Positivity lifts INDX Intimate Apparel show
The Commonwealth Games that start in Birmingham on Friday may give a small boost to the sports bra market but they caused headaches for the INDX Intimate Apparel trade show organisers this week.
The UK’s only major trade event dedicated to lingerie and related categories, the show usually runs on Sunday to Tuesday, providing three full days packed with buyers putting down orders.
The sporting festival caused this season’s event to be moved from its usual slot in August into July and reduced it to 2.5 days, running from 2.30pm to 8pm on Saturday, 9am to 7pm on Sunday and 8.30am to 5pm on Monday.
Although not ideal, the disruption seems to have done little to affect the fair’s reputation for a gathering that satisfies buyers and suppliers. The team at buying group AIS, which organises the event at its headquarters in Canmore Park, Solihull, was praised for producing a well-edited and well-laid-out event.
“When consulted by the organisers in January about the date changes this season, I was in favour of just two long days on Sunday and Monday,” said Angela Blundell, owner of the Concrete London agency. “Saturday was quiet in the halls but I must say the calibre of buyers was very nice. I saw one existing stockist and four new ones, so I have no complaints.”
This was Blundell’s second INDX show after her first participation in January. As well as her own Concrete London collection of Made-in-UK merino-based loungewear, she was showing seven ranges embracing lingerie, shapewear, nightwear, hosiery, socks, variously from Wolford, Adidas, Schiesser, PJ Salvage, Promise, Pierre Mantoux and, new for spring-summer 23, Polo Ralph Lauren intimates and nightwear. The selection was indicative of the range of categories at the event.
“This is a proper writing show. As all the lingerie big guns like the Wacoal group and Chantelle are here, it definitely pulls in the independents and typically they want to get all their seasonal orders done while they are here.”
There was plenty of positivity in the halls, where more than 150 collections were on show. Clarisse Parkes, international sales manager for Gossard and Berlei, was on duty on a consistently busy stand that also housed the lingerie brands’ hosiery stablemates Pretty Polly, Aristoc and Elbeo.
“Overall I’d say independent retailers are cautiously optimistic,” she reported. “Everyone has been having a good time since the end of lockdown, but the approach to forward ordering is tricky as a lot of people are concerned about what impact the cost of living crisis will have from autumn onwards. Suppliers like us that provide a good stock service from our Continuity Collections are going to be popular.”
Parkes has noticed a rise in demand for more fitted and sculptural bras. “During lockdown it was all about comfort and non-wired bras. Now women are dressing up and going out again, they want padded, plunge and Wonderbra-type styles.”
Francesca Fleming, commercial director of British company Royce Lingerie, which was founded by her parents in 1991, reported seeing a few new retailers at the fair. “Our existing buyers are generally upbeat as they have been busy in their shops since reopening,” she said.
The INDX show has a proven record of being a launchpad for new products. Among this season’s debutantes was HartiSWIM, an art-based swimwear collection devised by Tessa Hartmann, who has enjoyed a long career in fashion PR.
Made from Repreve, a yarn derived from recycled plastic bottles, the capsule range launched online in April comprised 12 styles featuring original artwork by her husband Sascha Hartmann aka Harti.
“This was a lockdown project of mine,” explained Hartmann.” While we launched online – and in Voisins department store in Jersey – my intention was always to have it as a retail-led brand centred on independent boutiques. Indie owners will be best placed to understand our stance on sustainability and to explain that to their customers.”
Key retail prices run from £150 for a bikini to £225 for a one-shoulder swimsuit. Hartmann had stock for instant delivery and 12 new looks for delivery in November.
Also finding retail buyers in the mood for new brands was Denise Shepherd, director of international sales for US brands Natori and Skarlett Blue, who was showing for the third season.
“As previously, the attendance has been really good and the mood has been very positive. Independent lingerie boutiques have benefitted from the disappearance of Debenhams and the reduction in the likes of House of Frasers and M&S. They have been attracting new customers post-lockdown and they realise they need to keep freshening their boutiques to keep those clients coming back.
“They like the different attitudes of our two brands, the keen retail prices (up to £59 for a bra on Skarlett Blue and up to £80 on Natori) and the stock service we offer on Natori, from 30-42 in A to FF.”
In one of the inaugural Retail Insights panels the show staged this season, Mary Cameron, UK managing director of leading French supplier Groupe Chantelle, stressed that independent lingerie retailers needed to have a good selection of price points, especially for newly-won customers, as not everyone was able to, or was prepared to, pay the premium prices typical of the sector.
“We are giving new emphasis to Passionata by Chantelle as our entry-level collection, but at the same time we have launched Chantelle X, which is a level above our main range because there are women who really want to spoil themselves with a special bra purchase,” she said.
Loungewear and nightwear firms like British supplier Cyberjammies saw online sales rocket during lockdown, both on its own site and through its stockists’ sites. Brand director Mark Tweed reported that while demand had softened slightly since lockdown had ended, the sector was still buoyant and his company’s challenge was to keep coming up with new ideas to keep customers buying.
In a similar area, slippers and homewear name Pretty You London was introducing pieces like fleece jackets that could be worn outside the house, agent Mark McAnulty said. The whole category obviously still has commercial mileage.
Buyers at the show were in upbeat mood. Isabel Wilkie from The Lingerie Lounge in Blackpool is a bra fitter with 27 years’ experience and she admitted she is still learning about her profession.
“It’s essential for me to come to a show like this to feel and see new products. You cannot do the same job on a Zoom call,” she asserted. “We have been very, very busy since lockdown was lifted with loads of new people coming through the door. Our core business is with 20- to 40-year-olds but our customer age range goes from 11 to 94 years old. We have to be experts in all sorts of specialist areas like trainer bras, maternity bras, mastectomy bras…
“Our new customers realise with us they get an experience and they have learned just buying cheaply isn’t always a good way to go.”
Amy Hanlon opened her Bellus Amor shop in Hartlepool just over four years ago and so has spent about half her trading career in lockdown. Although conscious of prevailing economic conditions, she was in the mood to buy: “In my first two years I’d built up a good set of loyal customers and they really helped me out during lockdown, buying vouchers to redeem later just to put some money my way.
“Now we are trading normally again, I have attracted a diverse range of new customers. I have to ensure I have enough stock for them. I am ordering here based on how my business is now, not how it might be because of cost of living pressures. The lingerie business is impossible to predict at the best of times.”
One slogan in the sector is that there are never two good successive swimwear seasons but that may be overturned next year. Summer 22 has been good because of the “freedom factor” of people going on holiday for the first time in two years. Summer 23 is looking equally promising.
“Right from first thing in January, things have been going crazy and seven months later if anything, demand is accelerating” said Amanda Callus, of online retailer Eden Beachwear. “There is a much bigger and better selection of swimwear from brands for summer 23 and any price increases are not going to stop me placing orders.”
Price hikes and continuing supply chain issues, especially from China, were mentioned in passing at the show but price rises seem to be limited to a few percent only. Most suppliers had made the big adjustments last year, taking in raw material costs, increased shipping rates and, from Europe, the post-Brexit import surcharges of around 12%.
Most non-UK suppliers quote their prices as all-in DDP (Delivery Duty Paid) amounts to keep things simple for retailers. German supplier Naturana is doing the same thing from this season, which makes life easier for its stockists, according to account manager Richard Potter.
Feeling good about Brexit is Andrew Dearey, one of the Irish Republic buying contingent who are regulars in Solihull. His family business has been trading for 101 years and today, as Ophelia Lingerie, it has shops in Dundalk, Drogheda and Sligo and a very successful transactional website.
“Since Brexit, Irish consumers have pretty much given up buying from UK sites as it is almost impossible to return any goods. It’s been of great benefit to us. Additionally about 80% of the brands we used to stock are based in the UK; now about 5% of are brands are from the UK. We have shifted to dealing with Dutch, German and French brands.
“Since lockdown lifted, we have been hit with a tsunami of demand because of all the events that are back on in Ireland – women are dressing up and want new lingerie for weddings, christenings, confirmations, debs’ balls, dances... But we will see how long it lasts. The cost of living rises and the interest rate rises in Ireland will have an effect from the autumn.
“Specialists like us are well-placed, however, if we do things right. Important cup sizes used to be C and D. Now it’s more likely to be F, FF, G and GG. Specialist fits like that are not likely to found in Primark or Dunnes.”
Next season INDX Intimate Apparel will return to its normal Sunday-Tuesday schedule on February 12-14. It will be interesting to gauge the positivity factor in six months’ time.
Images: Eric Musgrave