Kim Kardashian was in the news again this week. Not for whomever she’s dating or some controversial social media post. Instead, it was for her intimates and shapewear brand Skims, which launched a new men’s line, which includes underwear, tees and socks. The obvious question posed to Kardashian has been: When are you coming out with a men’s shapewear line? It’s “forthcoming,” but not a part of the inaugural line. Smart move, Keeks. Shapewear for men is set up to fail.
In just four years, Skims has grown into an estimated $4 billion company. This year, the company expects to rake in $750 million in sales, a 50% increase compared to $500 million last year, co-founder Jens Grede told DealBook this summer. About 70% of its shoppers are millennials or Gen Z, and 10% are men. “That means we’ve had 50 million men coming to site over the last few months,” Grede recently told GQ. Adding that, “for me personally, I wanted more stuff to wear. I was running a bit dry with my one T-shirt.”
It’s a great time to enter the men’s underwear business and to be in shapewear. Grede’s personal lamentation reflects a yawning white space in the market. HanesBrands International Inc. is the leading seller of men’s underwear globally, with Fruit of the Loom coming in second, according to Euromonitor International. Both Hanes and Fruit of the Loom are affordable but lacking in design and fabric quality. People are also buying less underwear and more shapewear. Shapewear sales climbed 6% between 2021 and 2022, with men’s underwear sales growing 2% and women’s falling 4% during the same time, according to consumer tracking data from market research firm Circana.
But shapewear for men is a much smaller market. Spanx, known for its smoothing undergarments, was founded in 2000 and launched its men’s products in 2010. Three years later, menswear only made up a small percentage of sales, Spanx founder Sara Blakely told the Wall Street Journal. There is little insight into the company because it’s private. Hanes and Nike Inc. both sell compression underwear and leggings for men, but in the name of fitness or health.
While Skims’ forthcoming foray into men’s shapewear is likely to get a lot of buzz, trends show that it will unlikely translate into meaningful sales that suggest it was a market waiting to be tapped all along.
Of course, some traditional women’s services and goods have taken off among men. For instance, filler and Botox treatments along with skin care. Likewise, plenty have failed to become a regular part of the majority of men’s lives.
Exhibits A and B: makeup and nail polish brands for men. The hype around these beauty products made many hopeful that the pernicious bond between masculinity and violence would finally break and leave behind a more honest representation of manhood.
But making products that are a hit isn’t so easy. Their success or failure relies on businesses responding to what consumers need or desire. That’s where Kim will find some trouble with men’s shapewear. Unlike femininity, which trains people to seek out solutions to conform to beauty standards by nearly any means, body image issues are likely to keep masculinity in a paralyzed place of internalized shame. Part of this stems from entrenched standards of masculinity that limit the ability to be vulnerable or seek out help. If some men have trouble even acknowledging body image issues, why would Skims think they’d buy something to address it?
This is not the ideal headspace to get consumers to act on their insecurities and buy something.
When it comes to selling goods such as shapewear, which is more of a product someone wants than what they need, brands need to sell an ideal and then convince shoppers that it can be obtained with a purchase. With Skims, Kim was the ideal physique that shoppers wanted to embody, and buying one of her shapewear pieces could help them attain that. But masculine body ideals are dramatically different—typically a muscular, v-shaped Adonis. That is not nearly as achievable with shapewear as Kim’s hourglass figure.
This presents a bigger problem for the financial success of Skims’ latest venture. It’s not just about advertising slimming apparel for men but unpicking the complicated knot of masculine emotional conditioning and then offering a second step of a product solution. Of course, some consumers, such as transgender men looking for a more masculine silhouette or people looking to slim down their bellies or hips to fit into a tuxedo on a special occasion, will buy men’s shapewear. But ultimately, Skims creating a line dedicated to it should be taken as a financial misread of demand.
Our goal with clothes should never be about restricting any body to be anything other than what it is. But body acceptance is not quite Kim’s aim. She’s betting that there are profits to be made off selling girdles to men who are insecure about their bodies.
Leticia Miranda is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering consumer goods and the retail industry. She was previously a business reporter at NBC News and a retail reporter at BuzzFeed News.