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True & Co. Sells an $18 Bra Set for $46: Can a Markup Be Too High?

true-and-co-trove-bra-set

Screenshot of True & Co's Trove Swiss Dot Bralette and Panty Set

The subject of pricing is perhaps one of the most emotionally fraught topics in the lingerie world. Consumers are often convinced they're paying too much for lingerie, while brands and retailers frequently believe their margins are too small.



Furthermore, it is true that margins in the lingerie industry are among the narrowest in the fashion world; an absence of automation combined with specialty fabrics and high R&D costs all contribute to lingerie being incredibly expensive to produce...far more than a t-shirt or a pair of jeans.

However, it's also true that a knowledge gap exists which is easy for savvy brands to exploit. Lingerie, as an industry, receives very little media coverage. A few a strategic press releases, a bit of shiny branding, and an intimates company can largely convince the fashion press of whatever it likes. There simply aren't enough experts in the niche with enough background information to disagree.

Recently, while compiling items for TLA's annual holiday shopping guides, I ran across a rather noteworthy example of the pricing/knowledge gap phenomena, and I want to use that to open up a discussion regarding retail markups and how pricing influences customer expectations.

As of this writing, True & Co. has the set shown at the top of this post listed on their website for $46. That doesn't seem like such a bad price, right? It's eyelash lace and swiss dot mesh for under $50 - perfect for holiday gift giving.

Except...the actual retail price for this set is a LOT cheaper, and I do mean a lot. Made by Leg Avenue, the 2-pc. Swiss Dot Cage Set typically sells for $18 - less than half of True & Co.'s price.

true-and-co-leg-avenue

Left: Flat lay images via True & Co. Right: Leg Avenue screenshot.

Suddenly, that great price seems like less of a bargain. To be more explicit about it, that $46 price can even feel like a bit of a ripoff, especially since the True & Co. set is final sale.

Before we go any further, I know markups are a part of doing business. Retailers have to price things over wholesale (basically, the cost of what it takes to make something) to cover marketing, photography, tradeshows, websites, electricity bills, salaries, and so on.

Quinne covered this in incredible detail in her "Why is Lingerie So Expensive?" series. Therefore, I'm not asking if companies should markup their products at all. They absolutely should. Rather, I'm wondering how much of a markup is too much?

I wrote to True & Co. directly to ask for clarification before writing this post, and was told the higher markup for these pieces has to do with researching, sourcing, curating, rebranding, and repackaging them.

I was also told the prices for these items in particular included the expenses of their Creative Director and the costs of reshooting them with a well-known fashion photographer and New York model. Finally, I was told the $18 retail price is actually the wholesale price, which, unfortunately for True & Co., is simply not the case.

trashy-com-screenshot-leg-avenue-bra-set

A screenshot from Trashy.com of Leg Avenue's Swiss Dot Cage Bra Set at the $18 price.

My issue with this kind of pricing scheme, no matter what True & Co.'s justifications may be, is that it contributes to the disconnect many consumers already feel between what they pay and what they get. Just as there are size breaks in the lingerie industry, there are also price breaks. People have rightfully different expectations regarding quality, fit and sizing as an item increases in price.

By positioning an $18 lingerie set as a $46 one, those expectations are potentially being tampered with. That has profound - and depressing - implications for how consumers may view the industry in general and, in particular, the trope of "overpriced lingerie."

I'd like to hear what you all, as lingerie shoppers, think of cases like this? Are you unbothered, especially if, as the saying goes, "Ignorance is bliss?" Or would you be disappointed to discover you could have found this set for much cheaper from another retailer? Do you believe markups significantly over the recommended retail price are deceptive or is that just a part of doing business in this day and age? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Cora
Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

44 Comments on this post

  1. Maureen says:

    The pricing on bras for 36 F or G is so high. Then I buy and the bras are not as promised. It has made me not want to pay the high prices at all. I have been buying $25 Amazon soft bras and they are just as bad fitting and uncomfortable as the $80 bras – but cheaper and they last longer. I have a few expensive name brand bras for wearing “out” – they look great but are uncomfortable – at home I wear the cheapies.
    I have no trust for online bra companies. Paying over $50 for a soft bra that won’t last a year and gives me uniboob is just not okay with me. Seeing the same bra somewhere else at half the price makes me doubt every one of their products.
    I have a business and sell products, I understand markup, no one can stay in business if they give things away. But the mark up seems excessive for ill designed products – such as lace on the bottom of wired cups that rolls in and cuts the wearer because it is not cut and sewn to lie flat under tension, wires that push into the armpit or escape their channels on the second or third wearing, little metal ornaments that get hot in the sun, even when covered and burn the wearer, large size bras with too skinny and stretchy straps that cut into the shoulders. Because I am in the market for a comfortable bra I look and that means I am bombarded with bra ads. They promise everything and deliver very little.
    I have been fitted and I know my correct size – sizing in larger cups has always been highly variable, but now with the Asian market everything is a best guess. How can companies that size their bras as general ranges of S, M, etc. price their bras the same as bras with band and cup sizes (34C, 36G, etc.)? They do not have to carry as many sizes.
    The bra industry is pricing itself out of the market.
    There is so much hype that I don’t believe anything I read

  2. Belle says:

    Normally when you make posts about pricing in lingerie I learn something valuable and new about the business and change my mind about cheap vs value. Especially in terms of independent brands. In this instance I have to say I am outright insulted at the audacity of this move. The reason True&Co provided…. Are those direct quotes or a summarization on your part? Because their answer made it worse for me. Additionally, I am wondering if they provide the info on their website that it’s Leg Ave as most people would recognize that brand right away for its cheap reputation. Everything about this means I will stay clear of T&C in the future as this makes it seem they are anything but truthful.

  3. Séraphine says:

    This is the second time I’ve noticed rebranding used to sell products at a considerable markup, and it’s made me more interested in the process. Is it a very widespread practice? I’ve never shopped not knowing the brand of what I’m buying, but I realize there are some retailers out there (like True & Co., apparently) who use tricks to obscure the original branding.

    Actually, the first time I noticed this happening at somewhere I shop is Modcloth. I’d say True & Co. and Modcloth likely have significant consumer crossover, given their respective target markets, and it makes me suspect classism as a more sinister reason for the practice. At Modcloth, they regularly rename items (usually to something kitschy and ‘punny’) and purposefully obscure even well-established brand names, like Betsy Johnson and Steve Madden, through menu click-through options. With those items, I’ve noticed less markup, but with smaller items that sometimes didn’t even have any branding or company information listed, the price increases were considerable. (Is it “rebranding” as a practice only when products are purposefully altered under an agreement with the original manufacturer, or do these practices count, as well?) I realize that the original company name and description of an item may not fit Modcloth’s aesthetic choices, but it seems much more about obscuring one’s product sources and making shopping smartly online much more difficult. It leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth — no one enjoys being lied to, especially regarding fiscal matters.

    Regarding my mention of classism, though, I bet most customers of True & Co. wouldn’t have considered a Leg Avenue purchase had it been labeled as such. Most consumers are aware of Leg Avenue as a purveyor of sexy Halloween costumes, and again, that doesn’t fit with the in-house aesthetic being cultivated. Both companies come off as white, middle-class ventures, and I’ve seen plenty of people in those categories refer to the more seasonal items from Leg Avenue as “racy” and even “trashy.” If that’s the case, then clearly, the rebranding serves a dual purpose.

  4. lia says:

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head again. Markups are fine and necessary. But selling an $18 set for $46 is remarkably misleading. Who is going to be satisfied when they receive it and are expecting higher quality? They’ll likely feel ripped off and return it, possibly to never shop there again. I have never purchased from them and hearing this means I never will.

  5. stephie says:

    I dont understand. Is this a Leg Avenue set? or a Leg Avenue knock off? maybe it is made with slightly better materials?

    On their about us page, True & Co claim the designs are their own and done by the former designer from the Lake and the Stars.

    I think an interesting post would be how “brands” actually buy wholesale from places like Leg Avenue and then try to make it seem like it is a designer piece. To me that is dodgier than the mark up.

  6. Lady Libertine says:

    Unfortunatly, this is an extremely common practice. Most clothing, actually, most consumer goods on the market are made for pennies by exploited people. I don’t believe it’s right, but I’m also surprised people are still shocked that this is happening. Everything you buy is marked up more than it should be, to gain disproportionate profit for one person or company. $18 is still a rip off in my opinion, the poor person who made it is lucky to see 18 cents of that. If you don’t want to see your lingerie being marked up 1000x between the person who made it and the person you’re buying it from, try buying directly from the person who makes it. There quite a few vertically integrated lingerie companies. That way you know what you’re buying is exclusive and you won’t find it anywhere else cheaper. Always check where something you’re buying is made. You can assume pretty much anything made in China is basically worth of pennies. I do not think it ethical for companies to charge twice the suggested retail price, or take mass produced crap and slap their own labels on it (which I have also seen often), but this is just a reminder for consumers to be more aware. The more you were willing to pay that much for something made in China, the more retailers will stop making anything domestically themselves. Can you blame them if they know you will pay the same price for something that costs them a 10th as much to make? Increasing profits is just smart business to them, it’s up to consumers to keep companies accountable by educating themselves about what they are buying.

  7. MiskiDwie says:

    I might be mistaken, butttt…. I think that the original piece is *actually* from Wink Gal, not Leg Avenue, and retails for $9.

    • Cora Cora says:

      Wink Gal sells a bra alone similar to this one (although the cut of the lace is different) for $9.90. There is no coordinating panty for the Wink Gal piece.

  8. Tabitha says:

    This is a really bad business model that ends up hurting consumers and the industry. I stopped buying my lingerie from Victoria’s Secret, Frederick’s of Hollywood, and similar retailers because the prices eventually became so high, and the quality became so low. I’ve even had sales clerks advise me to shop for a lingerie item at a different store or from a different company, (when out of earshot of their employers), because the item was priced too high.

    So, after a couple of experiences like that, when an unassuming consumer comes along and sees a lingerie item at a “boutique” and/or “ethical” lingerie manufacturer, (e.g. Bluestockings, etc.), he/she may automatically conclude that this company is just like V.S., etc. and selling low quality merchandise at astronomical prices Furthermore, the way that lingerie companies steal each other’s designs and/or create “knock-offs”, further infuriates consumers who buy an article at one price, only to see it later being undersold elsewhere.
    I wish that more manufacturers would come together to inform the public about these practices, and work together to drive out these unscrupulous companies, raise the excellence bar for the entire industry, and display some respect for consumers everywhere. But until then, I guess that clueless consumers will keep on buying those diamond and other jewelry encrusted bras every ear after the annual televised runaway show of “heavenly” models showing off their latest lingerie just in time for Christmas buying, while much of the industry remains guiltily silent!

    • Cora Cora says:

      I really don’t see the industry or manufacturers coming together in this way. The industry as a whole still sees online shopping as inferior to the “real” business of brick and mortar, and there’s very little industry-wide education or enrichment going on, especially with regards to marketing, branding, advertising or other such topics. It’s an insular industry that, by and large, doesn’t understand the value of speaking directly to consumers (unlike, say, the beauty industry). While I understand it might be impolitic for most brands to speak up directly about specific cases like this (and I wouldn’t expect manufacturers who benefit from these practices to speak up at all, of course), I do wish there was more education regarding how to recognize quality lingerie or how to better understand the price-value equation. There’s a tremendous knowledge gap when it comes to both of those concepts.

  9. Red says:

    Lol Cora, your diplomacy is admirable. This is a completely deceptive scheme that preys on the ignorant buyer and has nothing to do with genuine or reasonable mark ups but lining their own pockets on the cheap.

    • Red says:

      On a somewhat unrelated note, are companies or brands scared of damning articles from you? I’m curious how much revenue power your readership holds over sites like this one.

      • Frankie says:

        I’d like to know the same thing. After writing to True & Co with the URL to this article, I haven’t heard back at all. I bought this very lingerie set and demanded answers. Ladies…what can I do to drum up some attention? Not just for my own frustration but so that this company is held accountable?

        • Cora Cora says:

          I would share it with people you know. I truly believe educating consumers about their options and how to become more-informed lingerie buyers and wearers is the key here.

          • Frankie says:

            True&Co replied to me and gave me a refund. Here’s what they’r CS rep wrote to me:

            Thank you for contacting Customer Support at True&Co.

            True&Co. does make our own brand of products, all of which are designed in house. We also carry third party products, including the Swiss Dot Bralette and Panty Set by Trove or Leg Avenue.

            Every item has the brand name above the item name on the product detail page, I have attached a screen shot for your reference.

            I have price matched the item with the article you sent along. Please allow 2-3 days for the refund to post to your bank statement.

        • lia says:

          Maybe try reaching out on social media like twitter, facebook, or instagram? Sometimes they may be more receptive there in order to save face. Best of luck!

  10. Frankie Huang says:

    Damn it, I literally *just* purchased that Swiss Dot set like 12 hours ago! I’ve written to True and Co citing your impressive article and demanding a refund

    • Beth says:

      In the UK we have the distance selling act where we can cancel an order 14 days after making it if purchased online /mail order do you have something similar?

      • Cora Cora says:

        While looking at what the FTC has to say would definitely be an option, we don’t really have any nationwide laws like that here. Consumer Rights’ laws vary by state, so the first step would likely be reviewing the California Attorney General’s website regarding refund and return policies.

    • Cora Cora says:

      Please let me know if they respond!

  11. Katie says:

    The lingerie world seems to be split into big name established brands, indie brands and online brands with silicone valley crazy investment and valuations with huge promotional spends. It’s unfortunate that unless you are in the industry and/or are a Lingerie Addict then you’re unaware, with the latter, that most of your money is going into marketing (creative directors, big name photographers etc) instead of the actual product.

  12. Thursday says:

    This is not the first time I’ve seen a low-end brand of lingerie sold at a massive mark-up. I find that one of the reasons I want to be familiar with offerings at the low price end of the spectrum is so I can avoid situations like this, and I will run a mile from vendors who do so. I agree that it’s so problematic because the quality-price relationship in lingerie is already so opaque to many consumers, so to pass off a Leg Avenue quality piece at more than double the recommended price is short-sighted profiteering. At under $20, who will be surprised when this set only holds up for a couple washes? If you’ve plonked down almost $50 instead, you’re going to pretty disillusioned and less likely to plonk down similar money again for a piece which has been made to a higher quality. This is a phenomenon that particularly annoys me when cheaply made plastic boned bustiers are sold at ridiculous mark-ups as “corsets”, and the uneducated buyer finds them horribly uncomfortable and doesn’t understand how anyone can wear a corset!

  13. Rebecca says:

    This honestly comes off as intentional deception: trying to pass an item off as higher quality than it is, in order to make a nice profit. I’d even wager a guess that the fashion photographer and model were hired to take new, glamorous photos, specifically to make the lingerie seem more expensive than it is. I also think that more educated lingerie consumers might be more susceptible to falling for this sort of deception: to me, $48 is cheap for a lingerie set. So if I bought a set for that price and found the quality to be low, I would not be surprised/blame True & Co for selling me a cheap product, since I “knew” what I was getting into. Whereas the completely clueless consumer might be genuinely disappointed by the quality, underestimating the cost of lingerie in general.

    • Cora Cora says:

      I’m glad you shared this perspective, and I agree that it also disadvantages “lingerie addicts” as well as other lingerie consumers. And definitely, the marketing around this product is specifically about divorcing it from it’s inexpensive roots and positioning it as more of a high-end brand.

  14. Robin M. says:

    As a customer, I find both weird and annoying the (seemingly downscale) practice of re-branding… esp at the low end for the Leg Avenue type of product that is akin to fast fashion. Give label credit to the designer- enough is enough. As Google image search improves over the years it wont be ANY secret that a dozen “brands” or stores claim the exact same look is their own.
    I find the below response from the store in the article to be really stupid and complete B.S. “I” the consumer did not ask for a previously packaged/labeled garment to be “re branded”.
    RE:
    “markup for these pieces has to do with… rebranding, and repackaging them…expenses of their Creative Director and the costs of reshooting them with a well-known fashion photographer and New York model.”

    I want to pay fair price for the garment- not the ego or the hoodwinking going on with rebranding. The rest seems completely un-necessary to the design, manufacture and distribution. I want the garment to be made ethically, and preferably by a company who gives a try to sustainability. The 100% purposeful blurring of who created, mass produced and is now claiming to be the brand for the garment is anything but the transparency that fashion and lingerie needs to bring to the public.

    In short, I am starting to have a preference for stores that I feel comfortable are a short chain length from the true manufacturer. This I test in a way when I ask questions of the store re: product specs, asking them to ask the brand label. In some instances (including French manufacturers) I can get answers via email as a consumer.

    In the $46 vs $18 example, I highly doubt I would pay the high end based on the seemingly limited construction & very high percent of garment being elastic strips. I think many people are being influenced by the cheap (cost & production) of China… e.g. when you see thongs like the above on Amazon, Ebay, etc for $2.99. There are now many factors contributing to consumers who refuse to believe that price and production have anything to do with each other.

    As a small-cup petite, I stay away from retailers and brands who only have S/M/L. (I agree with the poster who was also frustrated by sites never saying exactly what body size a S/M/L relates too!). I like to selectively spend with designers/manufactures who have enough care to explore fit, feel & quality by TRYING to make a range of sizes because they have personal design investment (beyond money) in the garments. To me, a label or store that only has a S/M/L plus a pathetic lack of care in customer service and poor consumer experience seems “cheap.”

    Maybe that makes me a lingerie snob, after being a collector for many many years. But if I have a gut feeling that the garment was made on the cheap, then I don’t want the rub off feeling of being cheap. (i.e. that someone in a sweatshop made this & the roof will fall on them and kill them).

    The entire clothing industry screws around with price- dynamic to day/time/volume of searches. The fatal flaw= consumers dont see the correlation of price paid to price made.

  15. Meredith says:

    I would not have been disappointed to find that I could have gotten the set for less. I would have been incredibly ticked off.

    Also, apart from me and my feelings, consider the impact to Leg Avenue. If True & Co aren’t saying it’s a Leg Avenue set, then it could look to customers as though Leg Avenue is producing knock-offs, when they’re actually producing the original article.

    • Cora Cora says:

      Ah…that’s another good point. I’ve definitely had conversations with people who believe, say, Oh La La Cheri knocked off Frederick’s of Hollywood when the truth is Frederick’s of Hollywood is stocking Oh La La Cheri. That’s definitely a major issue with rebranding, but I don’t know if the brands who are selling their products to these more popular companies care all that much.

  16. cassie says:

    honestly, just knowing that true &co did this, i would not recommend them to anyone, and even if i could get into their size range, i would actively choose not to. i know that retail is tricky and that good lingerie (especially in large cups ) is expensive. i’m willing to pay for quality and support as a former K cup. i couldn’t pay less before because my health and comfort was paramount. now that i have the opportunity as a F cup to get cheaper things, i still try to buy from companies that make a good product and produce the whole size range, or get custom made if i can, since i pay less over all and my bras wear longer. i agree with Erica on all points, and think that True &Co is doing no one any favors. other than their bottom line, that is. and that’s not good enough for me.

  17. Satu says:

    Gosh, that just seems like too much for me. Most of my bras have been quite pricey and that’s fine, but this kind of markup just makes me look at the seller differently and not in a good way. Makes me think of K-beauty product pricing in the US, I understand that importing and marketing and profit will mean a markup is necessary but when a price rises more than 100% it starts to feel like sellers are taking advantage of customers unfamiliarity with the brand and original pricing.

    • Cora Cora says:

      I agree with you here. Even if it’s not the intent, the appearance is that True & Co. is betting on a lack of consumer awareness to pad their bottom line.

  18. Domino says:

    I think a $28 markup on a Leg Ave set is unethical; the fancy fashion photographer and well-known model don’t mean anything to the consumer, to use those as a justification for that much of a markup is disingenuous and really only serves the company, as they are trying to pass off lower-quality items as more upscale. I understand paying for quality and am happy to pay for something that is hand-crafted with fine materials; however that is not the same thing as buying a boxed lingerie set and hiking the price up and using a “fancy” model and laughing all the way to the bank. If I had paid $46 for that set and found it elsewhere for $18 I’d be FURIOUS. It happens all the time across many industries, I was looking for custom precious jewelry and found a price difference of over $300 for the same item from two different vendors. I think a lot depends on whether companies are taking a long or short term approach when dealing with customers. If they just want to make as much money as quickly as possible they feel justified in ripping people off, if they take the more long term route and want to develop relationships over a buying lifetime, they would not treat their customers with such blatant disrespect. Doing research is pretty easy, and it’s not hard to figure out who’s scamming and who respects the people who buy what they sell.

    • Cora Cora says:

      Absolutely true about the long term vs. short term view, here. Unfortunately, I think of a lot these lingerie startups are more invested in the short term goal of immediate profitability (which may be a result of investor pressure) rather than taking the long view on making it in the intimate apparel industry.

  19. sara says:

    Also…how can a BRA be ONE-SIZE? This makes no sense. At least they should say what the one size is so someone can choose to buy or not accordingly.

  20. As a lingerie retailer, I am experienced with navigating narrow margins and balancing mark-ups, and this situation drives me crazy. One of the battles I face daily is explaining to customers why we don’t offer many sales or discounts. People have been conditioned by US companies to believe the retail price is *designed* rip them off, that if they aren’t getting it at 20, 30, even 50% off the MSRP, then they are paying too much. I admit I feel the same way about certain brands myself. But for lingerie, that’s not the case. For my store, we try to stay around MSRP if at all possible because most manufacturers put a lot of time and effort into coming up with that figure and feel it best represents their products. If they do reshoot the pictures or use the set as a booster to offset lower margin items, I still don’t think going that much higher is really necessary. They could have retailed it for $29 to cover the professional photographer fees and margin building while still be fair to consumers. Plus, as we all know, many of those MSRPs reflect quality. If the piece is only supposed to be $18, customers will have different expectations than if it is nearly $50. That’s one of the concerns I always keep in mind with pricing too. If you aim higher than the quality supports, customers will know and will not be happy long term. Retail is hard and super frustrating, but we need to build and maintain consumer trust. In my opinion, the best way to do that is to charge a fair price for the product and services rendered.

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