ThirdLove says it has been working on its sports bra design and fit for over two years.

Source: ThirdLove

Lingerie start-up ThirdLove hopes to gain an even bigger lead over its biggest rival, Victoria’s Secret, by entering activewear.

ThirdLove announced the debut of its workout line Wednesday, including a line of sports bras the company claims it has been working on for more than two years.

ThirdLove said that “sports bra” had become the most searched term on their website in recent months, and CEO and co-founder Heidi Zak saw an opportunity to enter a growing but highly competitive sportswear market and do it with Nike, Under Armor and Athleta. Victoria’s Secret has also invested more in the category, recently launching a line of sports bras and leggings called On Point.

“It is certainly a competitive market, but there is no company that is the first to sell sports bras for women,” Zak said in an interview. “When you say Lululemon, I think of leggings. When you say Nike, I don’t think of sports bras.”

While ThirdLove also brings a selection of leggings and women’s training tops to market, the heart of this new line is the sports bras. The design of the bra is specific to a woman’s cup and band size. Instead of choosing between small, medium, or large, women choose their normal bra size, like 34B or 32D. ThirdLove sports bras also have an adjustable back strap. Prices range from $ 45 to $ 70.

“Our goal is to be the best sports bras out there. Not mediocre, but great,” said Zak. “And it’s a growing market, so there’s a lot of room for new competitors to gain market share.”

Citing data from research firm NPD Group, Zak said ThirdLove has become the leading online bra brand for the millennial demographic based on sales and market share.

Growth in the category of comfort while driving

The company hopes to maintain this position by entering another hot sector that can provide additional leverage for growth. According to NPD fashion analyst Kristen Classi-Zummo, the sports bras category was on fire even during the pandemic when overall apparel sales plummeted.

Annual sales of sports bras in the US are $ 2.1 billion, up 53% over the same period in 2019, she said, citing market research by NPD. Year-over-year, sports bras sales are up 48%.

“Comfort functions are the engine of growth,” said Zummo. “And what many brands of sports bras offer is an upscale essential that is not only used for function and sport. They are pretty and comfortable.”

There is no dominant retailer in the sports bra market today. The retailers’ own brands together account for about a third of the category’s sales, NPD said. This gives a company the opportunity to position itself more strongly in space.

Victoria’s Secret, which has tried to appeal to more women by revamping its marketing, launching versatile products like maternity bras, and using models with different body types, said ThirdLove’s Zak she was impressed but not yet convinced that the Efforts of the lingerie manufacturer in the long term.

“It’s been a significant change in the last few months,” she said of her competitor. “You can really see the difference in the model selection, tone, and even the product launches that they go for.”

“It just remains to be seen if this work is authentic to the customer base? How many million customers have it lost? It’s hard to get someone back who left the brand,” added Zak.

A gain for market share

ThirdLove is able to be a huge beneficiary of Victoria’s Secret battles. The company has also historically been brave about its rivalry with an industry giant. In 2018, ThirdLove published a full-page ad in the New York Times that ran an open letter criticizing derogatory comments from members of the Victoria’s Secret management team towards women.

Zummo has watched the battle between lingerie startups like ThirdLove for legacy players’ market share loom.

“Direct-to-consumer brands definitely have an impact,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of these smaller brands really resonate with a number of different age groups. … They’re focused on empowerment. They’re focused on diversity.”

A Victoria’s Secret representative did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Victoria’s Secret was spun off from L Brands in early August and began trading as a separate public entity on the New York Stock Exchange. Stocks are down about 21% from an all-time high of $ 76.

ThirdLove, meanwhile, is aiming to reopen retail stores after closing its only location in New York’s SoHo neighborhood near the start of the Covid pandemic. Zak wouldn’t offer a schedule but said the company will likely invest in brick and mortar retail.