Underwear Is Seen as a Hot Category for Pandemic-Weary Shoppers

Putting on a new pair of underwear or socks can help lift spirits in a time when spirits really need to be lifted.

That’s one of the reasons several brands are jumping into the business, either with new products or enhanced offerings. That includes everyone from the number-one underwear brand, Hanes, which this week introduced a new Comfort Fit Flex Support Pouch boxer brief for men, to upstart Mission and the venerable Everlast, which are just getting into the category.

Mission, which produces cooling and heat-relief accessories such as neck gaiters, hats and towels, is introducing socks immediately and will add underwear this summer. Everlast has signed a license for underwear, sleepwear and base layers and the product will hit the market later this year.

Chris Valletta, cofounder of Mission and a former NFL player, said the company started with personal care products for active individuals. Since Day One, Mission, which counts current and former professional athletes Serena Williams, Drew Brees and Dwyane Wade as investors, has worked to “remove temperature as a limiter to performance,” Valletta said.

In 2013, it created its signature product, the cooling towel, which uses a HydroActive wet-to-cool technology to deliver instant cooling properties. But from the beginning, the two most requested items from its customers have been socks and underwear.

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Mission is introducing a line of socks for men and women that use VaporActive, a proprietary technology that releases excess heat and moisture. Valletta said the socks are made from a sustainable yarn created from recycled water bottles; have no chemical additives such as those used by other fabrics offering wicking properties; ventilation panels to create air flow, and vertical cooling panels on the bottom of the footbed. The socks also offer a seamless toe construction, basketweave arch support and antimicrobial features. They will retail for $17.99 for either crew or no-show single pairs or $29.99 for three-packs. They will be sold on the brand’s site and also offered to retailers.

Mission’s socks offer a number of performance features. 

The socks, available in black or white, don’t feature any fancy designs, and that’s intentional, Valletta said. Instead, they concentrate on offering benefits on the inside and are intended to keep feet dry, cool and comfortable.

“And we brought the same technology into the underwear,” Valletta said. The Mission underwear is being finalized now and will be introduced this summer or for holiday, he said. The first product will be a boxer brief for men with a six-inch inseam and a soft waistband that doesn’t fold over; it will retail for $39.99 for a three-pack.

The socks and underwear are just the start of Mission’s move into other product categories, he said, mentioning sleepwear, bedding and industrial applications as future avenues for expansion. And apparel, too, is “on the horizon for us,” he said. The brand tested apparel in 2017, but decided to home in on accessories instead. Getting into apparel is not something to dabble in, Valletta said, but requires a solid commitment. “You can’t try it, you have to come in and own it,” he said. “We have become the number-one player in the spaces where we play and we plan to be that in socks and underwear, too.”

Mission is not the only brand eyeing the lucrative underwear market.

Everlast Worldwide has inked a deal with Sportlife Brands to market and sell men’s, women’s, boys’ and girls’ underwear, sleepwear, base layers and thermals in the U.S. market.

Everlast, whose history dates to 1910, is best known as a boxing brand but has evolved into a fight sports brand and the world’s leading manufacturer, marketer and licensor of boxing, MMA and fitness equipment. The brand has had several owners over the years and is now under the umbrella of the Frasers Group in the U.K.

Margaret Kivett, senior vice president of global licensing for Everlast, said the brand operates primarily under a licensing model and currently counts some 60 partners for products that range from gym bags to fitness trackers. Even before the pandemic, she said, Everlast was exploring getting into loungewear, a category that has exploded since the health crisis.

So it partnered with New York City-based Sportlife Brands because of its ability to produce not only loungewear but other products as well including underwear for men and women. “Everlast is an iconic American brand with universal consumer appeal,” said Elie Levy, chief executive officer of Sportlife, adding that Sportlife is “bringing our deep knowledge in design, production, sourcing, developing lines synonymous with the Everlast name and history.”

Kivett said that although Everlast sells some branded workout apparel in the U.S., the goal is to further increase its reach as a lifestyle brand, hence the addition of underwear, loungewear and base layers, which have a larger potential audience than just fight-related product. “That’s a fairly niche market, but we see great opportunity in apparel and footwear as more of a lifestyle play,” she said.

Kivett said Everlast doesn’t currently have an apparel licensee in the U.S., “but it’s on our radar screen.”

The underwear and loungewear will be available beginning for holiday and will be targeted to mid-tier department stores, sporting goods retailers, Amazon, the Everlast e-commerce site and some off-price stores, she said. Pricing has not yet been established.

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