Starting an underwear line cannot be done on a whim. The category is dominated by several major brand names, which also includes a plethora of minor labels. Despite the highly competitive landscape, such an undertaking can be rewarding if you have a winning value proposition compelling to your target market.
Focus on the key influences that drive underwear purchase decisions. For instance, the top five underwear purchase drivers are comfort, fit, quality, softness, and durability. Style also is a key purchase driver, but style preference differs greatly by consumer segments. Brand names are important to more than half of underwear buyers, a number that increases in importance as consumers age. Ironically, this contrasts with general apparel market, where brand names drive youth purchases.
Underwear options are nearly as numerous as the list of underwear competitors. In the men's category alone, you have briefs, boxer briefs, trunks, boxers, jock-straps, bikinis, long-johns, and G-strings among others. You can get low-rise, medium-rise and high-rise briefs in an array of different pouches. You can get butt-enhancing cuts, package-enhancing pouches, waist-minimizing waistbands and anatomically-correct designs. When you include women's underwear, including lingerie, the proliferation of options is astounding.
Because there are so many underwear options and variations in purchase behavior by market segment, success in your underwear business hinges on a clear and concise definition of your target market. After you define your target market, you are better positioned to formulate a compelling value proposition that appeals to your market segment, and tailor your product offerings accordingly. Your value proposition is commonly defined as your positioning statement that distinguishes your underwear from your competitors. In the absence of a compelling value proposition, you're just another underwear vendor.
There is no shortage of off-shore underwear manufacturers, including Mainland China, Vietnam, Guatemala and Mexico. Most have off-the-shelf designs ready to ship. Others do custom design work. Exploit the power of the Internet to source suppliers.
However, it could be a powerful value proposition to introduce a line of “Made in America” underwear. For example, in April 2012 Flint & Tinder successfully introduced a line of quality underwear using the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter.com. Fortunately, a few domestic apparel manufacturers remain in business. You may have to do some serious sleuthing to find them and the American Apparel and Footwear Association is a good place to start.