China's fledgling lingerie and underwear industry is expected to enjoy annual growth of 20 per cent for at least the next decade, industry experts and analysts said on Tuesday.

Underwear sales are expected to top $10.9 billion this year - up from $6bn in 2001 - as the subject becomes less of a taboo and more and more manufacturers rush to cash in on the rapidly-growing market.

More than 5,000 underwear manufacturers produce lingerie in factories based mainly in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong Province. The women's market is currently the most lucrative sector but industry chiefs say the potential for the men's market is massive.

Xu Yingxin, secretary-general of the Textile Sub-Council of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, told the Asia Pulse newspaper a radical change in attitude to lingerie and underwear has dramatically advanced the development of the industry.

Ye Wenjie, executive director of China's International Underwear City (IUC) based in South China's Guangdong Province added that increased competition was forcing underwear firms to seek alternative sources for raw materials such as lace.