Published on September 5th, 2016 | by WMG Editor

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We’re going to need bigger pants… Or are we?

It is 15 years since the release of the first Bridget Jones movie, and the famous ‘hello mummy’ quote as Daniel Cleaver, played by Hugh Grant, discovered that Bridget, played by Renée Zellweger, was wearing ‘absolutely enormous panties’.

With that one scene Bridget and Daniel made it acceptable, even sexy, to wear support pants – and talk about them. Today, the market for support pants, now more widely known as shapewear, has grown significantly. The UK-based retail chain Debenhams recorded a 75% increase in shapewear sales between 2009 and 2013, a trend which has continued.  This growth has been led by an unprecedented level of innovation within the sector. Manufacturers have invested in the design, of shapewear, reducing the size, increasing the comfort and improving the style.

Sri Lanka is at the forefront of shapewear innovation, design and manufacture having invested heavily in R&D over recent years, leading to a successful market position. Manufacturers have worked hard to develop products that consumers want at affordable prices, and have built a strong supply chain around it. Through this investment new materials are being used including, patented technologies, such as silicone technology, which have transformed the industry. The supply chain involved in the production of a typical pair of shapewear pants covers 70,764 miles, 16 different manufacturing sites, across three continents, to provide a pair of pants to a customer in London.

P2537 Shape Wear Supply Chain InfographicA complex supply chain exists to make one pair of shapewear pants with materials sourced from Sri Lanka, USA, Germany and Eurasia

It is heartening to see that they have used local capability where possible and sourced globally for components where technological advantage lay in other continents. Even in a product as apparently simple as pants, innovation is critical to ensure long term survival in what will otherwise become a commoditised market.

We are also seeing the innovation developments in shapewear crossing over into compression wear. Nike put the technology to the test in their kits for both the England and France teams in the 2011 Rugby World Cup. This was to enhance the performance and aid recovery of the sportsmen.

The discussion of underwear sparked by the first film can now move on to whether local integrated production or a flexible global supply chain is the most sustainable way to source your shape wear. Who would have thought that there was so much innovation, technology and a 70,764-mile supply chain supporting what appears to be on the surface to be a simple pair of pants.

This blog is written by Professor of Operations and Supply Chain Strategy at WMG, Jan Godsell, and Dr Rivini Mataraarachchi from the University of Moratuwa.

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