I think most of us can recall the 'Hello Boys' Wonderbra campaign which dominated billboards in the 90's, mirrored by the equally memorable Calvin Klein adverts with Kate Moss and Mark Whalberg. The Wonderbra campaign has been publicly voted as the most iconic advert of its time and Calvin Klein has since gone on to advertise their brand with various celebrities, most recently pop-superstar Justin Beiber.
These brands and their bold moves paved the way for underwear designers and manufacturers. The idea that underwear should be considered as utility garments and practical was replaced with the notion that people, men especially, should consider their underwear purchases as more than just an option for comfort and hygeine but as an opportunity to purchase style and premium quality.
Victoria Secret is a brand which is a great example of a company embracing the path first followed by those original 90's marketing campaigns. Their catwalk shows are shown in over 180 countries and the models starring in the shows, or should I say 'Angels' have a combined Instagram following of 88 million.
Today men and women's underwear is a growing market as is the new off-shoot of 'athleisure' which has brought athletic wear to the forefront of people's wardrobes. Just like work-out leggings were once just for the gym, bras and knickers were once just for under your clothes and by no means a fashion statement. Shoppers are now free to choose different styles, colours and materials and their decision making isn't purely based on a functional requirement but on how they feel the items will compliment their wardrobe and in some cases how their choice of brand reflects their lifestyle.
With figures predicting that the on-line lingerie market will grow 18.2% between 2014 and 2019, we have taken a look at two British companies who are more than aware of the increasing demand for quality, stylish underwear. These businesses are developing brands which beautifully market British made garments. They have taken the popularity of the sensual glitz and celebrity of the larger underwear brands and developed images which are enriched with British culture and style.
Smith & Downes, based just outside of York, is the company of Marie Neal-Smith and Rebecca O'Leary. The duo, who both come from fashion manufacturing and design backgrounds, originally began designing bridal and occasion wear, moving to developing a line of Liberty print kimono wraps and under garments in 2014. As GBE producers, we set about asking the pair about their business and how they see the underwear market developing...
"A little over a year ago we started to design and produce pretty kimono wraps as part of the bridal package. This started off using vintage one off fabric lengths that we would make up and hold a small stock of at our studio. It soon became a apparent that there was a need for this kind of product, brides bought for their wedding, as presents for bridesmaids and to take on honeymoon for the beach or poolside... the product ticked lots of boxes.
Following a trip to Premier Vision in Paris in February 2014, a very positive meeting with Liberty and endless discussion between ourselves we launched a Liberty Kimono wrap in fine 100% cotton lawn. Producing our garment in Liberty fabrics was a decision we took as we felt it fitted comfortably with where we saw this product going. We believe wholeheartedly in the growth of British heritage brands, of which Liberty is one, we support and believe in the potential of the "Made in Britain" campaign that is gathering momentum in the UK and the growth of premium brands, Liberty fit the bill for us."
With their premium quality cotton and Liberty prints, Smith and Downes designs are ethereal and their styling gives the range a sense of grandeur and a sense that they would be a pleasure to wear. We wanted to know how Smith & Downes think consumers approach the purchase of underwear and what trends they see ahead...
"The colour and print is definitely the initial draw to our garments. The quality of the cotton and how it feels is really important and our customer always comments on it. Fit is also important in relation to body shape, our garments are simple and relaxed so they don't present the kind of fitting needs associated with lingerie in the traditional sense of the word. The future growth is in lounge wear with good cross over pieces that support our lifestyle choices. We want people wearing our garments to feel glamorous, special and pretty without sacrificing comfort."
In regards to fashion manufacturing Marie and Rebecca come with a wealth of experience. Having both had careers in fashion manufacturing and design and both now teaching alongside building Smith & Downes, we wanted to know if they had any advice for someone looking to manufacture their own designs in the UK...
"Try to get a recommendation first, go and spend some time with the manufacturer if you can so that both parties are 100% clear of expectations. Build a strong working relationship so hopefully business broadens and grows developing loyalty between you.
The benefits of us both coming from industry into teaching and now teaching alongside our business are huge for us and our students. Teaching presents us with creative challenges so we are constantly inspired and and energised. With regards to the manufacturing of our garments our past industrial experience has been invaluable, it was daunting when we took the step to employ a manufacturer to make our garments but we were confident in our decision making given our backgrounds."
Smith & Downes have definitely recognised the growing demand for premium quality under garments and The Pink Pantaloon Company is another British business making strides in the under garment world.
We chatted to Rebecca Jones from The Pink Pantaloon Company about their new brand and what lies ahead in 2016...
"The Pink Pantaloon Company (PPco) was actually created by accident! We were designing some blast proof underwear to protect men's vulnerable parts from IEDs and we made some boxers from a pink silk nightie we'd bought from a charity shop! When the boxers were made we completely fell in love with them, they looked great and this was the birth of PPCo. So it was a happy accident and what a lot of fun it is. We believe our design is so unique and this will help us get noticed, everything we make is made from the same roll of dusky pink silk and this is very rare from any company, especially one operating in the world of fashion."
Rather than outsourcing the production of their unique silk garments, PPco hand make their products at their Cotes Mill home in Leicestershire.
"We are very lucky to have the facilities that we have here at the Mill and we have a strong belief in bringing manufacturing back to the UK. It has actually been really efficient for us to manufacture here at our offices as it means the production girls can be involved in the design process and myself and the owner can be involved in every aspect of the manufacture to ensure every detail is perfect before we list it on our website. We receive great response from people when they find out that all of our underwear is manufactured in our own offices in Leicestershire, it's quite a rarity these days so people really like that they know exactly where their garments have come from."
PPco have concentrated their energies on creating a unique, high quality product and as much as they are proud of manufacturing their garments in the UK they admit it's not without its issues.
"Money is definitely the main issue we face as now-a-days consumers are always looking for a bargain and therefore can be put off by a larger price tag, but it's our job to change their mind and get them to invest in great quality British products."
Here at The GBE we couldn't agree more with encouraging consumers to see the value in British made products and we're really excited to have discovered PPco. Looking ahead to 2016 Rebecca told us,
"In 2016 we think that consumers will shift even further into the mind-set that underwear is not just practical but can also be great to lounge around in. This is perfect for us at PPco as we believe that if you have gorgeous, sexy and super soft underwear it shouldn't be hidden! We hope to take part in various fashion shows this year and extend our product portfolio further. We would love to work with retailers in the near future and GBE sounds like a great opportunity to do so!"
PPco and Smith & Downes are just two of the fantastic British underwear makers we're working with here at The GBE and we're looking forward to supporting them develop their brands and extend their reach to retailers everywhere.
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