It took more than half a century for the latest newcomer on the lingerie scene to bring its debut collection to market — and it may be just in time.
Wonderform Intimates launched its online e-commerce shop last month, featuring three collections of low-priced bras, panties, garter belts and corsets in standard and plus-sizes.
But the Montreal-based, family-run Wonderform is no stranger to North American consumers — even though most wouldn’t recognize its brand name. Wonderform has been a behind-the-scenes player in the wholesale lingerie business since 1949, designing and manufacturing bras and other garments under house-brand labels for numerous U.S. and Canadian retail chains.
“Many people will probably have worn something we’ve made, they just don’t know it,” Amanda Petriello, the company’s director of e-commerce and marketing, told Lingerie Talk.
So why is Wonderform stepping into the marketplace under its own name now?
“We looked at the shift in retail overall,” Amanda said. “Online is where everyone is going. We saw we had an opportunity to sell direct to customers and the e-commerce platform allows us to give consumers great price and affordability.”
It might also be just what the company needs to remain competitive in a rapidly changing marketplace.
Wonderform’s decision to sell its own branded products offers a timely illustration of what’s happening in the fashion industry at large. Department store chains and shopping mall franchises are struggling to retain customers in the face of overwhelming competition from online stores, many of which have never operated a traditional bricks-and-mortar retail model.
Companies like Wonderform, whose fortunes are tied to the health of the traditional retail sector, are increasingly vulnerable to shifts in consumer shopping behavior. Last year, another longtime Montreal lingerie producer, CJ Grenier, filed for bankruptcy protection after 155 years in business, largely due to shrinking orders from a major client, the imperilled department store chain Sears.
Wonderform designed and manufactured all of its products for wholesale customers in Montreal until about 10 years ago, when it shifted fabrication to Asian suppliers. Now, with decades of technical and design know-how and a close relationship with low-cost foreign suppliers, the company feels it is well-positioned to deliver sturdy, inexpensive and fashionable garments.
It launched its brand with three sets: an Essentials range, a Fashion collection that includes a bit more lace and design flair, and a Celebrations group of specialty pieces for more glamorous occasions.
Wonderform’s most immediate selling point is price: bras range from $19.50 (CAD) to $29.50 and even its corsets are priced under $40. The pricing strategy, along with its decision to stick with the direct-to-consumer e-commerce model, helps Wonderform differentiate its offerings from the retail clients it continues to serve.
Wonderform is one of numerous family-run businesses in the North American lingerie trade, and an example of how second-generation family members are breathing new life into established brands (a unique facet of the lingerie industry that can be seen in such labels as Montreal’s Blush Lingerie, Only Hearts, Cosabella, Va Bien and others).
The e-commerce strategy was developed by Amanda, whose father Gerry bought Wonderform in 1990. She worked summers at the family business while growing up, before getting an MBA and working in product development for a toy company for five years after graduating. She joined Wonderform — where her mother still does the books — two years ago and immediately started thinking about a digital strategy to reach women who are comfortable shopping online.
“I may bring a younger perspective and the online stuff,” she said, “but my dad still blows my mind with his technical know-how.
“We are lucky we have the expertise we have,” she added. “Bras are one of most complicated things to fit. They’re not like jeans or a T-shirt.”
Wonderform’s decades of experience in the wholesale private-label business also provided an important insight that gives the company a reason to feel confident about its entry into e-commerce: when women find a bra they like (often after years of frustration) they will buy the same model over and over again.
“We’ve seen that with private label (clients),” Amanda said. “We’ve been making some of the same styles for them for 10 years.
“When you find something you like, and you like the fit, it’s very easy to go back and buy it again. It speaks well about online sales.”
Amanda said Wonderform’s current collection represents the “core of what we’re good at” and could be lead to a significant expansion in styles, sizes and products.
“We wanted to start of with a good assortment, but there’s so much room to grow,” she said. “We’re very excited to see where it can go from here.”