At its peak within the first decade of the 2000’s, the Glasgow born intimatewear brand ‘Ultimo’ reigned Europe’s full body lingerie market, and turned over £ 42 million a year.
Represented and worn by famous women like Rod Stewart’s wife Penny Lancaster and actress Julia Roberts, the brand was founded by the celebrity entrepreneur Michelle Mone OBE, whose constant appearance in tabloids and TV kept the Ultimo brand name ringing in social circles. However, in April 2018, Ultimo announced its exit from the UK market owing to “increasing competition and more cautious consumer spending due to the uncertainty surrounding the economy”. But, Ultimo is not closing down—it is focussing on a promising new market under the majority share ownership of the Lankan lingerie manufacturing giant MAS Holdings. And, their new focus market is none other than South Asia.
Apparel Resources spoke exclusively to MAS Holdings and now charts out their ‘Five Business Strategies’ to make Ultimo dominate the South Asian intimates market:
1. Way off amanté’s toes
When MAS announced its acquisition of Ultimo and launching the brand in South Asia, a question that crossed many minds in the fashion and apparel business is how this would affect the company’s other lingerie brand retailing in the region—amanté. MAS is very clear on this. Kaushalya Gunaratne, Manager of Business Development at MAS Intimates, says that Ultimo is very specifically, only for full-figured women while amanté is for the average and petite body types. Niranjan Wijesekera, CEO, MAS Brands stressed on this fact while also highlighting a core brand philosophy as it was launched, mentioning “The Ultimo brand is all about beautifully designed, expertly crafted full figure lingerie. We don’t believe that there has to ever be a compromise between comfort and style, no matter what the body type is.”
2. Understanding the South Asian full-figured body
Ultimo may have been launched as a brand targeting European women, but as it shifts the focus to South Asia, MAS is very serious about perfecting the product for the South Asian bodies. “We have been doing fit trials and wearer trials using a wide spectrum of full-figured South Asian women from 34C up to 42DD. Our garment technologists and product engineers conduct wearer trials for even as long as 4-8 weeks, so that we get a realistic idea on how these bras can support women in their day to day work. This process is essential to get the product right for this market,” says Kaushalya.
3. Being part of MAS means
MAS is one of Sri Lanka’s most respected apparel makers with some of the best intimates production lines, technical expertise and sustainable practices in place. So, being part of this powerful apparel making business comes with many perks for Ultimo. This means access to state-of-the-art lingerie manufacturing technology and an expert taskforce of makers, quality supervisors, tech assistants and many more professionals who have been crafting world-class intimatewear for decades.
4. Retail plans for Sri Lanka, India and soon, Pakistan
Parallel to amanté, Ultimo is now retailing in Sri Lanka and India. With the existing retail channels for amanté already well in place, it seems that Ultimo is a step ahead in the retail game, for a brand that only recently entered the market. The brand will soon be retailed in Pakistan as well, allowing a growing number of South Asian women to access world-class intimatewear within homeshores.
5. Innovation is key
Ultimo’s closing statement for UK markets pointed out challenges like consumers becoming most cost-conscious and the inability to tackle heavy recompetition. However, fashion business observers and media in global channels have connected Ultimo’s failure in the UK markets due to a lack of product innovation. With ‘innovation’ singled out as the most important business mantra of our age, the lack of it definitely had a heavy impact on the brand’s evolution parallel to consumer tastes and values. All this, according to Kaushalya Gunaratne, is about to change with MAS—a company known for its breakthrough research and work in material and product innovation. “In the near future, we will really be looking at incorporating our innovations into strengthening the Ultimo product. It will be what keeps the brand current and relevant to the lingerie consumers,” she adds.
Ultimo’s growth in South Asia will be an important parameter in understanding how global brands can enter this booming market, and reinvent their product in such a way that it remains connected to the modern South Asian, no matter where they are.