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COVID-19 hits underwear sales, retailers switch to loungewear

  • Fashion, particularly underwear, has taken a huge hit during the pandemic – Mintel predicts that sales in the UK will drop by 12% this year.
  • The retail sector was already struggling prior to lockdown thanks to “constant discounting.” Competitive online retail prices, and promotions contributed to a further slowdown, Mintel said.
  • During the pandemic, people are spending less money. High-end underwear sales for parties, big events, and weddings have been especially affected.
  • Some designers have traded in their underwear ranges for a more promising product: loungewear.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

One unexpected victim of the COVID-19 pandemic is our underwear drawers, the contents of which will be expected, for some people, to do some heavy lifting as they cut back on purchases.

Underwear sales in the UK are expected to drop by 12% in 2020, according to research by analysts Mintel – one of many sectors of the fashion industry projected to see a stark decline because of the lockdown. “Fashion, in terms of clothing, footwear, and underwear, is going to be the worst-hit retail sector,” said Tamara Sender of Mintel. “Within that, underwear is struggling too.”

A number of factors are dragging down our drawers. The market was already struggling before lockdown torpedoed the economy, stifled by promotions and “constant discounting,” according to Sender.

Department stores, where many Brits and other Europeans traditionally bought their underwear, were also caught out in the face of resurgent online retailers undercutting them on price. At the same time, the market’s oldest names have grown stagnant.

Read more: Lingerie is having a moment. Boutique sellers describe the playing field and opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Then the coronavirus hit Europeans’ pockets. “We’ve become much more mindful about purchasing,” said Sender. “There’s been a reassessment. If you can reuse something you’ve got in your wardrobe, make it last longer and hold off on purchases, you will.”

Buyers traditionally splashed out on high-end underwear for special occasions, including parties, big events, and weddings – all of which were hit as strict social distancing rules kept us indoors.

“We’ve not seen as many orders coming through at the moment,” said Maxine Wells of Intimate Apparel Samples, which works with independent lingerie retailers to develop exclusive collections and provides some small production runs of underwear for other businesses. The orders it has received are not going to be released until January. 

“There are concerns about people not spending money at the moment,” said Wells. Concerns come from slowing sales as well as worries that manufacturers won’t be able to source fabric from Asia in the event of another global lockdown.

Read more: Instagram-friendly underwear brand Parade has sold more than 160,000 pairs since launching less than a year ago. Its 22-year-old cofounders share how it built up a loyal following and turned that into revenue.

It’s not just in the UK. European Lingerie Group AB, a Swedish-based smalls conglomerate, saw a 19.5% year-on-year decline in profits in the first three months of 2020, largely the result of the COVID outbreak that had taken hold across the continent by mid-March.

Some British lingerie designers Intimate Apparel Samples works with have pivoted away from underwear to something in higher demand: loungewear. They’re making jogging shorts and sweatpants in place of bras. According to Mintel, loungewear will make up 37% of sales in the loungewear, nightwear, and underwear market.

“We’re expecting some recovery in the sector in 2021 as we’re hoping a degree of normality will be able to return,” said Sender. But don’t consign your briefs or thongs to the trash yet. “As unemployment rises, people’s disposable income is going to be hit, which will make people think twice before buying,” she added. 

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