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The Top 10 Legwear Brands

Recent years have been a boon for brands as consumers continue to seek inexpensive ways to dress up an outfit.

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 12/13/2012

Despite a prolific range of designer labels in hosiery departments at brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce sites, heritage brands are more widely recognized by consumers.

 

These iconic brands have long been known for basic, sheer hosiery and socks, but over the past year there’s been a big movement into the fashion arena. And traditional makers are stepping up with innovative new offerings.

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The tough economy has taken a toll on a number of apparel categories, but it’s been a boon for top legwear brands as consumers continue to seek inexpensive ways to dress up an outfit.

 

Six of the 10 best-known brands—Hanes (1), Fruit of the Loom (2), L’eggs (3), No nonsense (4), Dr. Scholl’s (7) and Gold Toe (10)—have been on shelves of mass marketers for years. With a growing number of consumers turning to mass marketers for big brand names, additional growth is being planned in the sheer hosiery and tights segment, which generated retail sales of $997.6 million in the 12 months ending September 2012, according to The NPD Group.

 

The megabrands, primarily in mass channels, are dominated by Hanesbrands; Berkshire Hathaway; Golden Lady SpA, parent of Kayser-Roth; Gildan Activewear, and Merck, which owns the venerable Dr. Scholl’s brand of footwear products. While a couple of firms produce designer brand hosiery—Hanesbrands holds the Donna Karan license and Kayser-Roth produces for sixth-ranked Calvin Klein—it’s their sharper-priced products with a fashion spin that win top honors among many consumers.

 

The popularity of legwear as a fashion accessory began to blossom in 2011 with an expanded range of fashion colors, prints and textures, as well as new silhouettes like leggings. There’s also been a burgeoning demand for legwear that offers shaping benefits such as tummy control and derriere enhancement. Sheer hosiery, which had been flat for several years—especially during the past decade when the bare-leg trend was at its height—received a major lift last year as the legwear of choice by the Duchess of Cambridge and her sister, Pippa Middleton. Pretty, sheer hosiery has also made the celebrity circuit with the likes of Mischa Barton, Hayden Panettiere and Sarah Jessica Parker.

 

Capitalizing on fashion momentum, Hanesbrands, maker of Hanes and L’eggs, enlisted celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch to speak to the media and consumers about the impact of fashion on legwear. “Fashion tights and sheer hosiery have become a must-have,” said Bloch, noting that sheers in various colors are a key trend.

 

Cathleen Moxham, lead designer and merchandiser for legwear at Hanesbrands, said sheers are a key area: “The interest in textures and pattern will certainly continue this spring. We call it seasonless dressing—a great, seasonless weight [of sheer hosiery] that transitions a woman’s wardrobe perfectly like Silk Reflections Sheer Control-Top Tights. I believe the sheer leg is a redefined classic that can be an essential.”

 

Kayser-Roth is making fashion a priority for its No nonsense brand. The company rolled out an aggressive marketing campaign for No nonsense this fall with a full range of tights and leggings in fashion colors and textures. Julia Townsend, executive vice president and general manager of Kayser-Roth, said the push for fashion will focus on mass retailers and national food and drugstore chains.

 

ndrea Angelo, director of marketing for No nonsense, said, “Our research indicates strong demand for more contemporary legwear choices, and we want every woman to have easy access to this hot new accessory, whether it’s a pair of bright tights or classic black leggings.” It appears Fruit of the Loom is beginning to take inspiration from its colorful fruit logo for women’s socks, which now include a hot pink racer stripe in its women’s Cotton Stretch Athletic Socks line, and Ultra Soft Socks.

 

Also in the Top 10 are four brands that represent a mix of mature heritage names and contemporary labels: Danskin (5), a 130-year-old brand that made its name in tights, tutus and leotards and has since grown into a fitness specialist at the Iconix Brand Group, and Gold Toe, an 83-year-old label owned by Gildan, continue to be household names with tried-and-true products. Gold Toe launched men’s underwear in 2010 and will introduce outerwear in 2013. Spanx (8), launched in 2000 by Sara Blakely as a shapewear product she created by cutting the legs off of control-top hosiery, has become known as the sexy, go-to undergarment brand on the red carpet. Ninth-ranked Nine West, founded in 1978 as a footwear brand, has become an aspirational accessories brand under the aegis of The Jones Group, which acquired the brand in 1999.

The Top 10

1. Hanes
2. Fruit of the Loom
3. L’eggs
4. No nonsense
5. Danskin
6. Calvin Klein
7. Dr. Scholl’s
8. Spanx
9. Nine West
10. Gold Toe