Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — A lot of action appears to be brewing in sports bras.
Vendors note that sports bras are a perfect fit when it comes to promoting the idea of a wardrobe of bras for different lifestyles. And they believe as more women become familiar with the product, it can only add to a robust bra business, which generated overall retail sales of $3.6 billion in 1996.
A primary reason for the expanding interest in the category is a growing demand for more comfort, whether it’s a bra that is worn for support while exercising — or simply for an extra comfort boost for everyday wear.
New breeds of fabric blends using Lycra spandex are particularly important in enhancing comfort, primarily softly brushed nylon microfibers, including DuPont’s Tactel and CoolMax, which wick moisture away from the body.
Also a big part of the comfort story is the introduction of more body-friendly components — bands and straps of suede-like microfibers that caress the skin and don’t chafe it.
Iris LeBron, DuPont’s fashion director of intimate apparel, said: “Comfort and fibers — that’s what women think of now when they want to buy a sports bra. Components are becoming increasingly important in this classification, and more manufacturers are making sure all of the narrows, elastics and hooks are comfortable.”
The sports bra classification is expected to get bigger this fall at discounters and department stores, say vendors. Big names already established in the field include Warner’s Speedo and Champion Jogbra. Source reported that one operation with a big-time innerwear brand is close to finalizing details for a major launch of sports bras at discount outlets.
And another prominent player in the bra business — Bestform Foundations Inc. — says it plans to introduce a new department and specialty store sub-brand at the May market: Gilda Marx for Lily of France.
First-year wholesale sales projection is between $10 million and $12 million, said Stuart N. Greenberg, senior vice president of the Lily of France and licensed Christian Dior and Natori businesses at Bestform.
Wholesale prices haven’t been set, but suggested retail for the cotton and Lycra line — which will include double-lined styles of CoolMax — is expected to range from $19 to $26, said Tobie Garfinkle, vice president of merchandising. Solid colors will include ash, black, white and navy.
The line will comprise three groups: core basics and performance basics, which can be reorderable on a daily basis, and a group of fashion looks with special effects like zip-front treatments. Specific styles will include coordinating seven-inch bike shorts and leggings. All items in the line will feature Gilda Marx logos.
“What I really like about this line is it was developed by a woman — Gilda, who is actively involved in keeping fit — for women,” Garfinkle said. “She really knows what she’s doing.”
As reported, Bestform acquired the Gilda Marx trademarks and assets in late 1996. Marx is a long-established brand in the exercise wear field.
“The collection will have a lot of validity behind it because of the Gilda Marx name,” said Greenberg, noting that there should also be strong support from department stores because of the established Lily of France label.
As for the Lily of France division, Bestform is increasing slightly its assortment of sports bras and bottoms with the addition of microfibers, said Ron Harris, vice president of sales for the division. The sport group, known as Lily of France Sport, makes up about 25 percent of the Lily of France brand.
Some other bra makers say they plan to build on the sport business by previewing for fall new ideas for the full-busted and plus-size woman.
Hinda Miller, co-founder of Jogbra and vice president of communications for the Champion Jogbra division of Sara Lee Personal Products, said she will preview ideas for a plus-size line in May. The cotton and Lycra line will consist of two sports tops and one sports bra in cup sizes 38B to 46DD. There also will be related activewear-inspired separates in jersey.
“We have had a lot of calls from consumers saying it would be great if we did a special sports bra for full-figured women,” said Ellen Jacobson, vice president of merchandising at Goddess Bra Co., Boston. “So we came up with a garment that’s like having two bras in one — a cut-and-sewn bra underneath a cropped top.”
Goddess’s new sports bra will be shown at the May market and will available in cup sizes 34C to 48DDD. Fabrics will include cotton and Lycra and softly brushed microfiber Tactel and Lycra. Colors will include black, navy and taupe. There also will be coordinating control bottoms. Wholesale prices haven’t been finalized.
Nancy Wyckoff, executive vice president of Calida USA, the American arm of Calida of Switzerland, a daywear specialist, said, “Fashion is very strong for us in sports tops this spring.”
Wyckoff singled out a stretch terry group of cotton, nylon and Lycra under the Calida BodyTime Exercise label as a key idea. Solid colors are bright yellow and red, and white and navy. The group, which includes cropped sports tops, bodysuits, pull-on pants, boxers and T-shirts, features BodyTime logos.
“Women can also wear these items to the beach,” Wyckoff said. She added that specialty and department store retailers are housing the terry group in innerwear departments, as well as in activewear sections.
Marilyn Warner, executive vice president of marketing and merchandising at Danskin Inc., said sports bras are a “key” area for the activewear and bodywear company.
“Each style has a reason for being. Our Supplex and Lycra bras don’t pill or shrink and are extraordinarily comfortable and absorbent,” Warner said. “Our sports bras with CoolMax mesh insets and lining on the inside of the band, pulls away moisture where a woman perspires the most — whether it’s under the arms, across the V-front or the middle of the back.”
Warner further noted that the straps of Danskin sports bras feature seaming that’s positioned so it won’t dig into the skin and stitched-down arm-holes to prevent chafing while exercising.

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