conversation. Thirdlove, as an example of the former model, promises your most comfortable bra ever. Their homepage reads “The best bra is one you never think about.” We were skeptical at first but we’ve got to say, these guys are rocking it. Faced with frustration at ill-fitting options, they’re doing things like offering half sizes. They also have a proprietary “Fit Finder” system which asks a few simple questions, including having you select your shape from their Breast Shape Dictionary (see below—so cute). They also have an iOS app in which you can get sized in five minutes with “a supportive bra, a tank top and a wall-mounted mirror.” The shopping experience is seamless, with reviews, sizing help and multiple views all easily accessible, and the bras are pretty—something hard to find in the hardworking basics of the skivvies world. They now offer underwear too, but bras are the main event here, and we must say, we’re excited to see what they have in store. With $13.6 million in equity funding, these guys are one to watch!
Focusing on the—ahem—lower half of the equation, MeUndies is blazing a trail for “ridiculously comfortable underwear” and it feels like they’re everywhere! From our favorite podcasts, to the Subway, to our newsfeeds (where their hilariously tongue-in-cheek response to being censored by Facebook’s image policy is worth a look), these guys put a bug in people’s ear. Their product range is limited to underwear, lounge pants and socks for both sexes (read: no bras etc.). The brand does have a certain “bro-ish” hipster mentality—this isn’t date night lingerie by any means, but details like monthly patterns, multi-packs subscription services, as well as their “Softness Scale” (see below) make for an intriguing business model that we bet has people coming back for more.
We’ve talked niche solutions and how they’re changing things up, but our MVP award undoubtedly goes to cool-girl lingerie label Negative Underwear. Started by two friends who met in college and found themselves subsequently working in consulting and finance in NYC, Negative seeks to completely turn the industry on its head. Step into their effortlessly cool world and you’ll immediately realize that this is not the pink, pretty, girly world of VS. In, fact it’s quite the opposite. Here, a different kind of sexy is happening; one that’s just as much about what isn’t there as what is. “We wanted a hybrid that feels good all day and has sex appeal at night” said founder Marissa Vosper”
It’s a pretty unique take, and one that left us feeling like we had to tell everyone we know that grown up, sexy underthings do in fact exist! Negative’s site is full of beautiful images of both products and behind-the-scenes, all shot with a real-girl, unfettered, un-retouched aesthetic that feels at once refreshing and empowering. It’s not the kind of sexy we’re used to seeing lingerie brands show, but sexy it sure as hell is. In fact, Negative first came to our attention through their Instagram presence (see below). Their content comes largely from their own shoots, but is supplemented by playful, sexy and fun touches like their #TushyTuesday campaign (see below). It’s clear that they’re selling so much more than the bras, underwear and bodysuits alone; these chicks are selling the Negative lifestyle—and we want in.
As if their buck-the-trend theme wasn’t clear enough, we found out that to date they are completely self-funded; they used their personal savings to launch, and have kept the business growing with profits. All of this is in the name of maintaining a sustainable brand and a clear vision for beautiful, affordable products. Underwear ranges from $28 to $45, and bras from $55 to $75—but price range is about the only similarity between Negative and the Victoria’s Secret set. “We’re targeting a woman who’s completely dissatisfied with that experience, who isn’t their customer to begin with.” added Vosper. To further underscore the stark contrast with mass-produced mega-brands, Negative’s products are shipped directly from their Soho space, in no-nonsense — albeit chic — envelopes. (Source).
Negative is a totally independent, for-girls, by-girls operation, and while they’ve amassed a serious cult following already, we’re pretty sure they’re about to go supernova this year. We don’t know about you, but we’re ready to get Negative!