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Friday, April 14, 2006

Lingerie market remains upbeat in tight economic picture

With France's clothing market suffering a drawback in demand as much as other sectors, it is surprising to see one clothing line standing out with quite consistent sales returns year in and year out.

The French lingerie market has seen items such as bras, corsetry, panties and nightwear fly off the racks and shelves in a remarkably robust fashion, with annual overall sales hitting a respectable Euros 2.5 billion (US$3 billion) in flat growth in 2003.

The dynamic end of the lingerie market is the young women's segment, where volume sales have risen about 10% in aggregate over two years.

The most in-demand items for the younger shopper are push up bras and strings, as well as renewable items.

Lingerie, in fact, represents almost 20% of women's clothing spending, with about a quarter of those sales down to promotions and discounts.

Given the realities of the overall market, domestic producers are under pressure from lower-priced Chinese, North African and Eastern European suppliers. Some products, mainly from Morocco and Tunisia, are often sub-contracted from French and other EU producers, with these locations acting as assembly stations for pre-cut goods.

Inevitably, mass distribution, discounting and own-labels are the watchwords in this fast-turnaround business, with hypermarkets and specialized chains dominating the distribution chain.

Among the 25.8 million female population of France, the 35-to-44 age group account for 17.4% of sales, but this group is only marginally ahead of the 25-to-34 age group and just two percent above the 15-to-24 age group, which is growing up fast.

From 2002 to the present it seems that younger women spend far more than their older sisters, with 15-to-24-year-olds paying Euros 152.5 (US$186) per head for lingerie a year, compared to the average across all age groups of Euros 98.7 (US$120.4).

Bras comprise the largest sales market, representing 45% of the entire sector, with some 60 million units sold annually.

Imports have indeed been on the increase, with Tunisia providing 21% of the market, and China ranking second with 13%.

Briefs and panties, representing 30% of the lingerie sector, see about 122 million units sold annually, with the market sustained by a strong increase in string undies in recent years.

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