(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the lingerie retailing sector
The amount of money that people spend on clothes - including lingerie - is affected by the state of economy. When there is a downturn in the economy consumers have less disposable income and have to cut back on their expenditure - and for a lingerie shop this would mean customers buying cheaper ranges more infrequently.
Until 2008 there was strong demand for clothing and lingerie items because a strong economy and solid consumer confidence encouraged people to borrow money to spend in the high street. Shoppers were prepared to spend considerable amounts of money on stylish, fashionable and unusual lingerie items. Demand for designer ranges boomed and new outlets opened up offering specialist lingerie ranges to certain types of customer - for example larger women, or women recovering from breast surgery. However, the economic downturn that started at the end of the decade saw people cutting back on their spending. Nevertheless, the lingerie market held up reasonably well overall, probably because lingerie is a moderately priced indulgence for people who are otherwise cutting back on non-essentials.
The economy began to recover during 2013 and the recovery continued throughout 2014 and into the first half of 2015. The economy slowed again, however, in the second half of 2015 and into 2016. The vote in June 2016 to leave the EU added a degree of economic uncertainty and this, together with the fall in the value of the pound, rising inflation and a loss of consumer confidence in the economy, led to slower growth during 2017, which is expected to continue throughout 2018 and into 2019. Reduced spending power is likely to affect expenditure on more expensive, luxury lingerie as consumers shop for cheaper, more functional items. You may need to take this into account when deciding what to stock and consider stocking some less expensive ranges as well as luxury ranges until the economy picks up. Bear in mind too that the fall in the value in the pound has made imported lingerie, for example from France and Italy, more expensive.
Whatever the state of the economy, you will have to take into account the fact that traditional shop-based retailers face a very competitive market as online retailers take a growing share of the market. Many retailers who sell online do not face the same challenges of rising rents and business rates and the increasing cost and bureaucratic burden of employing staff which shop-based retailers have to contend with.
Fashion trends also influence the lingerie market - recent years have seen greater emphasis given to attractive underwear because sheer and flimsy outerwear has been in fashion. But bear in mind that fashion trends also mean that some items become out of date and unwanted - for example, thongs were very popular for some years but now have become much less so.
You'll need to give some thought to whether:
- demand will be high enough in your proposed area to support your business
- you will be able to compete with other outlets in your area that sell lingerie. The market has become very competitive now that supermarkets have joined department and variety stores in selling lingerie ranges
- you will be able to tap into the growing e-commerce market, for example by having your own website or selling through an online marketplace like eBay or Amazon Marketplace
- any shift in fashion trends that results in lingerie items having a lower profile will have a significant impact on your business. Bear in mind that the ageing profile of the female population in the UK will mean fewer younger women. Young women are the main customers for lingerie items
Keeping up to date with developments
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up to date with developments in your trade.
The UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) represents clothing retailers - including lingerie shops - in the UK. Visit the UKFT website for more information.
Another good way of staying up to date with developments is to subscribe to a specialist trade journal such as The Lingerie Journal. Drapers journal covers trends in the fashion industry as a whole, including the lingerie sector - you can find out more and subscribe on the Drapersonline website.
If you plan to design, make and sell your own lingerie ranges you might be interested in the British Fashion Council's British High-End Manufacturers Database. You might also want to look at the Industry Forum Services website. As a specialist management consultancy which concentrates on the fashion and consumer products industries, its declared aim is to improve the fashion supply chain from 'concept to carrier bag'.
It's important to keep up with fashion trends, which can change very quickly. You can follow lingerie trends on the Trendstop website. The Lingerie Journal website also includes information about trends in the sector.
You can get a lot of useful information by visiting a trade show for the lingerie sector. You will be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers and plan your future stock buying. The exhibitions.co.uk website includes details of upcoming trade shows and events for many different business sectors.