The Top 10 Innerwear: Shaky Foundations

The innerwear business braces for a difficult stretch and shifts at retail.

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD 100 issue 07/23/2008
1. Hanes
2. Victoria’s Secret
3. Fruit of the Loom
4. Playtex
5. Jockey
6. Bali
7. Joe Boxer
8. Maidenform
9. Vanity Fair
10. Calvin Klein Underwear
Big changes on the retail landscape are beginning to impact the status of major intimate apparel companies, particularly national brands that are sold at department stores. Lackluster sales and dwindling consumer confi dence are hitting the longestablished position of a number of brands that have traditionally been the foundation of lingerie business at the nation’s biggest retailers.

To battle the tough economy, a majority of innerwear companies in the $12.6 billion (retail) industry have cut budgets for advertising, marketing and even point-of-sale materials. As a result, while the number of innerwear power brands in the overall WWD100 remains strong — 13 brands versus 15 brands last year — the rankings for a number of household names from Bali, Playtex, Wonderbra and Jockey to Maidenform, Vanity Fair and Just My Size, have fallen. In some cases, brands including Olga, Warner’s and Vassarette dropped off the WWD100 scoreboard, while Just My Size disappeared from both the overall 100 and the Top 10 list this year.

Heavy hitter Hanesbrands Inc. continues to dominate the overall and Top 10 lists with its formidable Hanes franchise for women, men and children at mass merchants, national chains, promotional department stores and e-commerce businesses. Powered by an annual marketing and advertising budget estimated in excess of $100 million, the Hanes megabrand, with retail sales in excess of $4.5 billion, is an all-American staple of print and TV ads with celebs such as Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Chalke and Cuba Gooding Jr. touting the wholesome attributes of Hanes products. Humor is a key element of Hanes ads, most recently with a vignette between Michael Jordan and Charlie Sheen.

Victoria’s Secret continues to be another big winner, fueling its sizzling image with a marketing budget estimated at 5 to 6 percent of total annual sales of $5.6 billion. The lingerie specialist is also expanding its reach via new products and technology. Leslie H. Wexner, chairman and chief executive of parent The Limited Inc., noted in the 2007 annual report, “We continue to demonstrate the ability to create new brands like Pink — perhaps the fastest-growing specialty retail brand in history, and amazingly, the number-one most visited brand on MySpace.”

Wexner also said the company has begun “to work on our international growth in earnest, recognizing the global potential of our lingerie and personal care and beauty brands.” Moving up one notch to number two in the top 10, Victoria’s Secret’s blockbuster products for 2007 include the BioFit Uplift bra, the Angels Air Push-Up bra and the Dream Angels Demi bra.

Fruit of the Loom has stayed the course at number four in the overall top 100, but slipped one place to third on the Top 10. A unit of Berkshire Hathaway, which is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett — who likes to ham it up with a guitar on CNN during annual meetings as much as the Fruit Guys’ whimsical act in TV commercials and viral videos — FTL continues to reinvent itself with an estimated annual ad budget in excess of $75 million. Expanding its presence in Europe and building its licensed bra business, the tag line, “Casual Comfort, Comfort for All,” has universal appeal with the four Fruit Guys characters, who perform musical lifestyle renditions online. Green Grape is lead guitar; Apple is lead vocal and rhythm guitar; Purple Grape plays pedal steel, and Leaf plays drums, cowbells and a glockenspiel.

But the negative retail environment may have temporarily quashed any grand expectations for FTL’s entry into department stores with the Vanity Fair brand, which FTL acquired last year as part of VF Corp.’s Intimate Apparel Businesses for $350 million in cash. Battered by consolidation, depleted margins and a glut of inventory, department stores have increasingly given smaller space in innerwear departments to national bra brands, many of which are promoted day in, day out, and have a generic look. The Vanity Fair brand fell 25 places to the 62nd slot on the WWD100, and dipped one place to ninth on the Top 10.

A lot of new marketing ideas have been spinning around both the Playtex and Bali labels at Hanesbrands, for which media spending was increased 10 percent as part of Hanesbrands’ big plan to stretch growth via marketing and sampling, said Kevin D. Hall, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, in an interview in November. The investment has paid off to a certain extent with Playtex and Bali holding their spots in the Top 10. But despite Playtex’s sales increases of 15 percent in 2007 against the prior year with its multimillion-dollar Girl Talk campaign launched in September, and Bali, whose sales rose 15 percent with its Live Beautifully campaign last year, the two brands have lost ground in the WWD100. Playtex declined eight places to 18th, while Bali slipped four spots to 34th place.

Meanwhile, Jockey, a mainstay of American households for 132 years, held steady at five in the Top 10 but dipped three places in the overall ranking. The company aims to grow global distribution, which now includes more than 140 countries, and is also expanding into youth-oriented retailers such as Urban Outfitters. A huge success was Jockey’s first TV ad in nearly a decade, which ran in late 2007 into early 2008, and plans call for additional TV ads in the future. New initiatives include bamboo blends in its Ultimates and Naturals collections, as well as undyed, unbleached cotton underwear in the Naturals line.

In eighth place on the top 10 is 87-year-old bra brand Maidenform, which generated impressive net sales gains of 8.7 percent over 2006 to $422.2 million, as well as a sales spike of 34.7 percent in international sales during the same period. It didn’t help consumer recognition, however, as the brand slid 17 slots to 48th place in the overall ranking and dipped one place in the Top 10. In April, the company launched a national print, online and outdoor ad campaign called “This Feels Right,” and there are plans to aggressively market two new licensees: Donna Karan and DKNY.

Two big winners are Joe Boxer, which edged up eight points on the WWD100 and one point to seventh on the Top 10, and Calvin Klein Underwear, which returned to the 10th position after a three-year hiatus.

The Joe Boxer name is synonymous with its quirky, whimsical prints, colors that bring a smiley face to Kmart and Sears shoppers on a tight budget.

The cachet and mystique of Calvin Klein Underwear continue to be aspirational, and have successfully translated the brand’s aesthetic and fashion image to consumers worldwide with sexy, timeless ads featuring stars from Kate Moss and Mark Wahlberg to Djimon Hounsou and Eva Mendes.