Influencers, the Alpha Generation and Getting Real with Nude Colors
Libby Basile is Editor of The Lingerie Journal, a well-known trade publication in the intimates business. She has been writing about intimate apparel since 2006 and has been a contributor to The Lingerie Journal since it launched in 2008.
Plus, Libby has a lot to share on the current and upcoming trends in the intimates space.
Libby Basile is the Editor of The Lingerie Journal. She has been writing about intimate apparel since 2006 and has been a contributor to The Lingerie Journal since it launched in 2008.
Libby has a background in apparel publications, covering news and trends for the dancewear and bridal industries.
She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children.
Influencers, the Alpha Generation and Getting Real with Nude Colors
Brandon: Libby Basile is editor of the Lingerie Journal, a well-known trade publication within the intimates business. She has been writing about intimate apparel since 2006 and has been a contributor to the Lingerie Journal since its start in 2008. In today’s discussion, we’ll talk about some recent big shifts in the influencer world and how that’s catching some brands out on the wrong foot. We’ll talk about what the massive ongoing shift in the way women see their bodies means for brands and marketing departments as well as the upcoming opportunity within the Alpha generation. Plus there’s a lot on the current and upcoming trends within the intimate space.
Brandon: To kick things off, how has the lingerie industry consumer changed in the last, let’s say ten years?
Libby: Yeah. I think there’s been a huge change with the consumer, and I think that really boils down to the Internet. Over the last ten years, the Internet has absolutely boomed. I think everything that we do now is online. Everything. Ten years ago, having an online presence, if you are a brand or a company, it was just a nice thing to have. It was a recommendation. But now it’s really imperative to be online, to have a functional website and also social media, you have to be there too. Ten years ago that wasn’t really necessary. Ten years ago, I don’t even think a Hashtag (#) was a thing yet. No one was doing those things, and they were just starting to come to light. And now they’re imperative. One thing I think that’s really changing, too, now is influencers.
There are social media influencers, they are huge and they play a huge role in how consumers buy apparel. I read a really interesting stat just the other day in Wired Magazine, it was about influencers. They said that 3.7 million posts on Instagram were sponsored content, and that was a 50% increase from the year before. And that really makes you think, “well, what’s going to happen?” What’s happening now, what’s happening this year and what will 2019 and 2020 bring for social media marketing? Where we change in ten years, it everything’s online? If you’re a brand, your campaigns need to be online. They need to be on social media. Every promotion you do, every touchpoint you have has to consider that because I think that’s where the buyers are. One way that I personally saw this change reflected is ten years ago, if I wanted to seek out some style advice or inspiration, I had to pick up a magazine, and I had to go out of my way to get that magazine.
And I think that’s how consumers took in their information ten years ago. Around that time, magazines were starting to launch online versions, but they were very sparse still. A lot of times the sites, the content was the same that was in the print version. But now, today, fast forward to today, I will log onto Instagram, not even looking for influence and it’s there. I could just be going to post a picture of my dinner that I want to share with my friends. And the next thing I know, I’ll be buying a bathing suit directly from my phone. Instagram just recently launched the ability to purchase, make purchases in that app. And so it’s not that it links you directly to the product, those influencers are sending you directly to a place where you can buy those items directly from your phone. And so I think that is really changing the way that people shop and, over the last ten years, the way that they receive their information. And the way that they then act on it is totally different from how it was ten years ago.
Brandon: Absolutely. It’s interesting you mentioned the influencers, which obviously it has been an ever-growing trend over the last couple of years. I read an article, I guess a couple of days ago now, and they were talking about influencers, and even how the influencer world has changed. Ten years ago there was no such thing in the way that we understand the industry now. And now there’s the old generation, the first generation of influencers and now the second generation, the newer generation. And just like kids and their parents of sorts, the first generation does things completely differently than the second generation. But I know that a lot of the brands that will be listening to this podcast, they’re really trying to get a handle on the influencers because it’s one of those things where it can be very powerful for the business and it can be a waste of money.
Libby: I read an article about that too. And I thought it was so fascinating. They were talking about the new generation of influencers and how they’re kind of over the millennial pink and perfectly curated Instagram feeds and these younger girls are opting for like less curated looks. So I thought that was interesting and I think it does go in line with how the industry is changing. I think that people are moving away from that forced look and that forced reality, that sort of everything’s perfect look and everything. And it isn’t all the time, and people are really embracing this realness and authenticity. I think you hear that word a lot. I think I was a little happy to hear that now Instagram was changing and adapting with the time set, that the influence is still there. People are still influencing, but they’re influencing a different message. And you see that in the intimate apparel industry too, in the messages that brands are sending. Everyone’s really promoting this sense of authenticity, and I think that’s something, that realness is really shining through everywhere.
Brandon: Absolutely. I mean this is definitely a welcome trend, and hopefully, it will address the idea of these young women – or women of any age really – having to be this perfect photo-shopped ideal, which obviously doesn’t exist in real life. It’s a computer.
Libby: Exactly. I think that’s a huge thing that’s happening, that women are letting go of the idea that they have to fit a mold of what society or someone else tells them is what perfect is. And they’re embracing their true selves and their true natures. And I’m really taking on this self-love and self-acceptance. I think that message is coming through clear. And I think that a lot of the brands are really embracing that and playing to that in their marketing and in their product lines.
Brandon: So further to that point, obviously as the editor in chief of the Lingerie Journal, what are you seeing as the three biggest trends right now in lingerie and intimate apparel?
Libby: Sure. So, I think that one of the trends I was going to talk about, just go speaks right to that point. Inclusivity, that’s not a new term; we’ve heard it before. We’ve been talking about it for a while. But again, women are moving away from that mentality that they have to fit an ideal standard of beauty. We’ve been talking about it for a while, but it’s really starting to come through. I think we see it from the larger brands as well as a lot of the smaller independent designers. Everyone’s getting hip to the fact that they need to be more inclusive in terms of color, size and their overall brand message. So, how I’ve seen that played out: You’ve seen basics have transformed from black, white and beige to new colors, shades are expanding to up to six or eight different skin tone shades.
I’ve seen some really cool examples of how their people are doing that too. One company, Evelyn & Bobbie, they use a color palette that was created using skin tone scans of women’s skin. MAC Selena is another company that has looked to the makeup industry, and they based their color palletes on makeup shades. So I think those are really cool ways that people have responded to this request for new colors. And I think size is another huge one. Again, that’s something that we’ve been talking about for a long time. You’re starting to see more brands make it a part of their full offerings, and it’s not an afterthought anymore. I think some brands do it really well. Coquette is a brand that does it really well, as well as Fantasy.
Fantasy Lingerie is one of our advertisers. What I love about them is their motto: “sexy is for every body.” It’s not an afterthought there. It’s their first touchpoint. And a lot of these brands, they want you to know right up-front when you enter their social media sites, when you enter their websites, that they have something for you, no matter who you are. That’s a really big one that we’re seeing come through. Not just in the product range, but also the brand’s messaging and how they present themselves. Look at maternity, I think that category’s growing too. There really is something for everybody, no matter who you are. I think there’s a lot more work that can be done in the maternity category, but there’s more there than there was before. Things are starting to look less surgical, which I think is great for moms.
Brandon: Absolutely. I have two young ones and our oldest is five. My wife was pregnant six years ago and, yeah, there were dedicated maternity stores. There wasn’t a huge amount of selection in those maternity stores. So, I’m sure that’s a very welcomed change in that market.
Libby: Yeah, I had some more thoughts on where brands are losing out on, and I think that maternity is one of those areas. There’s not a lot out there right now for women who are pregnant. And I think that is an area that needs to be addressed. During this time, it’s an absolute given that a woman will need to buy several new bras while she’s pregnant. And then after the baby arrives she’ll need nursing bras. But during her pregnancy, her body’s changing and her regular underwire bra isn’t going to cut it anymore. She’s in this state of flux, and then after she finishes nursing, she’s going to need new bras again. She’s still in that state of flux. That’s three opportunities over the course of one year or one to two years where she’s going to need more bras.
From my own personal experience, there’s not a lot of places to go. There’s plenty of places to get your everyday intimates, but when you really need them, when your breasts are sore and changing and everything just feels uncomfortable on you, there are less options. And I think that’s doing a real disservice to this woman. I think women end up going to chain stores and buying not really great bras. Or they buy them from the hospital, which it’s amazing and it’s great that the hospital offers those resources to women. But again, it’s usually not a trendy fashion-forward bra. It’s not something that makes her feel good. It’s more of a solution. It’s a tool. And I think that moms deserve more than just a tool at that point in their lives. I think that if companies have the means to, adding this product category could really help build loyalty with your customer.
If you have women who are loyal customers to your brand, you can catch them before they have entered this phase of their life and before they start to have babies. And then you’re there for them. When they need that bra, they’ll know where to turn. And then afterwards, once they go back to wearing their non-nursing bras, you’ll still be there for them. It’s a great opportunity to maintain customer loyalty and not have to break in the process / the lifespan that you have with a customer because you don’t offer her that product. I know it’s easier said than done, just offer maternity bras. But I think if you have the means to do it, it’s something that you should be considering because I think that now millennials are starting to have more babies.
As this generation enters motherhood there’s going to be a lot of opportunity there for people. Another really big trend that I’m seeing is nature inspired. Sustainability is a big thing. We’ve been talking about it a lot, and it’s really starting to come through in terms of style. Clean beauty is a huge thing. People really care more now about what they put into their bodies and what they put on their bodies. I’d say ten years ago organic fabrics were starting to be introduced. I think that was really exciting. But now we’re starting to see that really expanded upon. More brands are using upcycled and recycled materials. They’re using vintage fabrics, laundry surplus fabrics, things that normally would end up in the landfill are now starting to make their way into designer collections.
They’re also using more ethical practices; organic dyes, plant-based dyes, a lot of locally produced and locally sourced stuff. That’s really helping us create a more sustainable society. I also see that trend reflected in the style of apparel, not just the practices. I’m seeing a lot of earth tones. I see them lightened up. Things like surf and mist and sea foam. Those are some of the colors I’m seeing a lot of. Living coral, for example, was the Pantone color of the year for 2019. There’s a lot of ocean-inspired prints. I see things like lace that looks like it’s growing vines. There’s a lot of that nature inspiration, not just within the practice of the production, but the actual look and feel of the designs have that nature inspiration.
Brandon: That’s very interesting. It’s obviously something I’ve noticed as well. Sticking with the theme of sustainability for a minute… It’s an interesting conversation. It’s one of those terms that can mean so many different things. There’s the chance of greenwashing. And there’s also the idea that with sustainability, it’s good in theory but in practice sometimes you can’t find this – specifically in the intimate world for this discussion – type of materials that are on the cutting edge of technology that provides certain benefits to the body within nature. So I guess my question is, can sustainability and performance go together? And if so, where’s the balance between the two?
Libby: As I think about creating a more sustainable lifestyle within my own home, the best that we can do sometimes is to make a step in the right direction. For example, one of the things that I think my kids are talking a lot about is our use of straws and how straws are just really bad. Growing up that was not something I ever considered. And now we’re talking about that more. My kids are saying, “Mom, don’t get a straw when you get your coffee.” And so I started bringing my refillable cup when I go buy a coffee and I bought my kids silicone straws. But then the other day I was out and I forgot my cup and I bought a plastic cup with a straw, and I felt so guilty and bad about it.
I also really wanted a coffee and I thought “Alright, I am making steps in the right direction. I’m working with my children who’re going to be the next generation to go out and practice that. And we have done a small part. We haven’t gone all the way yet.” We’re introducing these sustainable fabrics, but there’s definitely still going to be non-sustainable practices. I think that it’s not a shift that you can make all at once, but it’s work towards a better solution. As we move further along, we will start to find more solutions for performance and combining that technology and that sustainability within the same thing. I don’t think we’re there yet, but we’re kind of doing that. One out of every five coffees that you buy, one of them might have the plastic straw, but four of them don’t. I think we’re sort of still in that phase, if that makes sense.
Brandon: It’s a good attitude. At the moment, I am recording this from central Europe, from Austria, and there’s been a campaign here for months now about plastic ending up in the oceans and how, obviously, that is something that is best to be avoided. There are new laws coming down, I believe it’s a European Union law, that single-use plastics will be effectively banned as of 2020, 2021, 2022, somewhere in that area, which is a great idea except that so many supermarket products rely on single-use plastic. It’s not like you can buy your salad in the individual plastic container and then reuse that plastic bag. It just doesn’t work. It’s growing pains. I mean, they’re figuring it out and they’re getting some carve-outs and all that, but at least the step is in the right direction.
Libby: I see that in the industry too. We’re stepping in that direction and consumers are requesting it. Do I believe that we’ll have to change our standards for what we expect from a product because we’re demanding sustainable garments? No, I don’t think we will. We’ll still want materials that feel comfortable, do the same things. We’re still going to want them to be moisture absorbent and sweat-wicking and all the things that these performance materials deliver now, and we’re going to want them to be sustainable. That’s something that the industry is going to start to do. It’s not there yet but it’s heading in the right direction.
Brandon: Absolutely. We’ve alluded to it already a couple of times, but to summarize and perhaps expand a little bit, what characteristics actually do make for a winning brand in today’s market?
Libby: The most important thing that any brand can do is to continue to change and to grow with the culture. A good brand is staying aware of what’s happening in other industries, too, not just intimates. It’s not just apparel even, but look to other industries. Look at the beauty industry. Look at the technology industry. Look at the food industry. Look at restaurants. If something’s happening at a restaurant or if you’re noticing a shift in the restaurant industry, then it’s most likely happening within your own industry as well. It’s really important to pay attention to that. Just this weekend, for example, I was at a restaurant looking over the menu. It talked about sustainable seafood, sustainable food, local produce. We’ve been seeing that a lot at restaurants. We’re also seeing it in fashion.
I see the word sustainable so often in apparel lines. We see sustainable fabrics; we see sustainable practices. That’s another huge trend that’s happening. People are really connecting with the environment now. It’s becoming a really huge concern for people. And they’re looking for more ethical practices and more ethical companies in their intimates. And, like I said, the restaurant’s a great example because you’re seeing that there too. So look for other things that are cropping up. If you see stuff happening in an industry, take a second look at your own because it’s probably happening there as well.
Brandon: I suppose one of the biggest influencers could, as we’ve already talked about in various ways, be technology. The influence of technology and the way technology is changing other industries. As well, the philosophies that come out of the tech industry are changing the way other businesses are run…
Libby: Yes. I think that technology is huge, and it’s something else that a really good brand is going to have its finger on. We have to look to who our buyers are right now, and millennials are the largest group of spenders. We need to think about where they are in their lives right now. They’re starting to get married, they’re making these large purchases. They’re buying homes; they’re paying for weddings. You definitely see the bridal industry booming as a result of more people getting married right now. The millennials are entering that wedding phase of their lives. I think technology is one of the key traits of a millennial. They are hip to the changes in technology and they are moving along with it.
If you’re not focused on that, then they’re going to pass you by. Talking about influencers, instead of trying to resist it, I think partnering with bloggers and finding ways that your brand can work with that trend rather than against it is really important. A couple other fun things that are happening in terms of design… I’m seeing that the legs are higher cut; I saw it introduced last year in swimwear. It’s becoming more of a go-to silhouette for bottoms, which I think is really fun because it makes your legs look great. Another big one, the unlined bras are back. This trend harks back to the body positive movement. Women are embracing their shapes and their bodies rather than trying to make them fit a mold.
We’re seeing the padded bras and the molded cups styles kind of fall to the wayside in favor of unlined cuts and sewn cups. So that’s a really exciting one. Another big thing, bodysuits and bralettes. Again, they’re not new trends, but what I think is important to note is that they’re still here. We’re seeing them transform from trendy fashion pieces to collection staples in wardrobes, staples. So I think that if you don’t have those in your collections, they really need to be there now. They’re not going away. Strappy details, we’re seeing a lot of those still. I think what I’m seeing is that strappy detail come a little bit higher on the neck. The harness is kind of the new strappy cup if you asked me, a lot of halter tops too, choker-style necklines.
There’s definitely more happening above the bust line this season, in bras and the top of garments. Finally, one thing that’s always an evergreen trend is innerwear as well as outerwear, we’re seeing bodysuits and kimonos. One thing that’s kind of cool that I’ve noticed is that brands are starting to make robes without the little loops on the side that you thread a belt through. And then that way you remove the belt, and the robe can now be worn open like a kimono with a pair of jeans and a tank top. That’s a really cool feature and a really great way to make your items more versatile. Harnesses… Again, that’s a great item that is really versatile and it plays well with ready-to-wear. You can wear it layered over a tank or you can wear it peeking out underneath the low-cut dress or a top. Those are some of the ways that you’re seeing this evergreen trend come through today.
Brandon: Very good. We’re running a little bit short on time, but I’ve got one more question for you. If you were sitting in front of a well experienced veteran creative director or vice president or marketing executive of an established intimates brand and they asked you, “give me an insight into the consumer that I don’t already know,” what would you answer?
Libby: This is one question that I feel like I have to talk about the generations. We’ve been talking about millennials for so long. Everybody I know of is obsessed with millennials. We study their every move. We often forget who’s coming up behind them. That’s one point I would make: that it’s really important to look at the Gen Z and look at the Alpha generation. These are kids who are nine years old and under, they’re definitely not buying underwear yet, but they will be in ten years. It’s important to set our sights on them. If you’re going to take a look at who these children are, they’re the children of millennials, some of them are two years old and they can navigate a smartphone.
They’re growing up with tech-obsessed parents and their parents adapt to change very quickly. They’re moving fast, they’re adapting to change quickly. Think about it. These are kids who will never know life without Alexa or they’ll never know what regular cable was like. That will certainly affect how they shop and how they spend. I don’t know if we can tell yet what that would be. One thing is that young girls today, they grow up with mothers who don’t go on crash diets. They don’t obsess over their bodies. They have mothers who’ve replaced the words thin and beautiful with words like strong. While millennials grew up exposed to that culture, they kind of broke free to start this whole body positive movement. This next group is growing up without that same exposure.
While I don’t know where that will take them or how that will influence their spending, it’s important to look at it and to note that’s where they differ. Especially because we’re talking about intimates, a lot of the products in the intimate apparel industry are bought for reasons of a solution: you want to change something about yourself, you want to suck something in or push something out. That might be changing with this next generation of girls growing up. I think that would be my advice: to keep your eye on that. I can’t say for certain what they’re going to want to be spending on. Some of them are really two years old, so it’s really hard to say what kind of underwear they’re going to want to buy in ten years.
But I think that it will definitely be different from what’s going on now. We’ve already started to see that shift on Instagram and that kind of moving away from a perfectly curated atmosphere to something that’s more real. Again, it’s something that’s not there yet, but I believe that realness is going to be coming through strongly and that these young girls are growing up immersed in that. It’ll be exciting to see what that means for them.