For a lot of consumers, shapewear is a wardrobe staple — but it’s usually reserved for special occasions, and it’s notorious for being too tight, constricting and generally uncomfortable.
And yet, in the last year, there’s been a new wave of brands looking to infiltrate this market. For the most part, companies like Skims and Heist Studios aren’t looking to compete with incumbents like Spanx but rather to revolutionize shapewear by designing comfortable products for all body types without pushing marketing to body flaws or a need to slim down.
As the women’s underwear market grows, the opportunity for brands to jump in is at an all-time high. The global market — including bras, camisoles, slips and shapewear — grew from $46.8 million in 2013 to $83.2 million in 2018, according to Euromonitor International.
The shift mirrors the shift that’s taken place in the beauty industry around foundation. In large part, it came from Rihanna’s launch of Fenty Beauty with one of the most extensive ranges of foundation colors (40 at the time). Il Makiage launched with 50. Consumers soon saw more brands talking about diversity and inclusion in their products and marketing. Other brand including Morphe and Estée Lauder have expanded their foundation ranges, as well.
Kim Kardashian West launched her company Skims in September. On launch day, the brand reportedly brought in over $2 million in sales, highlighting an appetite for products by Kardashian West, and a new type of shapewear brand. (Prior, Kardashian West proved her business prowess with the launch of her beauty line KKW Beauty in 2017, which did $100 million in revenue in 2018, according to Forbes.)
“Product-wise, we found that other shapewear brands flattened your entire body. The first step was making sure Skims went in the opposite direction and focused on enhancing curves and accentuating shapes,” said a spokesperson for Skims.
The company’s product is made from a proprietary fabric designed to sculpt and accentuate natural curves, while also offering, “targeted support and hold,” the spokesperson said.
U.K.-based brand Heist Studios, founded in 2015 and known for its tights, rolled out its first line of shapewear in November 2018 after bringing on Fiona Fairhurst — a renowned inventor and designer of the Olympic athlete-approved Speedo Fastskin swimsuit — as vp of innovation earlier in the year. With Fairhurst on board, the brand has focused on creating product that women want to wear and feel comfortable in.
To do so, Fairhurst studied the female body, with a plan “to do what the body is already doing, but do it better,” she said.
“There has been no innovation within shapewear for at least 20 years, which is unfathomable, really. We’ve got all these advances in digital technology, and yet we still have product that squashes you in a tube and that women can’t get in and out of,” said Fairhurst. “Shapewear isn’t just for somebody who feels a bit lumpy and bumpy. It’s literally for everybody.”
For years, the shapewear industry has been telling women that, in order to look their best, they needed to squeeze their bodies into constricting garments and hide any imperfections.
“The issue for shapewear lies in the body-positivity movement, which empowers women to be comfortable in the skin they’re in — an idea that’s counterintuitive to the purpose of shapewear,” said Alexis DeSalva, senior research analyst at research firm Mintel.
“For Spanx, which built its brand around the idea of disguising the imperfections, this can be an issue, especially since younger generations of women, who are also Kardashian enthusiasts, may be quicker to buy a brand like Skims, whether they were previous shapewear consumers or not,” she said.
Spanx has long been a leader in the market after launching in 2000 with footless body-shaping pantyhose. Over the years, the company has moved into bras, underwear and even products for men. Through building her empire over the years, founder Sara Blakely cemented herself as a billionaire. The company was estimated to do over $400 million in annual sales, as of 2018. Spanx did not respond to a request for comment.
While many Spanx products come in just two colors, black and blush, Skims currently produces garments in 14 colors to match different skin tones from a pale “bone” white to a deep “cocoa” brown.
As for sizing, both Skims and Heist Studios are taking extended measures to fit their products on as many women as possible. Skims said it fit-tests products on Kardashian West, friends, family and a range of fit models.
Fairhurst said Heist tests each product and size on a variety of body types. Four women might come in to try on the size 8, but they range in height, weight and general build to ensure the products truly fit all body types. These women are friends, family or just customers who have purchased something from the brand before.
Currently, Heist offers products for U.S. sizes 2-18, while Skims covers sizes 00-26. Both are DTC companies, although Heist did expand into physical retail last year with a standalone store in the U.K. Skims hits the lower end of the price range, with items costing between $18 and $98, while Heist Studios’ products range from $75 to $138, not including tights.