5 Questions for Hanes’ Cathleen Moxham

Michael Jordan promoted it. So did Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Tina Turner.

But while Hanesbrands Inc. might be best known for T-shirts and underwear — thanks to the majority of its celebrity endorsement deals over the years — the 112-year-old, Winston-Salem, N.C.-based company said hosiery is also a vital part of the business.

“It’s very important [to Hanes],” said Angela Hawkins, GM of hosiery brands at Hanesbrands, noting that after several challenging years, the category is back in growth mode. “It is one of the most profitable segments [at Hanes], and profits are trending up.”

Hanes’ business overall has been on the upswing, with a 2.1 percent increase in sales during 2012 and more growth expected in 2013. Innerwear, which includes Hanes’ hosiery mix, was a key driver, with a 3.2 percent rise in sales for the year, according to the company’s fourth-quarter report.

Now Hanes is adding to its legwear offerings. For fall, it will introduce the Silk Reflections Pure Bliss label, featuring light graduated compression styles that capitalize on the popularity of wellness-focused lifestyle products. According to Hanes, the tights are made of a special material that “micro-massages” the wearer’s legs throughout the day, to give them a toned appearance.

“Newness and innovation will continue to drive the business,” said hosiery designer Cathleen Moxham, who has a 22-year history at Hanes. “I call it the perfect marriage of yarn and technology.”

But fashion remains as important as function, she added, noting that runway looks from ready-to-wear labels strongly influence the hosiery market. “[There is] added value in [incorporating] luxury and treating the category as an accessory,” Moxham said.

While basic colors such as brown, gray and black (which alone makes up 70 percent of Hanes’ hosiery sales) continue to dominate the tights segment, Moxham noted, “There is a lot of buzz around color. We also see texture as a way to appeal to that 18- to 34-year-old demographic that is entering the category for the first time.”

Here, the designer delves into top trends in tights, the future of legwear and why the hosiery market can thank Kate Middleton for its uptick.

What are some hot legwear trends for fall?
CM:
We’ve seen a significant increase in [the popularity] of tights. [In terms of style], it’s splendor and glamour. We are seeing the infusion of gold because there is a whole black and gold thing happening, and there is still some silver, too. Colored metallics have also been key, as well as jewel tones and the juxtaposition of masculine and feminine patterns [such as] plaid and argyle. And we’re seeing a 1940s resurgence with the back-seam, fishnets, thigh highs and trompe l’oeil thigh-highs. We are seeing the resurgence of sheer, too.

What factors are driving those trends?
CM:
There is a return to femininity, and a new generation is embracing [hosiery] as a fashion accessory. The popularity of skirts and dresses continues. Pippa and Duchess Kate [Middleton] have helped because they are young and sophisticated, and they both look beautiful in a very modern way.

Why did you turn to wellness for the Pure Bliss launch?
CM:
Customers want to incorporate solutions [into their wardrobes] — it’s that multifunctional duality within a core product. [Another example is] the convertible tight. That has been a major nuance to deliver to our consumer, where you can take one look and wear it two ways. It also has really helped educate women about the beauty aspect [of hosiery]. We spend so much time on cosmetics, but your legs need that same care and treatment. They are truly the foundation of the body. Legs should not be an afterthought.

How important is the footwear market in determining hosiery looks each season?
CM:
I pay particular attention to shoe trends. The seamless all-in-one sock and tight [created to pair with boots] and toeless styles [for wear with sandals and open-toe shoes] have done well. It’s also key to look at ready-to-wear and intimates trends, as well as observe our own category of hosiery from a competitive standpoint.

What are some key ways Hanes stays competitive?
CM:
We never stop looking at, first and foremost, yarn. What is the next thing and the latest and greatest in yarns? That is the key ingredient that goes into the product to make it different, [and] there are a handful of innovative yarn suppliers with whom we have close relationships. It’s also about macro trends and lifestyle. We need to research everything. It is never-ending, every day, looking for what’s next.