$5.2 billion business
As the $5.2 billion bra business seeks to maintain its 6%-plus growth trajectory, top brands including Playtex, Victoria's Secret, Maidenform and Olga are all innovating beyond traditional parameters. There is special focus these days on the long-suffering, larger-busted bra wearers, among whom sales are up nearly double that of smaller-breasted women. The new products are already driving up marketing expenditures in the category; TNS Media Intelligence data show bra outlays up $12 million to $64 million last year, and that's expected to grow.
"Technology means nothing unless you spell it out," said NPD Group chief industry analyst Marshal Cohen, noting that intimate-apparel marketers have been much more aggressive in getting the word out about their advances and will continue to do so, while those late to the party "need to get into the action."
Plus-size sales up 10.5%
The plus-size segment is the fastest growing area of the bra market, with sales up 10.5% to $1.9 billion last year, according to NPD. That fact has the top marketers striving to adapt to the top-heavy set. Maidenform this month launched its new Flex-to-Fit technology bras for those 36C and up that offers "coverage, support and shaping" via a combination of technologies, among them two-way stretch foam and power-mesh fabric. And in July, Warnaco's Warnaco Intimate Apparel unit will launch Olga's Christina, a brand that provides a better foundation for the full-figured to wear current fashions.
Christina, which will appear exclusively in Macy's for the first 90 days, will be touted in Macy's ads, in-store signs and tags as "Expertly designed intimate apparel that delivers beautifully on function and fashion for sizes up to DDD."
Pleasing plus-sized women
According to Anne DiGiovanna, VP-brand marketing for Warnaco Intimate Apparel, plus-sized women "have been so let down in the past," especially because bras made for them have failed to allow them to wear current fashions. Olga's Christina, however, has tried to cater to fashions of the runway, featuring minimizers to allow women to wear tailored blouses without popping buttons and deeper Vs to allow for plunging necklines.
Ms. DiGiovanna said Macy's employees will be specially trained to sell the bra, in part because of the fashion component. "We want sales people to help tie the Olga's Christina bras to the fashions of the season," she said.
'Dig, ride up or poke'
But in marketing, the company won't focus on features so much as comfort and fit. Ms. DiGiovanna said research showed "consumers don't want to hear the technical terms, they just want to know it's not going to dig, ride up or poke."
Sara Lee Branded Apparel, by the way, has done well, to that end, with its Bali No Poke Wire Bra, first introduced in 2003.