It takes a lot to be a star in the $12.4 billion dollar intimate apparel arena.
It’s not just about sex. And it’s not as simple as having an innovative and fashionable product supported by a multimillion-dollar ad campaign. It’s more about gaining the confidence of consumers through quality, value, function and — most importantly — a name consumers can trust and accept. In the best case scenario, two to three million units a year are sold of a best-selling bra style.
Lingerie occupies many slots on the WWD100 because it has traditionally held an intimate place within womens’ hearts and minds. According to intimate apparel executives, awareness of a big name in lingerie is only part of the equation of gaining consumer loyalty. The old adage that you can buy awareness but you can’t buy a customer’s heart holds true for intimate apparel.
And that’s where marketing expertise, communication and product innovation come into the picture at large corporations.
Sara Lee’s world-famous tag line “Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee,” could well apply to its powerhouse intimates brands Hanes Her Way, Playtex and Bali, which make up $6.46 billion of Sara Lee’s $16.6 billion apparel, grocery and household products empire. Sara Lee has cultivated Hanes Her Way — which landed the number-one spot on the top 10 list of innerwear brands — as if it were raising a baby. Launched in 1986, the spinoff of the hugely popular Hanes underwear business for men, Hanes Her Way was in a way an experiment. Would women embrace a brand synonymous with a male culture? The answer was a resounding “yes.”
Then, there’s Playtex. Sara Lee acquired the brand in 1991 after a much-publicized battle with the U.S. Justice Department over federal antitrust laws and the big chunk of market share Sara Lee would gobble up — approximately one-third of the $6.5 billion market in 1991, according to industry estimates. Created in 1932, the Playtex name was clearly a mature brand with a loyal following of consumers, mostly older women who bought basic bras. It’s difficult for a corporation to reevaluate a brand when it already is doing well. It quickly became clear that the Playtex brand should continue to offer the quality and value it was known for, but at the same time deliver innovation in products like the 18 Hour Bra and Cross Your Heart bras.
The 76-year-old Bali franchise is another Sara Lee superstar, which Sara Lee bought in 1970. Bali, with estimated wholesale sales in excess of $600 million, has continuously been honed by its corporate parent to become an aspirational brand representing a mix of basics and fashion basics for a growing number of younger women. The company is accomplishing this through the integration of Sara Lee’s Liberty Fabrics division with everything from elastics, molded microfiber bra cups and ultralight microfiber shapers.
When it comes to mass appeal, the Fruit of the Loom brand is a no-brainer. A household name as recognizable as Coca-Cola and Ford, the 152-year-old Fruit of the Loom brand is among the most-trusted apparel names in mainstream America.
Industry observers say that Fruit of the Loom, with an estimated volume of $1.2 billion, has remained buoyant primarily because it’s a steadfast basic with men, women and children.
In total contrast to a folksy home-and-hearth image, the $3.59 billion Victoria’s Secret name is one of those brand-story phenomenons that also benefited by the growing demand for comfort, albeit with sexual overtones. The message many consumers get from the “Very Sexy” marketing materials with provocative-looking models in peekaboo lingerie is that if it feels and looks sexy, you could get lucky.
Shifting gears once again, Kenosha-Wis.-based Jockey International never seems to miss a beat in communicating with the consumer. With an estimated volume of $120 million to $140 million in branded core underwear and daywear business, beefed up by a reported $15 million to $20 million in licensees, Jockey is promoting a company-wide initiative of “consistency of brand linking.”
Maidenform is another iconic brand that only gets better with age. The venerable 77-year-old bra brand has survived a scathing series of financial difficulties and emerged from bankruptcy in July 1999. Nevertheless, Maidenform — which today does close to $150 million in wholesale sales — has since focused on product innovation as well as tapping into the consumer’s mind-set. If a bra feels good on the body, a woman feels good about herself, is Maidenform’s credo.
Vanity Fair is a highly valued name that fashion-conscious consumers relate to because of its feminine, genteel image, according to department store retailers. Part of the Global Intimate Apparel Coalition at VF Corp., the Vanity Fair brand, which generates more than $120 million in volume yearly, has maintained its presence at over 3,000 retail doors with a steadfast consistency and without the financial woes many national brands have suffered over the past decade.
The Joe Boxer brand, created by former punk rocker Nicholas Graham, gives new meaning to what an underwear brand can be: fun, whimsical, irreverent and sometimes silly. “It’s always been an emotional thing with consumers,” said Colette Sipperly, vice president of marketing. “People see our prints and they react to them.” Acquired by Windsong/Allegiance LLC in August 2001, it is now distributed exclusively to more than 800 Kmart doors, and the product range has expanded to include a prolific range of categories in the soft goods and hard goods arena with signature Happy Face motifs on beach chairs, microwave ovens and activewear.
Occupying the number-10 slot is Calvin Klein Underwear, which generated $239.7 million in fiscal 2002. Calvin Klein innerwear is part of Warnaco’s intimate apparel division, a $570.7 million dollar wholesale business. How did the Calvin Klein persona make a category as minimal and basic as underwear so hip and edgy? A good dash of controversy, whether it was a bunch of teens semidressed in their underwear looking like they were auditioning for an independent film of questionable content, or a visual of a hunky male model with his legs spread apart in his CK skivvies. Also fueling the Calvin Klein Underwear mystique — which in its heyday at Warnaco boasted an annual ad budget in excess of $25 million — are national print, TV and outdoor ad campaigns photographed by top talent like Mario Testino and the late Herb Ritts and starring supermodels Kate Moss, Christy Turlington, and music star-turned actor Mark Wahlberg.
1. Hanes Her Way
2. Fruit of the Loom
3. Victoria’s Secret
7. Vanity Fair
8. Joe Boxer
10. Calvin Klein Underwear