Time to Clean Up Fashion’s Dirty Underwear
The global intimate apparel market is reported to be growing at steady pace and is estimated to be worth US$55.83 billion by the end of 2024, according to TransparencyMarketResearch.com.
Intimate apparel includes all garments worn directly next to the skin such as underwear, shapewear, lingerie, nightclothes and loungewear. Despite the recent economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, intimate apparel brands have reported a spike in online orders. According to The Daily Telegraph, newcomer Nudea received sales in April that were 60 percent higher than in February while Pour Moi reported a 30 percent increase in online sales.
Lockdown has provided more time for consumers to research and make those online purchases with search requests falling into four distinct categories: comfortable shapewear, loungewear, sexy lingerie and sports inspired underwear. Growing trends in the sector include cute camisoles, high-waisted thongs and knickers, sporty bralettes, seamless and minimal bra designs and for those wanting a bit more glamour, delicate lace bodysuits, slips and bras.
Celebrity influencer Kim Kardashian West launched her shapewear brand, Skim’s, last September, a collection of skin toned, shapewear including bralettes, slips, bodysuits and sculpting shorts, and sold out within minutes of going live. Spotted the marketing opportunity, Skim’s went for it and just harvested the fruit. Spanx, founded in 1998 told Drapers that shapewear is up 40% for the brand year-on-year, particularly on styles that can be worn as outerwear.
While Skim’s successfully moved in on their niche market just at the right time the intimate apparel sector has yet to make significant growth in the sustainability area, especially environmental problems are addressed a lot nowadays. According to The Evening Standard just two percent of the underwear market is sustainably sourced.
With an apparent growth of online intimate apparel sales, the timing is ripe for brands to incorporate sustainability within their collections. Forty-year old brand Hanky Panky has spent years researching and sourcing premium fabrics that look and feel luxurious, and are produced with low environmental impact. With style and comfort high on the agenda, Larrisa King, the brand’s senior designer, and her team use TENCEL™ Intimate cellulosic fibers within their collections. King comments: “Your lingerie should be an extension of your body, so it’s very important that the fabrics we use have a soft, luxurious feel against your skin and TENCEL™ branded modal fibers gives our products those qualities.”
Derived from renewable wood sources using Eco Soft technology, TENCEL™ Intimate cellulosic fibers provide long-lasting softness and a smooth, barely-there feel. The TENCEL™ Lyocell and Modal fibers manage moisture effectively to maintain breathability and hygiene, perfect for intimate apparel. Earlier this year, Lenzing introduced Eco Pure technology to its TENCEL™ Modal fibers, which highlights for chlorine-free bleaching process. With the gentle bleaching process, textiles made predominantly of such fibers tend to be very soft and are suitable for undergarments, loungewear, bedding and more.
King has noticed a growing interest in sustainability and transparency from consumers in recent years. She added: “It all boils down to education, today’s consumers are mindful of the environmental challenges we are facing and expect companies and brands to be responsible in their approach to manufacturing.” 
For underwear and accessories brand Organic Basics, sustainability is not only the very core of its business but ‘it’s the only way to do business’. The design team at Organic Basics will only choose fibers that care for the environment and that includes TENCEL™ Intimate cellulosic fibers. As their website states: ‘The fashion industry is dirty – but it can be better.’ 
Other brands such as J.Crew and Victoria’s Secret have also incorporated TENCEL™ Modal and Lyocell fibers into their sleepwear collections. The combination of luxurious feel, colour vibrancy, softness and breathability alongside sound environmental ethics make TENCEL™ branded fibers a natural choice when it comes to intimate apparel.
Requirements for intimate wear are higher than other garments considering it is the most close-to-skin cloth. A number of elements must be taken into consideration for this type of apparel, including comfort, gentleness on skin and sourcing. Luckily, we are seeing more alternatives such as biodegradable wood-based fibers coming up on the market, which provides softness and comforts without sacrifice to quality and sustainability. It is encouraging to see how the intimate segment is changing for the better.