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FASHION

Nubian Skin, others add variety to the undergarments market

Nubian Skin, Nude Barre, Frangi Pangi, Brun et Noir and Pendeza give undergarment consumers more choices

Pretty little things like undergarments add up to quite a pretty penny when it comes to sales. According to market research giants NPD Group and Euromonitor, 2014 intimate apparel sales (bras, panties, day wear and shape wear) were about $80.5 billion globally and $11.1 billion in the U.S.

It's one of the few categories of fashion women continue to purchase during hard economic times, "But what's surprising is, post-recession, the intimate apparel market is kind of lagging along," says Marshal Cohen, NPD Group chief industry analyst. "There's a lack of innovation and excitement in the intimate apparel market. Very little of it is new."

"Just around the recession Spanx was hot and the recession didn't even hold it back," says Cohen. "But now women have their supply of body shapers and they don't need more of them. There's even less innovation when it comes to bras and panties."

Enter Nubian Skin. "A niche market, such as catering to a minority consumer base or looking at the market from a different perspective, like Spanx, can be an innovative piece of the puzzle," says Cohen. "Sometimes a small business turns out to have the most growth opportunity. I'm surprised it took this long for a [business like Nubian Skin] to materialize."

There are other options for undergarments for women of color — who make up about 32% of the U.S. lingerie market, according to NPD Group — but they're limited. You can buy L'Eggs Brown Sugar hosiery in the U.S. "But L'Eggs is appealing to an entirely different market, particularly in terms of price, than Nubian Skin," writes Cora Harrington, editor of the popular lingerie blog thelingerieaddict.com. A pair of L'Eggs is about $3 (hanes.com). At Nubian Skin pantyhose are about $10 (nubianskin.com). Bras start at about $37 (nubianskin.com) and panties at $13 (nubianskin.com).

"It's a bit like how there are dozens of hosiery brands making opaque, black tights but there's still room for both Wolford and Target. Nubian Skin has pitched itself as a fashion-forward, luxury resource for nude hosiery for women of color.... More options in the marketplace, particularly for a traditionally underserved demographic, is always better," Harrington says.

Harrington adds that other similar hosiery brands — such as Nude Barre, Frangi Pangi, Brun et Noir and Pendeza — haven't received as much attention as Nubian Skin. And as for companies offering a range of coordinating undergarments, there are limited options. "There have been a number of false starts," says Harrington.

Chez Johnson is the founder of the lingerie boutique byChezBoutique.com. She says women with deeper skin tones can find good hosiery and shape wear options with the brands Wolford, Spanx and Commando but the most consistently asked question from these clients is why can't they find other everyday undergarments.

"As a store buyer I notice a huge gap in the market is lingerie, lounge wear and undergarments, like panties and bras, for women of color," says Johnson. "You want a nice chocolate-brown, everyday bra to wear under a white T-shirt, a nice lace-colored bra or a minimizing bra or a garter, and everything is very colorful and trendy but when it comes down to basic necessities at a reasonable price, we didn't really have that option." Now consumers have more choices.

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