Byline: Melanie Kletter

NEW YORK — No stranger to business snags, the legwear category continued to suffer through rough times in 2001.
According to new research from trend marketing firm NPDFashionworld Consumer, the segment was marked last year by shifts in market share and a reshuffling of top-selling brands, as firms fought hard to improve business and get women to wear hosiery again.
To that end, some firms have embraced marketing and advertising in a more substantial way, and those investments are beginning to pay off. Hanes, one of the most heavily advertised legwear brands, emerged as the top-selling brand in 2001, according to the research.
Despite moves to modernize the industry by many players, however, women’s total hosiery sales fell 8.5 percent last year, reflecting continuing difficulties. Sales of sheers in particular have suffered, mostly due to the casualization of the workplace throughout the Nineties and open-toe and sandal-shoe trends. Hosiery’s total sales came in at $3.07 billion, down from $3.36 billion in 2000, the research revealed.
The only hosiery segment that registered a gain was knee-highs, which saw dollar volume rise slightly from $274.6 million to $275.6 million, a 0.4 percent increase. In recent seasons, knee-highs have traded their sexy status for a more casual image, and many legwear companies now see the classification as a way to tap younger customers. Sales of other sheers, a mishmash category, grew 12.2 percent.
In dollar sales terms, Hanes, a division of Sara Lee Corp., took over the top spot from L’eggs, the top seller in 2000. In addition to more print advertising, Hanes has increased its marketing efforts in channels such as TV and radio.
Roanne Wallace, marketing director for Hanes, said the firm also did some advertising with Hispanic radio stations in certain markets and has stepped up its in-store ads and worked with retailers to develop new fixtures and signage.
L’eggs, meanwhile, continues to be successful with its food, drug and mass channels of distribution, where many women continue to purchase their hosiery.
No Nonsense was the third-best-selling hosiery brand. A division of Golden Lady SpA, it has recently benefited from its parent’s investment in new manufacturing equipment, which allows for more innovative yarns and products, including firming shaper sheers and ultrasheer 15 denier pantyhose.
Large retailers also continue to capture important market share and dollars with private label lines in the hosiery arena. Although many of these stores saw their sheers sales drop last year, J.C. Penney Co., Wal-Mart, Victoria’s Secret and Sears are all now significant players in the legwear scene and account for a hefty chunk of dollars and units sold.
Another notable increase was registered by the Donna Karan hosiery brand, also produced by Sara Lee, which is heavily advertised and saw its volume jump by more than 80 percent in the last year. Just My Size, also a division of Sara Lee, was also a clear winner in 2001. The plus-size line, one of the few brands specifically targeted to this segment, saw its sales surge 60.7 percent in dollars and 32.9 percent in units.
Meanwhile, the overall climate for hosiery may improve this year, as sales are expected to benefit from the comeback of more formal dressing.
“A return to business attire is helping the hosiery business,” said Donna Wolff, divisional merchandise manager of hosiery and intimate apparel at Bloomingdale’s. “Everything is cyclical. Legs were bare for a while, but now that is changing.

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