By  on August 29, 2005

NEW YORK — Avon has gotten back into intimate apparel in a big way.

After a six-year hiatus, the $7.7 billion beauty, apparel and accessories company reintroduced bras and coordinating panties from Bali and Playtex in its brochures late last month. Wonderbra, also owned by Sara Lee Branded Apparel, will be featured for fourth-quarter selling.

Avon distributes 16 million brochures to its 4.9 million sales representatives 26 times a year.

“We tested the concept first in 10 divisions across the country before the national launch,” said Ellen Slicklen, director of marketing, wellness, innerwear and beComing beauty products. “Women are embracing the concept of buying intimate apparel in the Avon brochure. Why come to Avon to buy a bra? Because you can choose from a full range of sizes from 32AA to 50DD.”

Slicklen would not give sales estimates. When Avon began selling intimate apparel in 1994, initial sales projections were $65 million to $75 million, according to Andrea Jung, then president of Avon’s product marketing group. Later that year, Jung, who now serves as chairman and chief executive officer of Avon Products Inc., said the segment targeted annual sales of $120 million. The business was then made up of bras by Warner’s and the licensed Fruit of the Loom label at The Warnaco Group, as well as private label foundations and at-homewear by Scaasi, a former licensee at Warnaco.

Looking back at the Nineties, Slicklen said: “We had a successful business. The problem was the service aspect of it. Demand was so high, we could not service our representatives properly.”

Regarding Sara Lee Branded Apparel, which parent Sara Lee Corp. plans to spin off into an independent apparel company, Slicklen said: “We see it as a very positive thing” because the focus will be on apparel, instead of its core food business.

Avon and Sara Lee formed their new venture last November, she noted.

The current Avon brochure features seven bra styles on eight pages, retailing at a promotional “great value” offer of $17.50 or $19.99 each when any two bra styles are purchased. Styles by Wonderbra will be priced at $19.99. Colors are black, white and beige.

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