The holiday season is always a very busy time for lingerie professionals, because both female and male shoppers tend to go crazy with their pocketbook–and imagination–at this time of year. Christmas collections are revealed, because ’tis the season to be naughty and daring.’ Lately, however, some African women have become vocal about the undergarments they are being sold. The complaints often have to do with the photographs used in the advertising campaigns and a global marketing machine that tends to target thinner European women while leaving curvier lingerie lovers feeling negative about their body image.
Victoria’s Secret, whose recent Paris fashion drove the angels hype machine into overdrive, is responsible, according to research company IBISWorld, for 62 per cent of the $9 billion lingerie market in the United States. It might be a dominant global player, but the markets in Europe and Africa are growing fast, too.
In Europe, smaller players like Coco de Mer and Dolci Follie in the UK, or even Mise en Cage in France, are all promoting luxury lingerie, the boudoir lifestyle, and even ‘instruments of pleasure’ but the African consumer still feels like an afterthought.
UK-based British-Nigerian entrepreneur Annabelle Mu’azu decided to shift from a successful career in the art world and establish Beautifully Undressed as ‘an emporium for lingerie lovers.’ In providing that individual touch to consumers of all shapes, sizes and skin tones, she followed through on her dream of seizing a trans-national business opportunity that came with catering specifically to the African female form.
In creating what she calls ‘lingerie’s sexy luxury lifestyle brand for Africa’ she took a leap of faith and launched the Beautifully Undressed collection in February 2016. Starting with a capsule collection produced in collaboration with Dutch lingerie atelier La Maison Nouvelle, she focused on lingerie sets that would fit all kinds of female figures.
Precisely because of the delicate issue of fit, and punishing return policies, distribution and logistics are often a major hurdle for lingerie startups. Earlier this year, she partnered with Mall for Africa, one of Africa’s fastest growing e-commerce outfits, whose founder and CEO, Chris Folayan, is known as a risk-taker who likes to back nascent companies with high growth potential. Mall for Africa is an app that offers African shoppers access to over 180 US and UK online stores. Previously, these shoppers were unable to order from international online stores, and many of the mostly Nigerian shoppers have expressed a need to see more high-end lingerie represented on the platform.
When I interviewed Annabelle and Chris earlier this year, they both talked about marketing as a major challenge, and the importance of conveying the right image—so called ‘directional’ images—when targeting shoppers across the African continent and the diaspora. In taking her company to the next level, Annabelle made photography (including styling and lighting and attitude) a priority.
The photographs in this portfolio are the result of a collaboration with photographer Chris Jarvis. They were shot at 14LSQ Club in London and Annabelle chose the model, Jess Louise, because she is Insta-famous as a lingerie model and also an inspirational advocate for body positivity. ‘I really felt she complemented the Beautifully Undressed aesthetic of empowerment for all women, especially women of colour, through the beauty of exquisite lingerie.’
Find out more at Beautifully Undressed