Some lingerie makers have nonetheless found ways to profitably expand their size ranges, contributing to what Harrington calls a “bra size war.” Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty, for instance, produces lingerie for plus-size body types (up to 3X and 44DDD) in addition to straight sizes, with other labels going up to 46H or higher.
The growing lingerie market is providing greater choice to another group of customers it has traditionally underserved: transgender shoppers.
Montreal-based Origami Customs offers gender-affirming lingerie to transgender customers, among others. With trans visibility at an all-time high, the brand has doubled sales over the last four years, according to founder Rae Hill.
The label has recently expanded its line of binders, an undergarment used to flatten the chest, that it models on transmasculine customers. Gaffs, a type of underwear used for tucking, make up nearly half of the products that Origami Customs sells.
“I’ve felt an outpouring of gratitude from my customers (especially trans women) about the affirming process of working with me,” Hill said in an email interview.
“I take the time to work with each customer one-on-one, and I do feel that this creates a level of safety and intimacy that isn’t available in the mainstream market.”
“Being sexy is as different as each one of us,” Hill added.
Racial diversity is also a growing force in the lingerie market. Take Rihanna’s aforementioned label, which has been praised for producing a variety of “nude” tones for different skin colors. Similarly, ThirdLove’s recent line of T-shirt bras offers nine shades of “naked.”
Before either of them, London-based disruptor Nubian Skin became one of the first brands to offer nude tones for women of color when it launched in 2014.
“We saw a lot of brands debut their own nude tones in the years immediately after the launch of Nubian Skin,” Harrington said. “Some of those brands have since rolled back (their selection) because they didn’t market them very well — if you’re going to sell nude tone bras in deeper skin tones, it would help to use models of color.
“I hope that, for these companies (new brands like ThirdLove and Savage X) it’s not a trend (but) something they plan to stick with.”
A matter of representation
Inclusivity isn’t just about selling lingerie to diverse customers — it’s about doing so visibly. This means using models of all shapes, sizes and colors in fashion shows and campaigns.
Take Lonely Lingerie, for instance, which claims to portray women in a realistic way by refusing to use Photoshop — or even hair and makeup stylists — in its campaigns. The brand’s models include women with 35 different bra sizes and from a variety of background.
Founder Helene Morris said that, when she started the label in 2009, “there was no one in the lingerie world who was speaking in a way we related to at all.” Her brand’s “Lonely Girls” project featured senior models, breastfeeding mothers, pregnant women and disabled women, all photographed in natural light.
“We really wanted to give the power … to the person being shot — how they want to be shot, how are they most comfortable and involving the woman in that process,” Morris said in a phone interview.
Plus-size label Curvy Couture also sees the use of diverse models as an important step towards inclusivity, according to social media marketing manager, Summer Rose.
“We have a ton of fit models that come in — different sizes, different ages, moms who are post-breastfeeding — just so we can really make sure that the fit is supportive,” she said in a phone interview. “No matter what stage in life she is in, we want to make sure she feels her best.”