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What to Watch: The Ethnic Equation

While a majority of manufacturers and retailers acknowledge the melting pot of multicultural consumers has untapped potential in the $12.4 billion innerwear market, the ethnic market continues to be addressed as a small, niche business by major...

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Entertainment diva Queen Latifah is the spokeswoman for Curvation by Bestform bras and shapers.

WWD Staff

While a majority of manufacturers and retailers acknowledge the melting pot of multicultural consumers has untapped potential in the $12.4 billion innerwear market, the ethnic market continues to be addressed as a small, niche business by major department and specialty stores.

A key reason: a lack of real estate to display expanded assortments and colors, particularly in sleepwear departments, several retailers said.

“They just don’t have a lot of space, and that’s a real issue at department stores,’’ said Anne Keenes, a merchandising and marketing consultant and a former vice president and general merchandise manager at Saks Fifth Avenue. “The Latin, African-American or Indian woman for that matter has a different take on color. And I do think sizes definitely are a big part of the equation.”

However, the demand for foundations aimed at a wide range of multiethnic consumers is skyrocketing, and companies such as Sara Lee Corp. and VF Corp. are pumping up their advertising and marketing campaigns for bras, panties and shapers in fashion colors and expanded sizes. The leading brands include Sara Lee’s Playtex, Hanes and Hanes Her Way; VF’s Real Sexy by Vassarette and Curvation by Bestform labels, and the Maidenform bra brand.

But for Donna Wolff, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and hosiery at Bloomingdale’s, a “consumer is a consumer,” regardless of ethnicity.

“Within intimate apparel, a bra is a bra, and underwear is underwear,’’ Wolff said. “If a woman chooses to wear a thong or a brief, we can service her with what we have.”

She did acknowledge, though, that addressing ethnic consumers in the sleepwear and loungewear areas offers a real estate challenge.

Terry Deliz, a native of Puerto Rico and designer of Feminina sleepwear said, “We [Hispanic women] don’t wear a lot of black or brown. We want a certain look and we’re not afraid to show more breast, more femininity. We live with color in the Caribbean, and we want different colors and styles for figures that are more curvaceous.”           

Whatever the approach, the two highest-channel outlets for multiethnic consumers are specialty stores, of which Victoria’s Secret maintains control, and mass merchants, dominated by Wal-Mart. At specialty stores, African-Americans spent $242.4 million on lingerie; Hispanics, $223 million, and Asian-Americans, $25.7 million, according to 2002 NPD data supplied from other sources.

At mass channels, African-Americans spent $242.2 million; Hispanics, $170.6 million, and Asian-Americans, $4.4 million on lingerie.

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