The Lingerie Market In France
Fashion lingerie has changed radically in recent years thanks to the new materials and
technologies now used. Most women choose their lingerie with as much care as they choose
their cosmetics. As a result, consumers are now considering additional factors in the selection
process. Factors such as health,
well-being and safety must be taken into consideration because they modify consumers’ habits.
In any case, the recurring trend is attractiveness and feminine charm, yet with a focus on
technology, comfort, and price.
In order to adapt to the consumers’ demands, manufacturers of lingerie are continually creating
new product lines to appeal to French consumers’ tastes. The French market must also face
the globalization of production and the increasing strength of China, which implies new types of
buying and changes in distribution. This is why the big winners are primarily big distributors,
which have grown by 34 percent in volume and 30 percent in value in 2006. According to TSN
SOFRES (a center for economic trends), after experiencing a boom in 2005 with 167 million
units sold in France, the lingerie market in 2006 remained quite stable and reached 170 million
units sold for a turnover of USD 2.1 million, although the average spent by consumers has
declined by 1 percent.
In this competitive market, companies should be able to differentiate themselves, and this is a
reason why communication is an absolute necessity to attract consumers. Companies should
be able to innovate in terms of products but also in terms of communication.
Since there are many well-known American brands already in France through successful
subsidiaries-Warnaco (Warner’s Calvin Klein, Lejaby), VF Diffusion (Bestform, Variance, Lou,
Bolero) and Sara Lee (Playtex, Dim and Wonderbra)-there are numerous opportunities for
American companies in this apparel sub-sector.
The next trends (according to the organizers of the 2007 Lingerie International Trade Show in
Paris) can be a good indication of the market demand for lingerie for winter 2007/2008:
The main themes were:
Pretty chic and its radiant charm
Retro chic and its glamorous luxury
- Teen chic and its fun fantasies
- Sport chic and its pure and relaxing softness
Details create personality and individuality, hence their growing importance. Young consumers
fall for items that are branded or noticeable.
The tank top is the number one overwhelming star! Colors are taken from surf wear and the
outdoor style of beach houses. These styles are mixed to produce year-round wear ability.
All mixtures are acceptable provided that the final effect is graceful. It is also a liberal
interpretation of all eccentricities; anything goes provided it expresses a statement of luxury and
the opulence of couture.
For 2006, the different research institutes announced a more stable market compared to 2005.
According to TSN Worldpanel (a center for economic trends), the entire market is in a decline of
8 percent of volume and 5 percent in value as compared to 2005. This comes out to a total of
USD 2,080 million spent of which more than two-thirds was devoted to bras, representing USD
1370 million for 60 million pieces sold.
According to market specialists there are three reasons explaining this decline in the market:
- The fact that there are fewer buyers – only 76 percent of French households purchased
undergarments in 2006, compared to 80 percent in 2005, the lowest percentage in five
Buyers are buying less – the frequency of buys has dropped by 3 percent from 2005.
Stable prices – After a strong price devaluation in 2005 (an average of –4percent), the
average price of buys is now stable. One area of disparity: an increase of 3 percent in
the women’s undergarments segment and a decrease of 8 percent in the men’s
Daytime lingerie and undergarments, which still account for 80 percent of what the French
spend in lingerie, shrunk by 2 percent to the benefit of nighttime lingerie (plus 37 percent).
Nighttime lingerie and home wear now offer a wide variety of products that fit in with the new
well-being concept that work both inside and outside, in day-light and seductive night: pajamas,
tracksuits, bathrobes, kimonos, tunics, little sweatshirts, seamless items.
The aging of the French population has minimized the size of the young consumer population.
Therefore, lingerie companies need to increasingly appeal to a wider variety of age groups. In
order to reverse the trend of decrease in domestic sales, companies must change and update
their products more frequently. A dynamic selection that is strongly marketed is what will keep
French consumers interested in buying more lingerie.
Over the past two years, the market was characterized mainly by the following trends:
The success of leggings: The new popularity of leggings has helped to bring pantyhose back
into fashion as well. The French Institute for Fashion announced in 2006 that it had an increase
in volume of 6.4%, to 182.78 million pairs. In evaluating a volume of 175.9 million pairs sold by hyper- and supermarkets during the same period, the French Center for Economic Trends
CTCOE) reported an overall rise in numbers of 2.3%, which comes out to USD 440.3 million.
Pantyhose in voile and mousse fabrics have lost speed: With 11 million pairs sold, the former
declined by 4.9%, and the latter dropped by 6.2% to 32.9 million pairs. Above all, the numbers
generated for these two products-respectively USD 27.9 million and USD 34.7 million) - in
the circuit of large general merchandising stores shows that the average price is weak and is
sometimes lower than USD 1.35 per pair.
This past year, consumers preferred pantyhose in classic Lycra, some consumers said they
were more flatting. Even though this product has more or less stagnated at 29.98 million pairs,
it has above all gained value: USD 132.3 million for an increase of 1.4%. Polyamide remained
the leading material in this market.
Pantyhose Becomes Popular Again: The year 2006 saw a flow of 182.7 million pairs of
pantyhose sold, compared to 171.7 pairs a year before. Concentrating on hyper- and
supermarkets, the numbers for 2006 was estimated at USD 435.7 million, a rise of 2.3%.
Classic pantyhose are in a freefall, while costume styles and patterns are working well.
However, because they are so widely used and frequently replaced, they remain at the top of
their particular market. Knee-highs in mousse fabric are the most popular. Particularly in hyperand
supermarkets, these products aren’t very expensive, usually costing about USD 2.70 a pair.
Here, products in mousse fabric still have some sway.
Prices going up to USD 9.50-12.20 for costume-style pantyhose from Dim-who remains a
leader-Well and Le Bourget are a brake for the clientele of hyper- and supermarkets. This
allows for a better understanding of why, on the food stores circuit, pantyhose in voile have lost
4.9% in volume to 11 million pairs sold in 2006, while those in mousse fell 6.2% to 32.9 million
Finally, thigh-high tights are still healthy in the market. They don’t yet rival pantyhose, but they
get a little closer each year. In hyper- and supermarkets, thigh-highs have come up to 10.1%
from 9.9% in volume, to 8.99 million pairs and generating numbers of USD 63.8 million.
Market specialists have noticed that about one quarter of French women aged between 25 and
34 wear D-cup bras, while sales of larger cups (starting at C cups) now represent 56 percent of
bra sales for French women of all ages. This phenomenon is also observed in other European
markets, and consequently French and foreign manufacturers should adapt their products to
this new tendency. In terms of market shares, hypermarkets continue to dominate this
segment with 27.3 percent of sales in value terms, ahead of independent retailers, with 17.8
percent of sales, and mail orders with 16 percent.
The men’s underwear market is booming mainly due to the men’s behavior. Men are favoring
products with strong colors and motifs particularly in the under-30 age group. Men are starting
to care about their appearance. However, this market has its own set of rules. According to
most market analysts, men are very loyal to a brand, mainly for reasons of comfort, quality and
shape. Impulse buying is rare for men. This is why packaging is also important in terms of
merchandising. However, men are lightweights in the global market for lingerie. A man spend
one-fifth as much as a woman on underwear (underpants, boxer, shorts, pajamas). In 2005, each French male over 15 spent, on average, USD 27, against each woman’s USD 144. The
25-34 year age group did better, spending USD 34.
Hypermarkets and large supermarkets are the primary channel of distribution for women’s
lingerie in France with 23 percent of sales and up to 50.7 percent men’s lingerie. Supermarkets
and hypermarkets are making efforts to present their lines and their own brands to attract
consumers, attempting to encourage impulse buying.
Specialized chains accounted for 19.9 percent of total sales of lingerie today against 5.7 percent
in 1990. The success of this distribution network is due to the sales advice that consumers
The independent retailers, which were about 4,000 ten years ago, are now down to about 2500.
They have to deal with competition from the low-price chains.
Long-distance sales are changing the face of the lingerie market today. Since 2004, there has
been a 30% increase in the number of online selling sites in France, and a 45% increase in the
number of transaction completed online.
Thong Underwear: The small but sexy thong underwear has become increasingly popular in
the last 2 years in France. Small accents like a flower, bow, lace, or a double-string have added
extra appeal to consumers.
Classic White: Shows off sophistication for work and daily life, but also seduction and elegance
for special occasions. Gives skin a luminous, colored appearance in contrast, perfect for spring
through fall seasons. Traditional sign of faithfulness and innocence, gives a positive message
no matter how it’s looked at. Cool and clean look that works with almost any outfit.
Passion for Red: Lingerie creators were being daring with red in 2006. A candy red color
reflects a world of energy and sport, made with cotton or micro-fiber. A deeper red in lace or
satin gives off seduction and passion.
Floral Prints: Flowers in all forms, printed and embroidered, Japanese and English, or simply
naïf. Large and small patterns on cotton, satin, or lace are all showing increasing popularity.
Bohemian Theme: Any kind of flowing materials, loose fitting, embroidered with small feminine
patterns, accessorized with pom-poms or thin ties: reflections of the Bohemian style. A sweet
and innocent appearance is revealed by girlie patterns printed on antique and earthy colors like
cream, coffee, vanilla, and olive green.
- Customized strings with charms, ribbons, bows, or flowers decorate the news trends of 2006,
as are small crystals (such as Swarovsky’s).
Styles that combine jewelry, pins and patches with practical underwear.
Boy Shorts/Briefs: Low-rise or high-rise, these small shorts are the biggest trend in lingerie
fashion right now. The shape reveals less backside skin than that of a thong, but the cut also
accentuates the length of legs and the shape of the backside. The sporty and youthful look of
the briefs has made them especially popular among teenaged girls.
Practical and every-day wear fabrics (easy-care, non-allergenic).
Satin and lace are key fabrics in the 2006 lingerie market.
Materials that offer more than a visual element: fabrics that moisturize and massage the body,
or protect against bacteria, sun and static electricity. Examples of these materials are amenity
textiles (cosmetic textiles and pro-vitamin fabrics), preventive textiles (anti-UV, fight against
germs and static electricity) and curative textiles.
The younger generation prefers “sporty” lingerie and is looking primarily for comfort. As a result,
consumers are also taking another consideration into account, such as health, well-being and
safety. These factors should increasingly be taken into consideration, as they might impact on
consumers’ buying habits.
Criteria for selecting lingerie often vary according to women’s lifestyle. Simplicity, emotion,
seduction, and comfort are words used when women talk about their choice of lingerie.
However, in recent years price has become a much more important factor in the purchase of
lingerie. In 2005 and 2006, comfort was the first priority of 77.3% of female consumers. The
second most frequent priority in selection was color by 63.4 % of women, and the third was the
type of material for 60.7% of French women.
Keys to Being Competitive
In order to succeed, U.S. firms need to consider the following strategies:
· Advertising - A key factor in establishing a brand in France is to have an adequate advertising
budget. A foreign company should promote its image effectively and thoroughly. New products
should be aggressively marketed to appeal to French women’s inherent “passion for living”,
which influences their fashion preferences, and which express both their sensuality and
femininity. An effective advertising strategy will use various media outlets (television, print press
and outdoor postings on buildings, buses, etc.).
· Price - Pricing is also one of the key factors. If prices are competitive, American
manufacturers will be able to penetrate the French lingerie market more successfully, including
via mail order directly to the consumer.
· Credit/Delivery Terms - Another important factor is the ability to offer credit terms and re-order
services similar to those of French competitors. A European warehouse is an additional
advantage in meeting short-term delivery requirements.
· Adaptability - Since the lingerie industry is following fashion trends, U.S. companies should be
able to anticipate fashion trends in order to adapt their products.
· Trade Show Participation – Trade shows provide an invaluable opportunity to evaluate fashion
trends and observe the particular characteristics of the market (see information on the lingerie
trade show and on the Lyon Mode City show at the end of the report). In addition, U.S.
companies will have good opportunities to meet with French and foreign potential partners.
· Textile characteristics: Major fiber manufacturers are developing the textiles of the future by
seeking to achieve certain effects through the creative use of fabric. U.S. companies should be
able to propose lingerie with the following characteristics:
-Seduction: with bright and shiny fabrics.
-Emotion: with fabrics that progressively release scents.
-Vitality: with dynamic, molding and shape-enhancing fabrics.
-Comfort: with textiles that preserve warmth and coolness, anti-bacterial and insect-repellant
Market Issues & Obstacles
- The French importer is responsible for paying the Value-Added Tax (VAT) and custom duties.
The VAT of 19.6 percent is calculated on import value and custom fees. Custom duties are
about 12 percent. For further details on VAT, see the European Union Web page on Value-
Added Tax: http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/taxation/index_en.htm
There are no quotas on imports of apparel goods manufactured in the United States. However,
there are some labeling requirements that must be met. The fabric content with the percentage
of the different fibers composed to make the final product is mandatory on the apparel product
Care, size, country of origin, and washing instructions are not mandatory, but are highly
recommended for consumers use. However, if they are included they must be indicated in
French (by law). Symbols may be used, but only with the agreement of the French Committee
for Fabric Care Labels (Comité Français de l’Etiquetage Pour l’Entretien des Textiles –
COFREET, member of the GINETEX)
37, rue de Neuilly
92582 Clichy Cedex
Tel: +33 (0) 1 47 56 31 80
Fax: +33 (0) 1 47 30 27 09
Contact: Ms. Nathalie Gamet
The exporter must be able to present a certificate of origin to customs authorities. The
certificate of origin should correspond directly to the label on the piece of apparel (i.e. if the
certificate of origin indicates that products come from the United States, the label must state
“made in U.S.A.”).
Textile care labeling symbols are managed by the following international organization:
GINETEX (International Association for Textile Care Labeling)
37, rue de Neuilly
92582 Clichy Cedex
Tel: +33 (0) 1 47 56 31 80
Fax: +33 (0) 1 47 30 27 09
Professionals of the textile and garment industry established GINETEX in 1963. The GINETEX
care symbols are registered with the WIPO -World Intellectual Property Organization- in
Geneva, Switzerland as international trademarks. Care symbols must be used with respect of
the use regulations of the trademarks together with the technical information on which they are
The main goals of GINETEX are:
To define symbols for textile care at an international level,
To define the regulations for the use of the mentioned symbols,
To promote the use of the care symbols,
To acquire all markings and rights relative to the symbols,
To register all national and international marks,
To insure protection for all trademarks and symbols as adopted in all the member countries of
The GINETEX care labeling system is mainly dedicated to the uniform use of the symbols in
order to avoid any misinterpretation by the consumer. The GINETEX symbols are simple
enough to be understood in all countries, irrespective of the language spoken by the users, yet
providing as much information as possible on the appropriate care treatments for textile articles
in order to prevent irreversible damage. The professionals are responsible for the choice of
care-treatment in their articles. The GINETEX care symbols cannot be used separately and
shall refer to all treatments in the order: washing, bleaching, ironing, dry-cleaning, and tumble
drying. More information available on their website: www.ginetex.org
Approach to the French market
Agents and distributors
In France, distributor margins vary between 30 and 35 percent depending on the services
provided. In contrast, an agent or representative’s commission usually runs between 10 and 15
percent. French lingerie distributors usually pay for their orders in 90 to 120 days.
An agent works with retailers and end-users to promote the company’s products. Agents
frequently request exclusive representation. Agents are protected by a number of laws in
France. If an American lingerie manufacturer wishes to terminate his business relationship with
an agent prior to the expiration of the contract, the agent must first be contacted and given the
opportunity to improve his performance. If the manufacturer still wishes to end the relationship
after these steps have been taken, the agent has the right to retain the names of all contacts,
clients, and related sales information. The manufacturer may purchase this information from the
agent but often at high cost. Lastly, the manufacturer may often owe the agent a severance
payment ranging from one to two years of the agent’s anticipated future commissions.
A distributor purchases products from the U.S. manufacturer, then adds a 30 to 40 percent
markup to cover commissions, credit risk, after-sales service, and the cost of carrying a local
inventory to meet small orders. The distributor normally pays the Value-Added Tax (VAT) and
customs tariffs. French distributors also often request exclusive contracts. Many U.S.
companies use a distributor when introducing a product, which is the result of a new technology
or design. The distributor shares much of the same legal protections as the agent. If
termination occurs prior to contract expiration, the usual termination costs equal the value of the
distributor’s expected profits over a two-year period. Furthermore, a distributor representing a
U.S., or any other foreign company in France, controls the products’ marketing strategy and
image. The distributor is also not required to communicate market research information to the
U.S. manufacturer. It is therefore important to select a distributor that fully understands and is
willing to follow the American company’s goals and objectives.
Establishing a subsidiary
Establishing a subsidiary offers several advantages to the manufacturer. These include: more
control over distribution practices; the ability to adapt quickly to the evolving needs of the
market; more direct influence over the training of personnel; and better control over
unauthorized dissemination of the technology for which the U.S. firm holds a patent. However,
a subsidiary involves much greater financial investment and the responsibility of maintaining
assets and employees in a foreign country.