Why is Lingerie So Expensive?: Photography, Marketing and Other Invisible Costs

Shell Belle Couture

Shell Belle Couture

Perusing the racks at your favorite lingerie boutique, you admire a beautiful bra set carefully displayed on the mannequin. Yet when you check the tag…sticker shock! How can such a tiny piece of clothing cost so much?

In part one of this series I talked about fabrics and trims, and in part two I discussed the actual creation and design of lingerie. In this final installment, let’s talk about those invisible costs you don’t see when buying that expensive bra or panty.



What do I mean by “invisible costs”? When you pay for a set of fine lingerie, you’re not just paying for the lingerie itself, you’re also paying for everything that happens in order to make that set.  Like any other company, a lingerie brand can’t keep making lingerie unless it can pay for its expenses. Unless the line only sells in-house, Trashy Lingerie, most sales come from retailers, who usually pay less than half of retail price for their products. So all of these costs must be covered in the wholesale price!

Lascivious

Lascivious

Photography is often the first encounter we have with a lingerie label. Photoshoots for lookbooks and online stores are one of the most important expenses and require entire teams of people to create them. Later, the photos need to be edited (all professionally-shot photos need to be edited – sometimes for slight things, sometimes for much more) and shared, digitally or in print.

Felice Art Couture

Felice Art Couture

Without marketing, you wouldn’t know about your favorite lingerie brands, period. Advertising in mainstream fashion magazines is expensive – very, very expensive. A full-page ad in one issue can cost over $150,000, easily. Working with well-known fashion and lifestyle bloggers online can also cost hundreds of dollars.

On the other end of the advertising spectrum, effective web banners can be a few hundred per month, and social media only costs as much as the person running it charges. Even though I consider myself a designer and an entrepreneur, as a one-woman-show, doing marketing for my label is a huge part of my job. In her series about the real value of handmade lingerie, Angela Friedman talks about the huge amount of time she spends just on social media. Advertising can easily be one of the biggest expenses of a lingerie label, and marketing costs need to be covered in sales.

CURVENY New York, February 2014

CURVENY New York, February 2014

Trade shows are one of the best ways for a lingerie label to get in front of the world’s top retailers. However, they’re very expensive. For a well-known show, even a small booth typically costs thousands of dollars to rent for the weekend…and that price doesn’t include clothing racks or signs.

Add in flight, hotel, and merchandise shipping costs if the brand has to travel to the show, and you can imagine how much lingerie they’ll need to sell to pay for that single weekend!

Olivia Feldman Lingerie Showroom

Olivia Feldman Lingerie Showroom

Showrooms and sales representatives are another method of getting lingerie in front of buyers. Showrooms need their own set of samples on hand, and their personnel must be specially trained regarding the label in order to sell it effectively. In exchange for marketing and getting lingerie collections in front of retailers, they take a percentage of sales made or charge a monthly fee.

Made by Niki

Made by Niki

Websites and online stores have completely changed the way many lingerie brands do business, allowing them to get their designs in front of consumers across the globe without going through trade shows or show rooms. However, most shopping platforms take a percentage of sales as well as a monthly fee. A well-designed, beautiful website takes a web designer who knows what they’re doing. Add in hosting and domain fees and running that online store isn’t cheap.

Agent Provocateur's Madrid boutique

Agent Provocateur’s Madrid boutique

Storefronts In metropolitan areas, retail space can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per square foot.  That doesn’t include the cost of mannequins, signage, lighting fixtures, beautiful hangers, display cases, furniture, curtains, wallpaper, hiring and training sales staff, or even utilities and insurance. It’s very, very expensive to run a lingerie boutique, and these costs are paid for only in sales.

Agent Provocateur is one of those brands that many people consider “overpriced”, but they have to be able to afford to run their beautiful storefronts with those iconic, uniformed sales associates. When people say you’re paying for a brand, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re only paying for a concept or an image. Like any lingerie label, you’re paying for the company to run the way it does. Agent Provocateur wouldn’t be Agent Provocateur at any other price point.

Angela Friedman in her NYC studio. Photo by Kristen Blush

Angela Friedman in her NYC studio. Photo by Kristen Blush

Studio space isn’t typically as expensive as storefront space, but is a necessary cost for every lingerie label. If they hire their own sewers and patternmakers instead of contracting an outside factory, they have to pay for the space as well as the machinery, supplies and technology needed for these tasks.

Andres Sarda

Andres Sarda

Employees Obviously, a label will employ designers. They also employ fabric and trim buyers, patternmakers, factories, production managers, photographers, hair and makeup artists, stylists, graphic designers, marketing specialists, social media managers, customer service professionals, web designers, printers, shipping managers, finance managers, accountants, assistants to all of these positions, and so many more inside and outside the company itself. A brand can’t run without personnel, and personnel need to get paid.

I hope this series has helped you understand why lingerie can be so expensive! Did anything surprise you? Have you changed your perspective on expensive lingerie?

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Quinne
Quinne Myers

Quinne Myers is based in Brooklyn, NY where she runs the ethically-made loungewear line, she and reverie. She is also a textile designer, a watercolor illustrator, a writer, and a consultant for the lingerie industry.

5 Comments on this post

  1. Amber Newman says:

    Yes- the photo shoots, the printed materials and postage, paying the people who do social media…whew!!!

  2. Brilliant article, especially the detail of what goes into a photo shoot before, during and after the actual shoot takes place. It’s great to see professional photography being recognised as a vital component of branding and marketing x

  3. HerRoom says:

    Great post! Very insightful!

  4. Robin M. says:

    “Agent Provocateur wouldn’t be Agent Provocateur at any other price point.”
    Do the subdivisions feed profit back into the core AP brand?
    I have wondered about L’Agent being created for 1) additional revenue stream, 2) PR value (making the “A” & “AP” household names) via semi-celeb association & mass distribution, 3) a stepping stone to groom a fraction of the L’Agent audience into someday becoming AP customers, 4) a place to efficiently re-image prior years’ AP lines as inspiration- selling to those who may not see the resemblances, OR like the fact the lower line resembles vintage AP.
    This discussion is doubling interesting to me, as a digital marketing professional and an owner of many AP pieces. Thank you for this blog series, as it’s very helpful to see the bigger picture.
    In an era of fast fashion, the back-story is (conveniently??) pushed to the side. I applaud the vendors who keep quality workmanship as a top goal.

    • Quinne Quinne says:

      Robin, I don’t know much about L’Agent (It could even be licensed out? Really, no idea) but I’d say “Yes definitely” to 1, 2, and 3, and “possibly” to 4. When you have a brand as strong as AP’s, success comes easy with a diffusion line like L’Agent. Does the success of a lower-priced line mean AP could have been lower-priced to begin with and still be AP? Probably not in the same way. Interesting things to think about. Glad you liked the series!!

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