We have learned so much from this webinar about the performance of the U.S. intimate apparel industry in 2021, with The NPD Group industry analysts Todd Mick and Kristen Classi-Zummo on Zoom, introduced by our VP of Member Benefits, Amy Toth! Todd Mick brings over 25 years of merchandising and marketing experience in the innerwear and sportswear businesses. He has been NPD’s innerwear analyst for the past 8 years. Using a strategic data centric lens, he helps global apparel clients and major retailers identify opportunities to grow their business and gain market share. Kristen Classi-Zummo is the director and industry analyst covering fashion apparel for NPD, providing deep analysis based on industry expertise and thoughtful insights into the present and future of fashion retail. She presents industry trends to manufacturers and retailers including state-of-the-industry presentations and whitespace opportunity analysis. This event was free for all Underfashion Club members!

The intimates market in the U.S. had a phenomenal year in 2021, with sales surpassing years passed. Revenue in 2021 landed 15% higher than 2020, with average prices being the main growth factor as unit sales grew 6%, year-over-year. Pre-pandemic, the intimates market remained fairly steady, but it has added $4.8 billion in revenue since 2019 — which is exceptional for a mature industry. Bras and panties benefitted from the innovation and replenishment aspects of their product DNA, while sleepwear and loungewear became the go-to attire for hanging out, relaxing, and working from home. Broader themes including self-care and personal expression increased in importance. As the first layer we put on, intimate apparel plays a unique physical and emotional role in our wardrobes, as a basis for looking good and feeling comfortable, confident, and sexy.

With all of this growth in the intimates market, and across the apparel industry overall, where do we grow from here? Apparel is among the fastest-growing industries at retail, driven mostly by the female consumer and signaling a return to normalcy and socializing.

In 2021, the total apparel industry gained $61.4 billion in revenue and marked its highest year ever, exceeding sales of $246 billion. Sales grew 28%, versus 2020, and 6% over 2019. The driving forces behind this growth were the replacing of older clothing, needing a new size, going out more, and wanting to wear the latest trends. Casual categories continued to grow at elevated levels compared to dress categories that have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Speaking of comfort: the women’s activewear market had a record year in 2021, representing 65% of total revenue gains in the apparel industry. Pre-pandemic, the women’s activewear market was oversaturated and held steady around $10.5 billion, but it closed 2021 with $37 billion in sales. Purchased to wear everywhere, consumers are leaning on activewear apparel like never before. This activewear trend is expected to continue beyond 2022. Comfort-based wardrobes are the new normal; looking polished while being comfortable is key.

To the modern consumer, buying a comfort apparel product is also a moment of self-care. Wire-free bralettes, loungewear, and designer bras with ultra-luxe fabrics meet the consumer’s various lifestyle needs whether it is for working from home, relaxing, or a date night.

Wire-free technology is dominating the intimates market, with over 50% of non-sport bras being wire-free. This illustrates a marked shift in preference for comfort that wire-free can deliver. Wire-free bras are soft, flexible, and supportive innerwear that also provide shaping, lifting, and support that is comfortable and fit-forgiving.

This is not to say that the underwire bra is dead. Underwire bras provide the support and lift women want. Case-in-point: in February, NPD conducted a survey specifically for The Underfashion Club! Women in the U.S. were asked what their next bra purchase would be. The prominence of wire-free and sports bras was no surprise, but push-up bras ranked third on the list! Consumers want to return to social events and are turning to underwire bras for the extra support and polished look they provide. The push-up bra market has grown by 4% in the last few years, while full lace has grown by 1% and smoothing bras grew by 14%. The growth of push-up bras is being read as a return of the ‘date night’ bra.

The intimates market is leading the way in terms of industries that are embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion in skin tones, body types, and genders. Winning brands recognize that the modern consumer is diverse and far from monolithic. They are going the extra mile to make consumers from all backgrounds feel extra special by meeting their unique points of view and values.

Intimates brands are expanding into adjacent categories through partnerships and collaborations, and pursing new consumer segments in strategic ways. The intimates market understands the opportunities in showcasing diverse bodies with various skin tones and sizes, and updating their marketing tactics to push for more inclusion. To put some apparel figures behind these trends, women’s plus-size apparel grew its revenue 2.5 times faster than total women’s apparel in 2021. Soft and sustainable fabrics, extended sizes, and strong body positivity messaging are the highlights of modern intimate apparel marketing and align with what the customer wants.

Demographically, Boomers are leading a next level of growth for the intimates market, gaining 4 market share points in 2021 from two years ago. Boomers embraced online shopping during the pandemic and currently make up 35% of intimates’ online revenue, surpassing the younger demographics.

There are multiple pathways for the intimates market to continue to evolve — so long as delivering on comfort, connecting with consumer values, supporting inclusion, and understanding the nuances of consumer segments continue to be part of the journey.

Thanks so much to Todd Mick and Kristen Classi-Zummo for their insightful and energizing presentation! It has been great news for everyone involved in the intimate apparel industry and we are grateful to have such an invaluable source of information through you both and The NPD Group!