Women are used to feeling the squeeze — and American billionaire Sara Blakely is among those responsible for that.
Undoubtedly, the Spanx founder instigated two decades of discomfort and a billion awkward trips to the bathroom. Just ask Kim Kardashian, who is reported to have worn three pairs at once to create her preferred hourglass body shape.
Now in 2019, an age of body-positive branding and acceptance, that perfect silhouette is little more than an urban legend and the idea of compression underwear feels about as out of date as plastic water bottles. Quite literally, the pressure is off. And yet the demand for something that holds us in continues. So much so that a new market leader offering “shaping benefits” to a new generation of consumers has emerged.
Founded in London with plans to deliver high-tech bodywear in line with the wants of modern women, Heist has secured more than $8 million of investment and a feverishly loyal customer base. Its promise is products that work for the woman wearing them instead of against her.
Fiona Fairhurst, VP of innovation at Heist and the woman credited with inventing Speedo’s legendary sharkskin swimsuit, is a designer determined to deliver that. “I’m about helping women move and breathe,” she says. “I find it ludicrous that we’re still having the same conversations Coco Chanel had when she did away with corsets. Of course we shouldn’t be going back to the Victorian age.”
Fairhurst’s innovations include the aptly titled The Outer Body bodysuit, which gently compresses the waist without putting pressure on other areas and has 20,000 laser-cut perforations in the shaping panels designed to give support while allowing the body to breathe.
Cynics might question Heist’s motivation. If we’re so at ease with our bodies, why do we need shapewear at all? Fairhurst is quick to silence them. “This is about hugging you not crushing you, about lending core support. Ultimately we want women to feel good.”
Dubious about the promised comfort, I recently road-tested the body suit (my second ever dalliance with a contraption of its kind) and found myself surprised. Instead of feeling contained it felt comfortable and, weirdly, comforting. Quite honestly, I forgot I was wearing it.
Undoubtedly, Heist’s success among women of all ages and body types confirms our collective demand for a smooth silhouette, and not necessarily skinniness. Its appeal is not limited to special occasions such as weddings, notes Fairhurst, who advocates Heist’s creation for everyday use. “We have created shapewear that can be worn everywhere,” she says.
Expansion into high-waisted pants — a product Heist launched earlier this year — as well as a host of new other designs in the pipeline, serve as proof of this demand.
A market disruptor, the brand’s impact is broad-reaching. But it’s not alone. Canadian label Commando also believes that what lies beneath has the ability to empower. Promising an “invisible” effect instead of a slimming one, Commando offers skin-skimming options in nude and black spanning turtle-neck tops and bodysuits.
Flipping the idea that shapewear is a shameful addition to a woman’s wardrobe that should be kept under wraps, Commando’s key pieces are designed to be shown off to the world. This determination to urge women to take pride in their body shapes endeared it to Rihanna — who is a fan of its slip dress — and a pregnant Serena Williams, who, in 2017, posed on the cover of Vanity Fair wearing nothing else but its bestselling underwear.
Are Spanx off the agenda forever, then? Whispers of a sea change at the brand suggest not. Certainly, its rumoured change of tack — and a marketing strategy aimed at elevating women instead of compressing them — is one that sits more comfortably with most.