NEW YORK — The sheer hosiery industry is fighting back against a barrage of media criticism about its product.

Development of an industry campaign for consumer education actually began last June, before the groundswell of complaints about pantyhose became apparent last fall on television, according to the National Association of Hosiery Manufacturers, which is sponsoring the program.

However, an important part of the campaign — an eight-page brochure that is a guide to hosiery — appeared only this week, and the overall campaign is being expanded to directly meet this criticism.

“Issues have arisen in the past few months that the industry needs to deal with, namely the TV criticism of women’s sheers,” said Sid Smith, president of the NAHM, based in Charlotte, N.C. According to the NAHM, since November about 15 stations have aired critical investigative segments on hosiery in both major and nonmajor markets. The media blitz, however, apparently was sparked back in January 1993 by an edition of the “Donahue” show, featuring Lydia Justice Edwards, treasurer of the state of Idaho, who argued that sheer pantyhose were deliberately made to tear and run, forcing women to buy more. Since then, Edwards has appeared on numerous programs.

To counter this type of programming, the NAHM plans expanded distribution to TV producers of video footage regarding pantyhose. The clips were initially distributed in February.

They include statements from Ingrid Johnson, chairwoman of the department of textile development and marketing for the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Frances Massey, a professor in the College of Textiles at North Carolina State University. Both speak about the quality and technological advances of sheer hosiery products.

Smith said the industry campaign has funding of $250,000. The new brochure, called “The Sheer Facts About Hosiery: A Consumer Guide to Men’s, Women’s and Children’s Hosiery,” was sent to fashion publications this week. The NAHM hopes the information in it will be disseminated to the public via the media.

The brochure answers many of the questions concerning wear life and proper care that arose during the TV programs.

“This is not a reaction to the television media’s sheer hosiery coverage,” said Smith. “A year ago, the NAHM decided to launch a consumer program on products. With all of the new fibers and constructions that were in the marketplace, it was clear to the industry that we needed to provide more product information to the public. The brochure was in the works well before the media started focusing on legwear.”

The brochure includes a glossary of hosiery terms and illustrates the proper way to wash and wear pantyhose and socks. It tells how to put on sheer pantyhose to guard against damage. Fashion tips on layering and coordinating legwear and a brief history of hosiery are included.

The message generally is that “many women prefer the appearance of sheer pantyhose,” but “it’s a fact the lighter and sheerer the hosiery is, the more delicate it is and the more care it requires.”

“All in all,” the brochure advises, “consumers will find that price is not an indicator of durability.”

It also attempts to dispel certain pantyhose myths by explaining that applying nail polish to hosiery won’t prevent runs, nor does leaving pantyhose in the freezer.

The address of the NAHM and a new 800 number are listed for consumers who have questions about hosiery.

To further build relations with the press, the NAHM last June hired a public relations firm for the first time, Fleishman Hillard. Initial efforts were to place stories in publications. Next year, said Smith, the focus will be on TV.

“The brochure and the efforts of the NAHM to educate consumers is a very positive step and is good for the industry,” said Howard Hyde, vice president of worldwide marketing and sales for Pennaco Hosiery, who was consulted for the NAHM program.

Pennaco, a subsidiary of Danskin Inc., manufactures the licensed Anne Klein, Givenchy and Christian Dior lines, as well as its own Round the Clock brand.

“The problem I had with the TV shows that featured Justice Edwards was the tabloid-style format which was used,” Hyde said. “They took a few sound bites from hosiery manufacturers instead of presenting our full side of the story. The idea that the hosiery industry is colluding to deceive women is preposterous, especially when companies such as Pennaco and Hanes are headed up by women presidents.”

Hyde mentioned that it is also the responsibility of individual manufacturers to send out clear messages about which products are more durable than others. The sudden interest in the issue of hosiery, he said, has to do with a rising consumerism in which more people read labels and want to know exactly what they’re buying.

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