Show report: Optimism diluted by caution at the INDX Intimate Apparel show
Ongoing concerns about the general economy and about consumers’ reluctance to spend tempered lingerie buyers’ outlook at last week’s INDX Intimate Apparel show in Solihull.
There was a steady footfall of independent shop owners at the three-day event, where around 150 collections of lingerie, loungewear and nightwear for autumn-winter 23 were presented.
The mood at the July 2022 event had been upbeat as it followed a strong spring-summer trading period when the post-lockdown boom in holidays meant swimwear sales had been very high.
The second half of the year did not continue that tempo. Visitors reported Christmas is no longer a busy time for lingerie sales and the second half of the year can be expected to be flat. That, and the ongoing general economic pressures in the UK, affected buyers’ attitudes to forward ordering.
“Because so many big lingerie retailers start discounting so early, the autumn-winter season at full price lasts only about six weeks,” said Amanda Duncan, owner of Moira’s, which sells lingerie and womenswear in Forfar, north-eastern Scotland. “My sales at Christmas were OK but it came very late, including from one man who turned up to buy a present at 4pm on Christmas Eve.”
Amanda was at the show with her niece Michelle Duncan, who owns the Completelyou fashion and lingerie shop in Arbroath. Both were reviewing what brands to buy and what price increases had been added for autumn.
“Arbroath is more price-conscious than Forfar and I am making much more considered buying decisions because of it,” said Michelle. “December was fine for me but it did not feel particularly Christmassy. People are still worried about what general price rises might hit them this year.
“Some of my suppliers have added £4 or £5 to the retail price for a bra. There is a psychological barrier for customers when a £38 bra goes up to £42 or £43. I am reviewing my suppliers who sell to online operators like Debenhams, which cuts prices so early in the season. I am not blaming the suppliers but I can’t compete with those discounts.”
Both Amanda and Michelle spent Sunday, the first day of the show, looking at potential new suppliers rather than booking with their usual ones.
Mother and daughter Rosalind Broady and Tracy Morris run separate lingerie shops, both called Pretty Things, in Buckhurst Hill, Essex and Cockfosters, north London. In these affluent areas they enjoyed a big hike in sales, especially in swimwear, in spring 2022 and have enjoyed bright post-Christmas trading his year.
“Our busy time is March to August and as we are in the mid-to-high price bracket our customers are less concerned about the general economy. Since interest rates went up their savings are making more money too,” observed Broady. “We are seeing a lift this spring season already from those people who were nervous of going on holiday last year as it was so soon after lockdown. There may be less dressing up generally but a woman will always buy new beachwear for a holiday.”
Gwyneth Tooke, owner of Puremischief lingerie shop in Lytham on the Fylde coast of Lancashire, told a familiar story: “My sales are split 60:40 in favour of spring-summer over autumn-winter because of the swimwear lift. Autumn-winter was a bit slow. The very cold spell in mid-December didn’t help as people just could not get out to shop. As a result I am buying a little bit safe here, going for soft pinks rather than bright oranges and buying into continuity lines.”
Suppliers confirmed continuity lines and other always-in-stock options were proving popular. As the post-COVID readjustment of supply lines continues, some price increases were being introduced although many reported they had absorbed rising costs of raw materials and shipping costs had come down.
At Panache head of sales Mandy Dixon confirmed the ongoing strength of swimwear: “We all know the general economic situation is grim and consumers are making much more considered purchases. Our stockists are reporting lingerie sales as being flat. We have invested in our stock levels to better support them in continuity lines. Swimwear is already doing well again this (retail) season.”
Wacoal, which is raising some prices by around 6% from April, had seven sales staff on its large stand, dealing with independent stockists for its Fantasie, Freya, Elomi and Goddess brands. Wholesale sales director David McDonagh confirmed all the expected buyers from the UK and Irish Republic had been seen at the show.
“They are being cautious due to the experiences of the run-up to Christmas but the new year has started well in store. We have brought our underwired large-cup swimwear here and it’s attracting a lot of interest because there is so little of it around.”
Mary Cameron, UK managing director of leading French supplier Groupe Chantelle, said some further price increases had already been announced to the trade. Although many of the leading brands stress their products are necessarily premium-priced, given the quality of the materials and the complexity of the construction, there is an acknowledgement that price pressure is a reality for some stockists.
For autumn 23 Chantelle its rebranding its existing Femilat collection as Chantelle EasyFeel, as a more accessible price point, with bras retailing for about £55.
At French brand Lise Charmel, UK sales manager Gwendolen Bridge stressed the importance of exhibiting at the event: “We view being here as part of our service in supporting our independent stockists. It’s been interesting and useful to meet new retailers from as far apart as the north of Scotland and Wales who are planning to open shops.”
Yvonne Perry has owned Envee of Monmouth, which specialises in footwear and accessories, for 17 years. She was at the show looking to add lingerie to her offer: “I am here to get a feel for what’s available and I’d like to find some spring deliveries of lingerie in eye-catching colours and designs. I sell bags at £180 and shoes at £125, so my customers are not especially price-conscious. I want to see if I can make lingerie work.”
Simon Howard, European licensee of the Moontide New Zealand swimwear brand, also was at the show – the fourth since lockdown was lifted – primarily to support his stockists.
“We lost contact with so many stockists because of lockdown. Even though autumn is not a swimwear season we are here for brand awareness and it’s really valuable to me to see customers here who have already given me their orders. In general business in the second half of last year was not as bad as people feared, so they are reasonably happy.”
As the UK’s only dedicated show for the lingerie and related markets, INDX Intimate Apparel presents an impressive cross-section of the industry from major brands such as Triumph, Panache, Chantelle and Wacoal through to smaller concerns. This season innovators and new ideas were welcome additions to the mix.
Kate Taylor was a first-time exhibitor with her brand Evenly, which aims to solve the widespread issue of asymmetrical breasts with a range of 17 silicone gel forms she calls bra balancers. Having been selling online until now, this was her first attempt to reach wholesale customers.
“It’s been fantastic, it completely blew my expectations out of the water on the first day,” she said. “I usually have to explain a lot about all the types of asymmetrical breasts but with this expert audience, everyone gets it. As well as the UK, I have had interest from Ireland, Poland and Ghana.”
Also looking for wholesale stockists were Heather Glover and Kate Maurice, co-founders of Skarlette Lingerie, which is aimed at women who are flat-chested naturally or because of mastectomy or other surgery. Online since May 2021, they too were pleased at the networking opportunities the show presented.
Showing allergy-free underwear for women with sensitive skin, JulieMay was another innovative newcomer. Founder Tiffany Chiu uses her family’s own factory in Hong Kong to produce the organic cotton and silk range that contains no synthetics, exposed elastics, nickel or labels.
Priya Downes, founder of sustainable lingerie brand Nudea, was at her second INDX show looking for indie retailer customers having started selling online during lockdown: “I’d like to see the organisers get more of us innovators and disruptors at the show and make more of us as we are the future of the industry.”
James Crabtree, head of fashion at AIS, the buying group that organises INDX, confirmed this sort of innovation was in the plans for the event.
“In line with what we have seen with our other INDX Fashion shows this season, we are pleased with the attendance and with the level of orders. Cautious optimism is a good description of the mood. Lingerie retailers seem to have run down their stocks and they want something new to entice in their customers.
“As we are now the national lingerie show we have got room for growth and we are actively planning to add new kids on the block to the major global brands and the large agencies that support us already. We want to represent the entire market here.”
The next INDX Intimate Apparel will be held on 30 July to 1 August, which is also the dateline for the extended Harrogate Fashion Week.
Images: Eric Musgrave