Women's, Misses', Children's, and Infants' Underwear and Nightwear

SIC 2341

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing women's, misses', children's, and infants' underwear and nightwear from purchased woven or knit fabrics. Knitting mills primarily engaged in manufacturing underwear and nightwear are classified in SIC 2254: Knit Underwear and Nightwear Mills. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing women's and misses robes and dressing gowns are classified in SIC 2384: Robes and Dressing Gowns, and those manufacturing children's and infants' robes are classified in SIC 2369: Girls', Children's, and Infants' Outerwear, Not Elsewhere Classified. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing brassieres, girdles, and allied garments are classified in SIC 2342: Brassieres, Girdles, and Allied Garments.

Industry Snapshot

Intimate apparel had grown into an impressive $30 billion business by the mid-2000s, with U.S. companies holding a $12.4 billion share of the market. Worldwide, bras had 56 percent of sales in this category, followed by 32 percent for briefs. Boasting relatively low-priced luxury, lingerie is accessible to consumers of all economic levels. All but 16 percent of total lingerie was purchased by consumers in developed countries in the mid-2000s, but some industry analysts expected emerging markets to contribute to forecasted growth, for a projected industry value of $32 billion by 2010.

Comfort was king in the intimate apparel industry. New, more comfortable stretch-microfiber fabrics could be found in underwear and sleepwear, robes, and loungewear. Loungewear also became more dressed up and crossover wear became increasingly popular with manufacturers making clothing that consumers could sleep in, lounge in, or leave the house in. In mid-2000s, growth in this category was still driven by fashion, and consumers felt comfortable spending relatively little for pricier, luxury lingerie items. The trend to casual dress in the United States also factored in to give the loungewear and innerwear industry a boost.

Of the top ten innerwear brands in the mid-2000s, all had been in the top spots for years, although the exact order sometimes changed. Brands included: Bali, Calvin Klein, Fruit of the Loom, Hanes Her Way, Jockey, Joe Boxer, Maidenform, Playtex, Vanity Fair, and Victoria's Secret.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 194 establishments operated in this category for part or all of 2004 for the women's and girls' cut and sew lingerie, loungewear, and nightwear manufacturing industry, the mens's and boys' cut and sew underwear and nightwear manufacturing industry, and the infants' cut and sew apparel manufacturing industry. Industry-wide employment totaled approximately 9,569 workers receiving a payroll of more than $306 million. The Annual Survey of Manufactures reported that the larger category of women's and girls' cut and sew apparel manufacturing industry (also including manufacturing of women's and girls' cut and sew: blouses and shirts; dress; suit coat, tailored jacket, and skirt; and other outerwear), the men's and boys' cut and sew apparel manufacturing industry (also including manufacturing of men's and boys' cut and sew: suit, coat, and overcoat; shirt (except work shirt); trouser, slack, and jean; work clothing; and other outerwear clothing), and the other cut and sew apparel manufacturing industry (also including fur and leather apparel and all other cut and sew manufacturing) was valued at $21.3 billion in 2005. Significant losses (140,000 workers) in expected employment were indicated by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics for the cut and sew apparel manufacturing industry as a whole by 2014 after enormous losses (484,000 workers) were experienced from 1994 to 2004; a minimal decrease of 2.9 average annual rate of change is anticipated in output between 2004 to 2014.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 117 establishments operated in this category for part or all of 2008 for the women's and girls' cut and sew lingerie, loungewear, and nightwear manufacturing industry, the mens's and boys' cut and sew underwear and nightwear manufacturing industry, and the infants' cut and sew apparel manufacturing industry. Industry-wide employment totaled an estimated 18,762 workers receiving a payroll of more than $93 million. The Annual Survey of Manufactures reported that the larger category of women's and girls' cut and sew apparel manufacturing industry (also including manufacturing of women's and girls' cut and sew: blouses and shirts; dress; suit coat, tailored jacket, and skirt; and other outerwear), the men's and boys' cut and sew apparel manufacturing industry (also including manufacturing of men's and boys' cut and sew: suit, coat, and overcoat; shirt (except work shirt); trouser, slack, and jean; work clothing; and other outerwear clothing), and the other cut and sew apparel manufacturing industry (also including fur and leather apparel and all other cut and sew manufacturing) was valued at more than $28.2 billion in 2009.

Organization and Structure

When tracking the density of establishments by their census region of concentration, the highest number of establishments were located in the Middle Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Pacific regions. When ranked by the number of establishments per state, as well as total employment level per state, New York led the way, followed by California, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

Background and Development

The modern history of women's underwear produced for mass consumption more or less began in the 1830s to 1840s with the manufacture of ready-made undergarments. Stay stitchers and gorers using hand techniques were employed in factories or worked from home as "outworkers." Around the early 1860s, the widespread use of sewing machines pushed underwear output to unprecedented levels. Other complementary technologies, like the band knife (which enabled garment workers to slice through several layers of material at once) proved instrumental in reorganizing the factory floor along the lines of the "batch" system.

During the 1870s, underwear was available in attractively packaged boxes with decorative and typically colored labels. Large-scale advertising campaigns trumpeting the virtues of underwear became commonplace by the end of the 1870s. Well into the 1880s, the marketing themes became more explicit in an attempt to match the luxury and erotic appeal of the undergarments. Underwear could be purchased from large department stores or by mail order from companies like Sears, Roebuck and Co. of Chicago or the Great Universal Stores located across the United States.

Fashion historians refer to the period of 1890 through 1913 as the "Belle Epoque." It was characterized as a period of extravagance and conspicuous consumption in women's dress in general and in women's underwear in particular. Underwear was much lighter in appearance, feel, and weight and, compared to its lackluster mid-Victorian antecedents, more luxurious and glamorous in conception. New luxury underwear first became available in sets that included nightwear and were christened with the group name "lingerie," a term derived from the French word "linge," meaning linen. Earlier material mainstays such as cotton longcloth and flannel were replaced by cambrics, merino, and silks. The extravagance in tastes and materials continued to lead the underwear fashion charge until the economic slump of the 1930s, which ushered in the era of mass-produced machine made rayon lingerie.

The nineteenth century introduction of elastene stretch fabrics exerted a tremendous influence on underwear production. Elastene was perfected in the 1930s, when the popularity of ready-made underwear began to seize the day. It supplanted the more upscale fabrics associated with the Belle Epoque.

During the 1940s, events surrounding World War II and its lingering after-effects put changes in the underwear industry on a 10-year hold as resources used throughout the apparel industry were diverted to wartime production. For instance, foundation wear finishing tape was used for cartridge belts; the production of hooks, eyes, and stocking supporters was supplanted by brass armaments manufacture; and ace machines were used for making camouflage nets. Nylon, invented in 1938, was used for glider tow ropes and parachutes; it was not used for the production of underwear until 1947.

During the 1950s, nylon and other manmade fibers entered into the production of underwear and dominated the scene. At the time, nylon's chief drawback was its nonabsorbent property, but later the fabric was somewhat modified and woven to obtain a more comfortable porous state. Another manmade material achieving popularity was rayon, which created a shiny and always new appearance when mixed with cotton. Other manmade 1950 notables were polyester and acrylic undergarments. In 1959 Lycra, arguably one of the most important and versatile of manmade fibers, was introduced and was originally referred to as Spandex or elatomerics, only to be renamed elastene in 1976. Containing no natural fiber at all, Lycra was lighter and proved far more durable than rubber elastic; it remained a foundation wear mainstay well into the 1990s.

The decade of the 1960s and early 1970s ushered in a tumultuous period of great social and political upheaval. Television exerted a powerful influence, and Maidenform Inc. became the first U.S. company to advertise underwear on a national level. Vogue and other glossy women's magazines were highly attuned to promoting a version of what the beautiful woman looked like in terms of both her outerwear and innerwear garments. During this period, attitudes toward sex and the traditional woman's lifestyle, both outside and inside the house, were under assault, opening up new avenues for self-expression and lifestyle changes. More restrictive types of underwear previously equated with outdated notions of decency faded; in their place came bikini-style briefs. The popularity of the briefs, which were available for men and women alike, rested on their comfort and usability.

The teenage apparel market first became a distinct entity during the 1950s and became an institutional mainstay in the 1960s. The needs of younger girls (juniors) for suitable and acceptable underwear reflecting their own stage of development and active involvement in various social activities was readily acknowledged. As a result, the U.S. company Lily of France introduced a special "Lilies" line of underwear for college-age girls, along with a preteen collection called "Teenform," which was later imported into Britain by Berlei.

By the 1990s, the 30-year transformation of children's and infants' underwear had achieved significant results. Unlike the underwear that was worn up to the late 1960s, undergarments in the 1990s washed easier; were more attractive, lightweight, and durable; and were less prone to induce irritation. The comfort provided from T-shirts made from cotton and simple crop tops left a favorable impression on the mother or child able to recall the discomfort related to wearing undergarments made from knitted wool, liberty bodices, and burdensome knickers lined with breakable elastic during the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s.

Downsizing due to the elimination of and mergers between establishments became a recognized trend by the late 1980s. By the mid-1990s things began to stabilize somewhat, yet it was not clear whether the trend had been entirely played out. The opening up of the countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, where there resided a well-trained apparel workforce ripe for capitalist investment, also presented the industry with untapped opportunities that looked promising, even if they had not yet been fully explored. Further long term uncertainties were thrown into this mix with the 1993 passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and later that year, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

Well into the 1980s, the entire U.S. apparel industry was negatively impacted by the erosion of middle-class income earners, who generally accounted for the overwhelming percentage of apparel purchases. At the same time, the growing trend toward the foreign relocation of apparel establishments--and the foreign outsourcing and re-entry into the United States of intermediate apparel-related work formerly performed in the United States under the auspices of provision 9802 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States--did not bode well for U.S. job growth prospects. Apparel import competition leading to the progressive deterioration of domestic market share of U.S. apparel manufacturers also showed no sign of abating.

A new World Trade Organization (WTO) was established in 1995, and the Multifiber Arrangement (MFA) that allowed importing countries to limit the flow of imports from lower-cost, developing countries was replaced by the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC), which required the phasing out of MFA quotas over a 10-year period. According to Linda Shelton in an Industry, Trade, and Technology Review report, "The elimination of MFA quotas likely will have a significant impact on the U.S. textile and apparel sector given the level of protection that such restrictions have provided domestic producers over the past two decades." The United States had until 2005 to implement the ATC, and the legislation's impact on the women's, misses', children's, and infants' underwear and nightwear industry was felt almost immediately by the overall apparel industry. The large amounts of apparel shipped from China, in particular, caused the United States to invoke a WTO safeguard in November 2005 that put limits on apparel imports from China for a three-year period.

Perhaps the most far-reaching domestic response to the deteriorating conditions impacting the industry was to invest in state-of-the-art communication systems that facilitate the rapid flow of information used to immediately react to, and determine, consumer preferences formed in the marketplace. This consumer driven process, which the industry refers to as the "quick response" (QR) system, integrates several dimensions of the production cycle with the intent of shortening the cycle's duration. Via the immediate feedback of consumer sales information from the retail to manufacturing level, producers are able to implement productivity improvements and shrink inventory levels and their associated costs to a bare minimum. To determine the changing direction of consumer tastes, the quick response system compiles the results of consumer surveys, which express what consumers most likely will and will not purchase in the immediate future.

In addition to the QR system, the industry also directed sizable investments at computer controlled automated machinery. With the primary intention of increasing productivity, these investments targeted the areas of design, cutting, embroidery, sewing, finishing, ticketing, and distribution operations. In order to compete within their own industry, as well as against other nonapparel industries, the industry's leading firms were the first to implement these investments to any significant degree. Their ability to finance high-cost technological advances was related to their economies of scale and access to internally generated funds. With the passage of time, if the middle-and lower-tier firms failed to respond by adapting these new technologies, then an uneven pattern of technological change would result and most likely exacerbate the downsizing trend active throughout the industry.

In the late 1990s, globalization best described the apparel industry as a whole, but especially the underwear and nightwear segment. Expected to continue into the next century, foreign sourcing, sewing, and manufacturing--compelling trends of the decade--prompted not only huge savings but also significant growth. A November 1999 issue of Apparel Industry Magazine reported "a seismic shift to overseas sewing;" industry player Fruit of the Loom saw these operations skyrocket from 12 percent to 95 percent, for example. Foreign sourcing of basic knit fabrics, the article also noted, had grown 25 to 30 percent annually during the previous two to three years.

Globalization owed part of its success to the industry's willingness to invest in the latest advancements in information and communication technologies, influencing another market trend industry leaders called speed-to-market, a streamlining process that put products on the shelves and racks more quickly. Many apparel companies implemented these systems enterprise-wide in an effort to not only increase their speed and visibility, but also to fully integrate all of their business needs. Such "One Company" strategies, the executives argued, allowed the business unit to aim for a collective use of resources to reduce redundancies. They added that doing so had a dramatic effect on sales.

In 2001, sales projections had specialty stores leading the sector in sales, with a 30 percent share of the market; mass merchants had a 26 percent share; departments stores captured 16 percent; national chains had 12 percent; and all other channels made up the remaining 16 percent of market share in intimate apparel sales.

Comfort was a key trend in the early 2000s, especially in the lingerie and sleepwear industry. Industry executives noted that clothing with greater comfort, particularly stretch-microfiber underwear and sleepwear, robes, and at-home wear with style and cozy fabrics, was in greater demand in 2001 and 2002. Some attributed the trend to the cocooning effect on Americans after September 11, with travel down and more consumers spending more time at home. Sleepwear sales nationwide rose 9 percent in the first six months of 2002 over the previous year. During the same time, "warm and fuzzy" pajamas prices were up three dollars per unit and silk or rayon pajamas sold for more than three dollars less per unit. Sleepwear and at-home wear rose in specialty stores, national chains, and mass merchants in the first six months of 2002.

The American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) reported in 2005 that production of women's, misses', juniors', and little girls' underwear and nightwear fell for nearly all categories. Nightgowns, pajamas, and other nightwear experienced a slight decrease in quantity (4.2 percent) from 2004 (14.3 million garments in 2004 to 13.7 million garments in 2005) as well as a monetary decrease of 6.5 percent from $77.7 million in 2004 to nearly $61.6 million in 2005. Meanwhile, panties fell in quantity produced by 13.7 percent resulting in a 15.0 percent drop from the 2004 total of $369.4 million to the 2005 total of $314.0 million. Also, brassieres, bra-lettes, and bandeaux dropped in quantity produced by 12.7 percent and the corresponding monetary amount decreased by 8.0 percent (from $1.0 billion in 2004 to $949.6 million in 2005).

For men's, junior boys', and little boys' pajamas and nightwear, a 16.4 decrease in production occurred from 2004 to 2005 (548,000 garments in 2004 to 458,000 million garments in 2005) with a monetary loss of 3.8 percent ($5.2 million in 2004 to $5.0 million in 2005). Meanwhile, all other underwear, including thermal underwear, undershirts, knit undershorts, and woven boxer shorts decreased by 29.5 percent in production (197.8 million garments in 2004 to 139.5 million garments in 2005) for a loss of 26.7 percent (from $355.2 million to $260.2 million).

Imports for nightwear and pajamas of manmade fiber (MMF) experienced an increase from 2004 to 2005 of 12.64 percent from 10.1 million dozen garments to 1.4 million dozen garments for a 2005 total of nearly $471.5 million. Despite this, the number is vastly increased from the 1997 total of 5.3 million dozen. Imports for MMF underwear dropped slightly by 1.64 percent to 46.5 million dozen garments in 2005 for $737.5 million. Imports of bras of manmade fiber fell only slightly as well to 41.0 million dozen garments in 2005 (for $1.6 billion) as did their cotton counterparts (to 8.5 million dozen garments in 2005 for $199.6 million). Cotton nightwear and pajamas increased by 27.39 percent to 21.3 million dozen garments ($916.7 million) while cotton underwear imports rose by 4.1 percent to 230 million dozen garments in 2005 ($2.6 billion).

Comfort was still the most important consideration. At the same time, loungewear became dressier. In fact, it was dressed up enough to leave the house for casual activities. Lounge sets, in flannel or pile with special trims and motifs, were among the lines manufacturers were promoting. Crossover items also became key, with the ability to move from sleepwear to lounge wear to outdoor casual wear. With a surge in popularity, yoga-inspired clothing gave rise to yoga-inspired innerwear lines from manufacturers like Donna Karan, who launched her Donna Karan Intimates Body Spa line that also featured seamless knit microfibers.

Alongside the traditional bikini, hi-cut, and brief panties, trends in styles for the mid-2000s included boy briefs and boy brief "hipster" style panties, which experienced substantial growth for the sector. Colorful styles, prints and appliqués were popular, and the lower rise silhouettes complimented the parallel trend of low-rise jeans. However, G-strings and thongs, especially low-rise versions, remained an important source of volume and expansion for manufacturers and retailers. Seamless lingerie, utilizing the popular microfiber fabric and providing a clean look under clothing, also was an important trend. Other growth areas were in the fuller figure sector.

Cottons were back in for year-round wear, both in woven and knit varieties. Other fabrics such as breathable micro and techno fibers were gaining popularity, however, as were beaded, lacy, and embroidered handcrafted items. Along with consumer demand for comfort, the romantic, feminine look was driving sales for all sectors of this industry, from robes to nightgowns to teddies.

Current Conditions

According to the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), domestic consumption of apparel fell 3.1 percent to 19.5 billion garments in 2008, compared to the reported 20.1 billion garments in 2007. Production of women's, misses', juniors', and little girls' nightgowns, pajamas, and other nightwear fell from 16.9 million garments in 2007 to 15.6 million garments in 2008, a 7.5 percent decline. Underwear consumption fell from 180.7 million pairs in 2007 to 175.2 million pairs in 2008, a decline of 3.1 percent. However, Brassieres, bra-lettes, and bandeaux shipments increased slightly from 7.24 million garments in 2007 to 7.28 million garments in 2008 or by 0.5 percent.

Women's and children's underwear was responsible for 45 percent in industry share employing 1,666 workers who generated about $1 billion in 2009. Women's and children's undergarments captured 21 percent of the industry total with shipment values totaling $27.9 million. Women's and children's nightgowns and negligees held nearly 11 percent of the market employing 1,525 workers with sales of $58.5 million. Women's and children's nightwear manufacturers shipped $77 million in goods capturing 9.6 percent in market share. Women's and children's pajamas and bedjackets manufacturers added another $18.1 million to the industry total.

Industry Leaders

Leaders in the women's and misses' apparel industry during the mid-2000s included VF Corp. of Greensboro, North Carolina, with 2006 sales of $6.2 billion and 45,500 employees under the Vanity Fair label with brands such as Bestform and Lily of France. In second was Liz Claiborne of New York City, New York, with 2006 sales figures of nearly $5.0 billion and 17,000 employees. Hanesbrands Inc., located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was formerly a division of Sara Lee Corp. until it was officially spun off in 2006 and had fiscal-year 2005 net sales of $4.7 billion with 50,000 employees (brands included Playtex, Bali, Just My Size, Barely There, and Wonderbra). Another major player in the industry was New York City-based Warnaco Group Inc., which markets under the Olga, Warner's, and Body Nancy Ganz/Bodyslimmers labels, with $1.83 billion in fiscal year 2006 sales and 10,287 employees. Also, Fruit of the Loom (FOTL), based in Bowling Green, Kentucky, had 2006 sales of $983 million with 23,000 employees as a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway. FOTL produced underwear for women as well as children, using such characters as Spider-Man, Batman, Scooby Doo, and My Little Pony.

Columbus, Ohio-based Limited Brands Inc. (formed by a merger with the former Intimate Brands Inc. in 2002) is the parent company of Victoria's Secret. Victoria's Secret products are sold in more than 1,000 stores throughout the country, via catalog, and online; during 2006, the company's annual report indicated nearly $1.2 billion in operating revenue. The company sells such brands as Dream Angels and Body by Victoria. The company also sends out about 395 million of its ubiquitous catalogs per year, offering intimate apparel, clothing, and footwear. In addition, the company also markets its wares online. Annual televised fashion shows also have garnered attention for the company.

V.F. Corporation reported revenues totaling 7.2 billion in 2009 with 45,700 employees. Liz Claiborne's revenues fell from $4.5 billion in 2007 to $3.0 billion in 2009 with 11,500 employees. With sales plunging as the economy worsened, the company underwent restructuring in 2009, including hiring a turnaround specialist. Hanesbrands Inc. reported revenues of $4.2 billion in 2008 and $3.8 billion in 2009 with 47,400 employees. Warnaco Group Inc. had sales of $2.0 billion in 2009 with 5,400 employees. While no sales figures were available for Fruit of the Loom, the company reported 23,000 employees. The company is the largest market share for branded men's and boy's underwear, as well as its Russell Athletic that leads in team uniforms. From $10.1 billion in sales for 2008, Limited Brands Inc.'s sales fell to $8.6 billion in 2010 with 92,100 employees.


The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2006 that 191,620 workers were in the cut and sew apparel manufacturing industry. The primary segment of the industry was in production at more than 69 percent, or 132,800 workers, with a mean annual salary of $21,190. Sewing machine operators were the primary occupational category with 90,100 workers earning a mean hourly wage of $9.13. By 2014, the industry is expected to experience further significant declines, dropping to about 80,000 per the BLS.

Research and Technology

Computer technology and tools, including processes and products that resulted from them, helped the apparel industry to make great strides in overall output. While such revolutionary accessories like information technology and the Internet streamlined the business and introduced novel approaches like e-commerce, much of the focus remained on providing quality products in a timely manner. Cost proved to be a hurdle for most--if not all--industry participants, but many researched numerous methods and found various means to overcome it. Most of the initial challenges were met with improvements, some of which spawned industry innovations.

Innovations in material were important in driving industry sales during the early 2000s. New, high-tech materials included softer, multifunctional microfiber fabric that had the capability to wick away moisture and increase warmth. They also were better able to retain their shape while providing body control in areas like the stomach and thighs. Easy to care for, new fabrics mimicked the feel of silk and had appealing new textures. Traditional fabrics such as flannel got a boost from technology that gave it an even softer feel. Materials went from two-way stretch to four-way stretch, making for a more comfortable, better fitting garment.

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