The Underwear Industry Is Finally Changing

Underwear is such a strange concept. It is a shorthand for privacy, something only you (and a select few) have access to yet underwear plays a huge role in how we feel about ourselves. Even though it’s hidden from a stranger’s eye, it informs the way one presents themselves in the public eye.

We often think of gender expression as being done through clothes and other arbitrary markers like hair and makeup. The biggest enforcers of gender norms and expectations are undergarments. 

The industry is notorious for reinforcing, mostly harmful gender stereotypes and roles. And it seems the industry is only getting bigger, according to Skyqest, the global lingerie business was worth 88.32 billion in 2022 to USD 141.81 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 5.7% in the forecast period (2023-2030).

Despite the continued growth of the traditional lingerie and underwear industry, a few companies have stepped up to the plate to challenge the status quo,  such as gender roles, using diverse models of all gender identities, sizes, body types, and races. 

Brands like Victoria’s Secret were the voice of authority in intimates and their annual fashion show was like the Superbowl for fashion models, aptly named “angels” for over a decade the cultural currency of Victoria’s Secret was truly limitless, and while the brand aimed to champion diversity by including models of different races from all over the world they were perpetuating the same standards of beauty and body image.


Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 

While underwear designed for everyone else lurked in the background Rihanna’s ongoing Savagex Fenty collab, was one of the first mainstream brands to disrupt the industry in every aspect, prioritizing the aesthetics and comfort of people who often aren’t represented in mainstream media.  The Fenty fashion show and collection rendered legacy brands like Victoria’s Secret obsolete, and since then other smaller companies have come out of the shadows and have begun to find mainstream success. 


Fenty X Savage Fashion show

While mainstream brands were primarily selling a fantasy and sex appeal, it was primarily clear that they believed/ marketed one specific type of fantasy and sex appeal through an ablest, fatphobic, transphobic lens.

Indie brand SpicyWear has seen a rise in success due to its unique designs that cater to several overlooked communities, prioritizing convenience and comfort over uncomfortable gendered products.  

It is not as if they have reinvented the wheel, they took an existing design and made it more accessible. They’ve built on the design of the classic boxer brief, removing the gendered elements of the traditional boxer.  Spicy Wears founder John King has made boxers that can accommodate pads and have been made more accessible for people who have periods. 

John King, the creator of Spicy Wear, runs the small business in his dorm. Photo by Violet Castano via Spicy wear

He has designed a boxer that comes with a flap making it accessible to place both regular pads and maternity pads on them, allowing the wearer the comfort of knowing they have a small chance of leak and this has been a huge help to trans and nonbinary people who suffer from body dysphoria. 

This has also been a game changer for mothers and people with periods, the boxer range (and other underwear) was designed with comfort and functionality in mind over aesthetics and perceived sex appeal.  Spicy Wear also uses a variety of models to advertise their range of products allowing consumers to see themselves in the product.


Models pose in Spicy Wear Bikinis. Via Spicy Wear.

As a result, brands like Spicy Wear have blown up on social media sites like TikTok where both clients and prospective clients have raved about the importance of products such as theirs. 

The solution to these problems that plagued the intimate garments industry was nothing out of the box, it was rather the opposite: it was composed of the founders who dared to let all the people into the underwear scene.

By: Gugu Khumalo

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