Real Women Strike Back: Aerie's Rise Underscores Victoria's Secret Woes

American Eagle Outfitters says sales at its Aerie lingerie division jumped 32% this quarter, marking the 16th consecutive quarter of double-digit gains. 

The growing clout of the brand, which positions itself as a champion of real girls, unretouched and in many sizes, is just more evidence of an internet-fueled underwear rebellion. And it underscores how brands like Aerie, ThirdLove, True&Co and Everlane are shaking up the U.S. bra and panty market, worth an estimated $12.4 billion.

AEO says third-quarter sales topped $1 billion for the first time, with total comparable sales up 8%. The Pittsburgh-based teen retailer says the solid results came from a well-played back-to-school plan with less reliance on price promotions, helping to boost net income 5% to $40 million.



Aerie continues to benefit from its body-positive marketing, and the quarter’s gains are due in part to its latest bra initiative. Earlier this year, it launched a new phase of its ongoing #AerieReal campaign, which includes its most diverse initiatives ever. The ads feature 57 different women, and there are redesigned bras, an enhanced fitting room experience and a body-confidence training program for associates, in partnership with the National Eating Disorders Association.

News of Aerie’s latest success comes as L Brands’ Victoria’s Secret seems stuck in a shame spiral, with plenty of bad news in recent weeks. While still the market leader, its most recent fashion show, once a fashion must-see, was a rating bust. Sales continue to fall for both its flagship and Pink brand, with same-store sales results dipping 6% in the latest quarter.

And days after CMO Ed Razek blundered into a PR nightmare, dissing transsexuals and plus-sized women in an interview with Vogue, the Columbus, Ohio-based company replaced CEO Jan Singer with John Mehas, president of Tory Burch.

ThirdLove, a leading internet brand built on body positivity and bras that fit everybody, responded to Razek’s comments with an open letter to The New York Times. “You market to men and sell a male fantasy to women,” wrote CEO Heidi Zak, calling her brand “the antithesis of Victoria’s Secret. Your show may be a 'fantasy’ but we live in reality. Our reality is that women wear bras in real life as they go to work, breastfeed their children, play sports, care for ailing parents, and serve their country.”

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