KLAIPEDA - Lingerie has evolved over the years to be more than just daily undergarments. For many women, lingerie today is a manifestation of being sexy and womanly. It is also worn to add some spice and romance to a relationship. Regardless of nationalities, lingerie meets no boundaries when it comes to its sexiness. Lithuanian women are no exception to this; however, along with decreased purchasing power, their modesty should be taken into consideration when it comes to lingerie sales, which have been on a steady decline.
According to Lithuania’s Department of Statistics, lingerie imports in 2008 consisted of a bit more than 20 million litas (5.7 million euros), while lingerie exports reached 25.9 million litas. The largest imports in 2008 were from China, Germany and Denmark, while on the top of the lingerie export list were to Denmark, followed by Russia, Germany and Sweden. Comparing export and import turnover in 2009, a small decrease is seen, to be exact, 3 million litas down in export volume and 2.5 million litas down in imports.
The declining tendencies prevailed in the first quarter of 2010, totaling 4.6 millions litas in exports and approximately the same amount in imports, which shows a downward trend.
Though there are several undergarment manufacturers in Lithuania, only Anatolij Kudreshov’s personal enterprise and Saulius Vincevicius’ personal enterprise “Sermija” are the ones manufacturing lingerie – corsets, body stockings, brassieres, bras, briefs and panties. Both enterprises, differently from other market players, are owned by Lithuanian capital. Another lingerie manufacturer, “Floss Veris,” is an Estonia-based venture, and joint stock venture “Agena International” is owned by English investment.
“While Kudreshov’s enterprise focuses solely on its production exports, 75 – 80 percent of Sermija’s production goes for the export market, while 20 percent of the production is for the domestic market,” Vincevicius, who along with his wife, Miroslava, own the lingerie production company, said to The Baltic Times.
To the question on why the Lithuanian lingerie market is limited to only two local manufacturers, Vincevicius responded wittily, saying that “Others are not capable of making a high quality bra.
It could seem that making a high-quality bra is not a complicated matter. However, in this business one millimeter makes a huge difference. Just erring a mere millimeter, while in the process of manufacturing, will result in the dismay of picky female customers in stores and, ultimately, in tarnishing the brand. We cannot allow any error. This kind of job requires a big deal of meticulousness and scrupulousness. It is like a high-tech business. The difference of the cup sizes makes up a mere 5 millimeters. If tailors and other workers in the production chain will swerve at least one millimeter each, thus, after several operations, the bra will be far from matching its original size.”
Differently from his arch rival, which sells its production in foreign department stores and boutiques under established and well-known foreign lingerie brand names, Vincevicius’ Sermija cherishes its painstaking nurturing of its own brand. Its daughter enterprise, “Femina Bella,” engages mainly in lingerie production and sales in Belarus and Russia. Its lingerie factory in Belarus employs as many workers as in Lithuania - 35 each. The company has its headquarters in the Russian capital, Moscow. The exports to Belarus and Russia make up nearly 80 percent of volume, as the rest of the silky, satin and charmeuse lingerie items goes to Lithuanian boutiques and to the stores of the retail chain Maxima.
However, with equally divided marketing and nearly the same output in Belarus as in Lithuania, the turnover trends differ hugely. “Starting in 2008, we have been constantly seeing demand rise for our production in Russia and Belarus. The Russian market has been rapidly recovering since. Alas, the sales in Lithuania have been in constant decline. Our production turnover in Lithuania in 2009 made up a bit less than 1.5 million litas, which was just a mere part of the total turnover. I hope our Lithuanian sales finally bottoms out; however, there is no reason for such optimism so far. When it comes to the Lithuanian market, we largely count on seasonal discount sales and special discount sales in Maxima. For example, our recent week-long special discount sale in Maxima stores generated as much as we collect in half a year of ordinary sales. If we had focused exclusively on the Lithuanian market, we would have gone bankrupt by now,” says a convinced Vincevicius.
Asked about the prevailing trends in the market segment, the successful entrepreneur discerned several things. “From a technological point of view, even the largest and most well-known brand manufacturers tend to switch to the so called bra-cup molding machines. Until recently, the established bra manufacturers constantly stressed the personal approach to production, tended to cup bras manually, thus, increasing costs. However, technological advancement has taken over the precise but costly manual process. Therefore, Sermija, a small enterprise, either faces giving in to the trend or continue its manual bra-cup molding. As our enterprise does not engage in massive production, we have come up with the decision to retain the individualized approach to manufacturing. I strongly believe that individuality remains a very distinct and important ingredient in the ultimate success in the business. There are plenty of female customers out there who would rather pay more for a manually cupped bra than wear a machine-made item. I am convinced the trend will remain in the future,” the businessman maintained.
The enterprise, responding to the increasing demand in the Russian market, would like to enlarge its Russian output; however, the severe lack of skilled lingerie tailors restrains it from pursuing this.
“We just cannot find skilled tailors anywhere, either in Russia or in Lithuania. I assume the best needle masters have emigrated or have been hired by other similar sewing enterprises, particularly in Russia,” Vincevicius admitted.
For those who wonder whether Russian and Lithuanian women have similar lingerie preferences, the entrepreneur has a disappointing response, claiming that “Russian women prefer bright color bras, corsets and body stockings, while Lithuanian women prefer neutral and pastel colors.”
“Alarmingly, the A cup bra size is nearly dwindling away in both the Russian and Lithuanian lingerie markets. It means that women in these countries are getting chubbier. However, I do not see any decrease in this bra size in Belarus, which is a good sign for Belarusian women,” the businessman concluded.
While Sermija eyes the Eastern market, Kudreshov has been long bidding for the Western European market. “We export lingerie mostly to Germany, France, Finland and Sweden. The lingerie business in Lithuania is too small and people’s purchasing power is too weak. Tax policy is also very unfavorable here. How can a small enterprise survive here if even Apranga, the clothing retail giant, constantly reports turnover declines?” Kudreshov asks rhetorically.
He claims that foreign markets are rapidly recovering from the crisis, as the demand for his production has been on rise since 2009. “The lingerie market is crammed with different manufacturers seeking their own spot under the sun. We all know one another very well in the industry. Like other small-scale lingerie makers, we cannot compete equally with such retail giants as Marks&Spencer, which spearheads the trends in the business. However, being a small enterprise sometimes is kind of an advantage, in the sense of being able to adapt faster to the ever changing market. In other words, what “Marks&Spencer launches, we finish,” Kudreshov asserted.
As he points out, the average buyer of his lingerie is “a middle class elderly woman in the West.” The entrepreneur disagrees with the notion that elderly women are less picky and demanding.
“It is far from being true, when it comes to dealing with lingerie buyers in Germany, Sweden, France or the United Kingdom. Those women can be pleased only with exceptionally good quality bras, panties, body stockings or corsets. They are eager to try out new items, many of which are being marketed to a much younger market segment. In that sense, an average Lithuanian woman is more conservative. However, generally speaking, Lithuanian women are not that modest, as we see them to be,” Kudreshov concluded.
His successful entrepreneurship involves a constant look-out for rapidly developing market trends. Twice a year, usually in early spring and autumn, he hops from one lingerie fashion show to another. It is the only way to keep up with developments in the industry. Kudreshov did not want to reveal the exact turnover of his enterprise, claiming it “Is on rise and makes up a six digit number yearly.”
While traditional boutiques and lingerie sections in department stores usually offer the traditional items, Tomas Petrauskas, founder of the Internet lingerie shop at www.dovanoti.lt, suggests that his undertaking was instigated by “a strong feeling that there is a big niche for demand of nonstandard, bridal, plus-sized or sexually explicit lingerie items.”
How is the e-market? Has there been an increase in this business? Is there too much competition?
“For the most part the market has been fairly consistent. Our sales have gradually increased each year, with this past year seeing significant growth. There are dozens of lingerie companies online, but the majority of them I don’t really see as competition. Most of them do possess the same level of professionalism within their storefront. For many to acquire a commodity on the Internet is still an unusual thing, particularly when it comes to buying sexy corsets, brassieres, night gowns and body stockings. However, modest Lithuanian women do not want to lag behind Western Europeans. Women make up 80 percent of our clientele, as the rest goes to men who buy the items for their wives or girlfriends, to bring more pleasure to their intimate lives.
Petrauskas is involved in every facet of the business, as he has created, designed and maintains the Web site. “I am the fashion buyer, manager, customer service rep and shipping clerk. Along with some part-time help, I work hands-on everyday in my business. At this point, we do not design our own lingerie, but in the future we may do that. Our production is exclusive, as it is nowhere else to be found. I bring most of the commodities straight from the wholesalers in Poland, the United States or Germany. I cannot complain about the business, however, it could be better if Lithuanian women were keener on trying out new lingerie items. Our sales particularly increase before summer and major holidays,” the Internet lingerie shop owner says as he remains hopeful.