Why lingerie brands such as Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty and American Eagle’s Aerie are thriving while Victoria’s Secret struggles

Why lingerie brands such as Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty and American Eagle’s Aerie are thriving while Victoria’s Secret struggles

Underwear money

Text: Ho Guo Xiong

Image: Instagram

Despite being the smallest articles of clothing in our stash, lingerie is big business — a study by TechSci Research estimates that the lingerie market will grow to US$125 billion by 2024.

In recent years, the industry has been under heavy media and public scrutiny. Sparked by sociopolitical movements like the #MeToo phenomenon, Victoria's Secret (VS), for one, has suffered falling sales. Burgeoning brands such as Rihanna's Savage x Fenty and American Eagle's Aerie, however, report growth.

In light of the current socio-political climate, we look at how lingerie brands should appeal to consumers today.

Make it a spectacle

We have the now-defunct VS fashion show to thank for this. Millions would tune in on television, and later YouTube, to catch their favourite supermodels — from predecessors including Gisele Bundchen, Tyra Banks, and Naomi Campbell to newer angels such as the Hadid sisters and Kendall Jenner — strut down the runway in nothing but amazing lingerie designs, wings, and the headlining multi-million dollar Secret Fantasy Bra.

Coupled with the rise of social media, virality through online buzz becomes a key indicator that marketers chase after. How did VS generate talk then? Cue bigger productions peppered with grander, jaw-dropping designs (Bigger wings! More gemstones!), fireworks and flames lining the runway, as well as stellar live performances by Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, and other A-list artists.

Rihanna, who had previously performed at VS in 2012, knows the power of the spectacle, and has employed this tactic for her recent Savage x Fenty show at New York Fashion Week. This year’s iteration featured performances by Halsey, Migos, DJ Khaled, among many others. The show, too, was not lacking in star power with the likes of Alek Wek, Cara Delevingne, drag queen Aquaria, and transgender actress/activist Laverne Cox stomping down the runway.

One could argue, perhaps, that the spectacle is of greater importance than the products. But what if you’re a smaller label without the funds and connections of either VS or Rihanna to host a show of such scale? Virality, after all, doesn’t necessarily equate to commercial success, which brings us to our next point.

Quality is imperative

This might be a moot point, but we’re still going to raise it nonetheless. With the advent of e-commerce and the influx of new brands, shopping options are ever-growing. We are consequently more discerning with purchases and are less likely to settle for cheap, slipshod products. Having more choices also means it's harder for brands to build brand loyalty.

Diversity in messaging

Another powerful criticism against VS is its glorification on what it presumes as the “ideal body type”. Take a quick view at any of their fashion show or advertising campaign and you’ll see the striking similarity in the body types of the models used — which are nowhere representative of the average consumer. A study published in the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education in 2017 concluded that the average American woman is now between size 16 and 18 — a stark contrast to the tall, thin, and toned VS angels. A size 16 roughly translates to UK size 20 or EU size 48.

While body types and sizes vary across demographics and countries, one thing is certain: the body type espoused by VS remains a lofty ideal that is finding less resonance with its consumer base. Brands such as American Eagle’s Aerie and Savage x Fenty are very aware of this shortcoming and are conscious in their approach of providing diverse representation. Women of different skin tones, ethnicities, and body types are celebrated and given visibility across their campaigns and social media channels. A 2018 Business Insider report attributed the success of the growing Aerie to its messaging on female empowerment.

Inclusivity in offering

Representation is definitely important, but practical issues still matter: women need to be able to purchase underwear that fit, flatter, and support them. VS stocks bras up to 40DDD and panties up to XL, while Savage x Fenty has offerings up to 44DD and 3XL.

Check out smaller labels if you’re having difficulty finding options. Third Love has 78 size (including half sizes) offerings from a 30 to 46 band and an AA to I cup while True and Co’s True Body line are wire-free and goes up to 42DDD and F sizes. Looking for a perfect shade of nude for your underwear? Try TruNude and Kim Kardashian’s Skims; both offer products in nine shades ranging from cream to deep brown.

Have a strong, adaptable branding

Authencity has become increasingly important in a period where Instagram feeds distort the line between reality and the manicured. Coupled with the rise of political wokeness, consumers have begun taking a serious look into the brands they're buying into. Ed Razek, the senior creative at VS and chief marketing at L Brands — the parent company of VS — came under heavy fire after he told Vogue US that he wouldn’t cast trans or plus-size models for the VS fashion shows. Connections unearthed between L Brands CEO Les Wexner and sex offender/trafficker Jeffrey Epstein further intensified the scrutiny into VS's modus operandi. To date, VS is still reeling from its dated, sexist branding.

New entrants, including Savage x Fenty, on the other hand, are lauded for its diverse and inclusive approach, as well as an openness and willingness to improve with consumer feedback. And when the brand sits on their hands when sh*t goes down, customers are quick to take their monies elsewhere (see: Dolce & Gabbana's scandal in China). Nobody likes to be ignored.