As it continues to expand in the U.S., Primark -- one of the world's biggest fast-fashion retailers -- is looking to make its mark in intimates. It started with period underwear and just launched menopause and breast-cancer-specific collections. Ann-Marie Cregan, trading director of the Dublin-based company, tells Retail Insider about the strategy.
Retail Insider: In Europe, everyone knows Primark. You've
got 400 stores in 14 countries. But most Americans have never heard of you. How do you describe what makes you different from Zara or H&M?
Ann-Marie Cregan: We were founded in Dublin, Ireland, in 1969, moving throughout the U.K. into Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and France. And in 2015, we opened our first U.S. store in Boston. We've now got 13 stores, with plans to be at 60 stores by 2026.
Retail Insider: Why Boston?
Cregan: We decided on the Northeast corridor partly because many people in Boston and New York have ties to Ireland. The climate is similar. And there was plenty of opportunity with property, particularly with the Sears group.
Retail Insider: What are your biggest challenges?
Cregan: We learned some tough lessons at the beginning about how to shape our ranges. When we entered new markets in Europe, people knew us from the high streets in the U.K. So it's taken a while to build brand awareness in the U.S. That's one of the reasons we've taken it slowly. Over time, we started to build that awareness, and now we're seeing some strong growth.
Retail Insider: How would you describe your brand personality? What do you want people to notice in your stores?
Cregan: Amazing, affordable fashion for all. And customer joy is one of our mantras. It's a broad message; we want people to feel the joy of discovery.
Retail Insider: Primark does very little brand advertising to keep prices low. And you don't sell anything digitally. Some might say that is a drawback.
Cregan: Yes, we are entirely brick-and-mortar. People find our products when they pop into their local Primark and ask a specialist -- they don't have to do the research online. We pop up in searches, but our advantage is that we have a big store footprint in most of our markets.
Retail Insider: The competition in this category is fierce here: Zara, H&M, Forever 21, and even Uniqlo. How do you stand out?
Cregan: Our offer is unique in how extensive it is. About 25% of our business is women's clothing, another 20% is in kids' clothing,15% is in intimates, and 15% is in men's. And then we have a home business, which is expanding. So we have a much broader offer. And while there was a time we might have said our target was fashion-savvy women under 35, we're much broader now. We attract the most extensive age range in our space.
Retail Insider: That makes a perfect segue to the menopause collection. Can you explain?
Cregan: I joined the intimate business about three years ago, and it is a very mature category. We were looking for growth from new customers, and we wanted to offer everyday solutions for every life stage. So we did research for well-being issues that are underserved and taboo, where we could provide something at a better price point.
We started with period underwear about three years ago, when period poverty was becoming a big conversation. We've sold nearly 4 million pairs since 2021. That's converting how millions of women manage their monthly cycle. So I saw the opportunity to look deeper into other life stages, like menopause. Other companies offer these cooling clothes, but at much higher price points.
Retail Insider: How are you able to make it so much cheaper?
Cregan: One of our suppliers, a leader in femtech, was looking for a partner to make a mass-scale product like this.
Retail Insider: You launched six weeks ago. How are people responding?
Cregan: It's in about 100 stores, as we test and learn. We've got some good reactions, and customer testimonials are strong. We were very conscious of testing this before launch. I didn't want to do any menopause-washing. So it's something that's an innovation.
Retail Insider: How does the breast-cancer collection fit into that mass approach? Hundreds of millions of people menstruate, and all women eventually go through menopause. Very few, relatively, get breast cancer.
Cregan: The idea is to do something in solidarity with women, partnering with breast cancer charities. So yes, this is a different mission. But our suppliers and technicians have come up with 28 credible, affordable pieces that we now stock year-round. We sell a two-pack post-surgery bra for $16–that's $8 a bra.
It's timed to October and breast cancer awareness. But then it's a permanent feature in our range, which we developed with colleagues who've had breast cancer and oncology nurses and doctors. We've had some lovely customer feedback thanking us. It's a challenging time in a person's life, and it means a great deal that we can show up [for her] in an authentic way.