Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — New and updated items are expected to keep shapewear business growing over the coming year.
The category, which has established itself as a relatively small but exciting segment of the overall innerwear business, is now attracting a growing range of labels at the better-price and designer level. These include Wacoal, Donna Karan Intimates and Oscar de la Renta by Maidenform and Valentino Intimo. The labels are bringing new dimensions to the business already built by such lines as Bodyslimmers by Nancy Ganz, Trueform, Olga, Smoothie by Strouse, Alder and Playtex. Meanwhile, such lines as Calvin Klein Underwear add to the appeal of the control idea.
Even though some stores noted the business has been on a more level plane of late as they await the arrival of new merchandise, retailers like to call shapewear a “hot category” because it attracts a contemporary customer as well as more mature women seeking to solve figure problems. Industry estimates place gains this year at 8 to 15 percent, with retail volume hitting $375 million.
Retailers generally single out control items that have a modern, updated look as their top-selling ideas. And specialty items — particularly items that target problem areas, like waist-nippers — have been big sellers.
A majority of makers of traditional, structured control garments, also recently began adding prettier, lingerie-looking items to spice up their merchandise mix.
Key ideas include Lycra spandex fabric blends that are lighter in weight and have a silk-like hand such as polyester microfiber and Tactel nylon; cotton blends; sleek, seamless styling, and feminine treatments like lace and mesh insets. Color has played a prominent role, especially cosmetic body tones.
But no matter how much fashion or innovation makers have been putting into control products, retailers generally complain that shipments have been particularly late this year. The reasons vary from financially strapped companies to mergers and corporate restructuring.
Paula MacDougall, merchandise manager of Federated Merchandising Corp., noted, “The whole waist interest and waist-nippers really energized our shapewear business last year. But it’s not really a product that can be worn every day. Now, we’re waiting for slips [full and half] to happen — but there aren’t enough slips out there.”
“Designer lines are really getting into a business they’ve never been into before,” said Elizabeth Hospodar, foundations buyer at Bloomingdale’s. “The business is trading off at the lower end for the higher end…but I think the category is hot because the products are different. Contemporary — that’s what’s hot about shapers right now.” She named three vendors as key examples: Wacoal, which has an “incredible” long-leg control brief; a derriere-lifter called Fanny Fabulous by Va Bien and more fashion items by Bodyslimmers by Nancy Ganz in “more stores.”
Nancy Hillis, corporate buyer for bras and shapewear for J.C. Penney’s retail and catalog divisions, noted: “We’ve expanded shapewear assortments somewhat, but mostly we’ve contemporized assortments. It’s the new, updated products that are performing for us, especially spot control items.” She added “seamless looks and prettier, feel-good-to-the-touch fabrics” are best-sellers. “But it still has to be functional and comfortable in order to sell.”
Stacy Staiger, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Neiman Marcus, said shapewear has not been expanded as a category, but it’s been “realigned a bit” to include newer, updated product. “It’s very important for the fall season, and the updated looks are becoming more important,” Staiger noted. “New products and updated styles are driving our business.”
Margaret Crandell, vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Jacobson Stores, Jackson, Mich., said, “Our shapewear business has been growing primarily because we try to push it at our stores and because we’re known as a specialist in knit apparel.”
Crandell did acknowledge, though, that she’s had a “problem” with deliveries from a couple of key vendors this year.
“It’s difficult, because when you develop a good basics business with a resource, you plan fashion, and then you don’t get it,” she said.
Jack Clor, foundations buyer at Milwaukee-based Carson Pirie Scott, said, “My shapewear business is doing extremely well, but with the newer, specialty items — it’s at the expense of the more traditional control garments.”
For example, Clor said “younger-looking, updated” items by Bodyslimmers and Flexees by Trueform at Maidenform were among the stars. “There isn’t enough new product,” continued Clor, “but everybody is starting to jump on the bandwagon.”
Shirley Sumida, vice president and general merchandise manager of Frederick’s of Hollywood’s retail division, said, “I never looked at it as a huge growing category. How many shapers can a woman own? She buys one control bottom — and she doesn’t need another for a while.”
Sumida, however, did say shapers are a “strong seasonal business. Spring bridal and prom business is excellent.”