As global sales of underwear is pegged to experience steady growth over the next three years, retailers are shifting their focus to selling more product online while brands are stepping up direct-to-consumer efforts — via e-commerce and physical stores.
The push comes as marketing and promotion of the segment has also shifted. There’s an invigorated approach to appeal to “everyday consumers” in advertisements, which has seen a greater push on digital channels via programmatic ads. And the role of influencers continues to play a critical part as shoppers turn to social media for inspiration.
From a product perspective, brands are offering greater choice and selection while there’s been a renewed focus on fit, style and comfort. Regarding the latter, brands have continued to innovate with microfibers and more breathable cotton.
For silhouettes, major brands such as Jockey, Hanesbrands and Fruit of the Loom are expanding their collections. Online consumers visiting jockey.com will find nine silhouettes in men’s and women’s and over 600 different styles. For men, new additions include low-rise briefs, full-rise briefs and bikinis.
Overall, the activewear component of the business continues to secure the strongest sales. And globally, China dominates the manufacturing. According to Statista, underwear sales are set to reach $60.6 billion this year, which is on track for a compounded annual growth rate of 2.5 percent through 2021. On a per capita basis in the U.S., this amounts to about $122 per person this year on underwear expenditures.
By channel, online sales garner about 18 percent of the total share, according to Statista. And that percentage is expected to grow to 24 percent by 2021. This online expansion is being supported by investments in e-commerce and related technologies as well as heavy marketing.
Brands are also keying into a consumer’s desire for solution-based shopping. Convenience is king while price and selection remain paramount. Fruit of the Loom, for example, offers “Fruit to Your Door,” which is a subscription-like service that can save shoppers 30 percent on products. The Memorial Day holiday sparked several sales like jockey.com’s recent 25 percent off sale for selected products. And online shoppers of Calvin Klein enjoyed 40 percent savings on men’s and women’s underwear for the holiday weekend.
With influencers, underwear brands are tapping all corners of social media. In January, Calvin Klein tapped the Kardashian-Jenner clan in its #MyCalvins global campaign, accessing the family’s dizzying social influence in the process. In the campaign, Kim Kardashian West, Khloé Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian, Kendall Jenner and Kylie Jenner were featured in Calvin Klein Underwear and Calvin Klein Jeans. Photographed by Willy Vanderperre, the ads were one of the latest installments of the brand’s ongoing #MyCalvins initiative.
Victoria’s Secret continues to take advantage of their “Angels” throttling social presences, too. Recurring faces for the brand like Taylor Hill and Elsa Hosk — who tout 10.3 million and 4.4 million Instagram followers, respectively — regularly share behind-the-scenes footage of photo shoots for the brand and document their preparations for its annual fashion show, contributing to the flaming interest.
On the product development front, the underwear market has also seen some crossover. In April, men’s underwear brand Tommy John entered the women’s segment. The brand said the development of the line took two years, and it was built on “fit, fabric and function.” The collection is composed of two fabrics and the company said the offering has no visible panty lines and waistbands that don’t pinch. The collection is available in multiple cuts.
From here, industry experts see the segment continuing to grow. However, recent reports from Euromonitor and other firms suggest lower price points as well as margins. Except for men’s. An analysis from First Insight last year that studied data from the prior three years showed men’s underwear as the only segment that has seen a significant rise in average price points — of over 30 percent.
Researchers of the report said the men’s segment experienced a “design revolution” with Calvin Klein in the Eighties and later with John Varvatos’ boxer brief. Over time, the segment has expanded with brands doubling and tripling the number of styles offered. In the next year, analysts are expecting the men’s category to gain momentum as fabric performance takes center stage along with marketing that focuses on fit and comfort.