Jane Fenlon-Smith, UK product manager at lingerie giant Triumph International

Jane Fenlon-Smith, UK product manager at lingerie giant Triumph International

Two leading underwear brands have told a UK industry gathering that sales of shapewear continue to gain momentum - and that "shape" is replacing "size" as the buzz word of the moment.

Jane Fenlon-Smith, UK product manager at lingerie giant Triumph International, outlined the company's ambitions in the shapewear category at last week's ASBCI Swim and Sportswear seminar in Leicester.

"Our main push over the past two seasons has been about shapewear," she says. "The shape debate in all its forms continues to be a hot topic in the media.

"It used to be about size, where we talked about size zero to size 24 or whatever it might be, then it became about skinny models versus more curvy models - and this whole debate still continues.

"But now it seems to be more about our shape, our perception of shape and health issues. For Triumph this gives us a really good platform and great PR platform. I think women will be pleased not to always be referred to by their size, but more about their shape and enhancing their shape.

"Further studies conclude that the attributes of shapewear needed to be that it wears well, and makes you look and feel better. So it is almost an emotional thing about what you are wearing.

"We've established that there's a real need for shapewear, as it has become established as a global market trend and a growing one at that. It has become a very acceptable form of underwear - not only for a quick fix under a black dress for the evening but an everyday part of our dress and dress culture."

M&S eyes niche
Another retailer looking to seize the shapewear opportunity is Marks and Spencer, also present at the ASBCI seminar. The company says its shaping products are taking 100% more volume than this time last year.

Karen Feirstone, swimwear buyer at Marks and Spencer, says: "Shaping is phenomenal for us. Whether slim or curvy, larger bust or smaller bust - everyone wants to have a better shape.

"Because you're most vulnerable when you're on the beach or swimming you'll want to have the best figure possible and shapewear helps you do that.

"We've had phenomenal success with shaping across all areas, including sports shaping which is sportswear influenced, more glamorous and also core swimming. Customers are buying it for everything from holidays to core swimming and exercise wear because it's a really versatile product."

UK majoring on fit
Triumph also recently compiled global research from France, China, Japan, Italy, Germany and the UK, which Fenlon-Smith says is one of the largest bra studies in the world.

"It cements the fact that breast and bodies are at the forefront of women's minds and gives incredible insight into how many perceive their body image," Fenlon-Smith says.

Triumph's study found that the average UK woman today is closer to a size 16 than a size 12.

Fenlon-Smith adds: "We are very keen in the UK to really fit, to give ladies extra comfort, confidence, posture and be good for health. We really major on that but our other European colleagues really don't. It really is a battle for me to be the spokesperson for the UK for that because other countries are not asking for that quite so much."

The company has also segmented the female shape as part of its 'International Shape Debate' campaign - fitting ladies into categories including The Meerkat, The Gazelle, The Cheetah, The Panda, The Giraffe and The Lioness.

It therefore seems the apparel industry will need more than a mere size to fit shoppers of the future.