As Victoria’s Secret falls foul of #MeToo, other lingerie brands are stepping up
- The racy catwalk shows Victoria’s Secret is famous for don’t resonate as they once did, say critics
- These up and coming brands may take over from the US market leader
Once the kingpin of the United States’ lingerie market, Victoria's Secret is increasingly falling out of favour as attitudes around women’s underwear shift.
Critics have said that the retailer’s push-up bras and racy catwalk shows no longer resonate with the modern customer in the era of #MeToo. The brand came under fire in November after an executive from its parent company, L Brands, made controversial comments about transgender and plus-size models during an interview with Vogue.
These pressures have shown up in its numbers. Same-store sales were down 6 per cent at Victoria's Secret stores in the most recent quarter. They were down 2 per cent when including online sales.
This year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show also didn’t get the fanfare the brand hoped for.
According to data from ABC, the network that broadcast the show, 3.3 million people tuned in to watch on December 2. This was a substantial drop from 5 million viewers in 2017 and 6.7 million in 2016, when it aired on CBS in America.
As attitudes change, a new breed of women’s underwear companies has swooped in to offer alternatives. Many of them have been open about the need for change in the industry, and in some cases, they have been critical of Victoria's Secret.
We put together a list of the top up-and-coming underwear brands and labels that threaten to upend Victoria’s Secret.
1. American Eagle's Aerie
American Eagle's underwear brand, Aerie, has become one of the company’s sellers. The underwear collection, which includes a limited selection of apparel and swimwear, is targeted at 15- to 25-year-olds and covers sizes from XXS to XXL and cup sizes AA to DDD.
The brand has become best known for its untouched photos and body-positive campaign, known as #AerieReal. This seems to be resonating well with customers, as it has seen 16 consecutive quarters of positive same-store sales growth.
Online bra retailer ThirdLove has made it possible to buy bras without having to go near a fitting room.
Shoppers are asked to complete a quiz to determine their perfect bra shape. ThirdLove then ships three bra styles out to the customer, who is able to trial these styles for up to 30 days.
Co-founder and co-CEO Heidi Zak said in September that more than 11 million women have taken the quiz, and that ThirdLove now has more than 600 million data points from this. Its algorithm is getting smarter and smarter, she said.
New York-based online underwear start-up Lively was founded by Michelle Cordeiro Grant, a former senior merchant for bras at Victoria’s Secret. The brand prides itself on being a bridge between athletic wear and lingerie, and coined the description “leisurée”.
Bras cost US$35 and come in a mix of styles including bralettes, T-shirt bras, push-up bras, and plunge bras.
Earlier this year, Lively opened its first permanent store in New York after trialling pop-ups in Dallas and Nashville, and it announced that its products would be sold at certain Nordstrom stores and online.
The company raised a further US$6.5 million in funding in September, bringing its total to US$15 million. At the time, Cordeiro Grant said that the company had seen 300 per cent growth in the past year.
4. les girls les boys
les girls les boys is the brainchild of Serena Rees, who founded high-end underwear label Agent Provocateur back in 1994. In 2007, Rees sold the business for £60 million (around US$100 million), and it went bankrupt in 2017.
The aesthetic of her new teen-focused label is the antithesis of Agent Provocateur. Channelling the “street-to-bed” look, the focus is on comfort and creating underwear that isn’t restrictive, Reis said. She felt compelled to create the company because of the need for change in the underwear market.
J. Crew-owned Madewell launched its own underwear collection in February 2017.
Featuring a mix of panties and bralettes, the collection professes to be “unfussy, simple and well-designed in a minimal, effortless way”, Madewell's head of design, Joyce Lee, said when the collection launched.
Madewell also started selling Lively underwear in August 2018 as a digital-only partnership. A spokesperson for Lively said that the company is planning to roll out exclusive products with Madewell in 2019.
6. J. Crew
J. Crew launched its Intimates underwear and nightwear collection earlier this year.
The collection’s bralettes cost around US$32 and underwired bras between US$36 and US$45. Panties cost between US$12.50 and US$16.50 at full price.
J. Crew has made a concerted effort to grow its business, add new collections, and bring back customers after reporting weak sales for the last four years.
Former CEO James Brett, who stepped down in November, lowered prices, added plus sizes, and started selling its low-cost Mercantile collection on Amazon.
His strategy seemed to be paying off, J. Crew's same-store sales numbers turned a corner in August and have continued to grow since then. They were up 4 per cent in third-quarter earnings, which were reported in November.
7. Love by GapBody
Gap’s latest underwear collection, Love, is focused on “comfortable basics” and launched in February.
Its ad campaign was well-received online at the time. One photo that showed a woman breastfeeding her baby went viral after being praised on Instagram.
“I have never shopped at Gap, but I will be purchasing something tonight! This is amazing!” one Instagram commenter wrote at the time.
New York-based luxury lingerie brand Journelle has gained a cult following of fans (including Gwyneth Paltrow) for the high-quality underwear brands it stocks, such as Stella McCartney and L’Agent.
in 2014, the company launched its own private-label collection headed by former Victoria’s Secret designer Rania Abu-Eid. It costs from US$19 for a thong to US$94 for an underwired bra.
The company now has three stores in New York and one in Chicago.
Everlane rolled out its new underwear collection earlier this year, which drew 30,000 eager customers within the first week. The collection includes underwear, bras, and bodysuits, all costing under US$35.
Each piece is made with Supima cotton, which is grown in the US.
Like Thirdlove, online-only store True&Co, which launched in 2012, aims to make shopping for bras more straightforward with a quiz that asks shoppers about their shape, how their bra currently fits, and what preferences they have.
From there, the store emails customers a selection of recommended bras, which they can try on at home and then return any that they don’t like.
The company was acquired in 2017 by PVH, the parent company of brands such as Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, for an undisclosed amount.