Yesterday, Kim Kardashian renamed her upcoming shapewear line Skims, essentially as close to SPANX as she could get without being sued. It’s been a surprisingly rough summer for the reality star and her sexy girdles. When she first announced her line of “solutionwear” in June, the brand’s name was “Kimono,” because the only thing a Kardashian loves more than a sponcon partnership is a cheeky portmanteau.
But the shapewear, available in enough shades of beige to outfit an entire private middle school classroom, looked nothing like the traditional Japanese garment. Immediately, online watchdogs accused Kardashian of playing too loose with the word (which she also applied to trademark), calling her not-yet-released brand’s name cultural appropriation.
In response, Kardashian delayed the launch, via an Instagram post of her posing like a waxwork in a heather purple bodysuit. Even Hiroshige Seko, Japan’s trade minister, got involved, urging the entrepreneur to reconsider her decision, saying the kimono, “is a Japanese thing.”
“When I announced the name of my shapewear line, I did so with the best intentions in mind,” Kardashian wrote. “My brands and products are built with inclusivity and diversity at their core and after careful thought and consideration, I will be launching my Solutionwear brand under a new name.” She punctuated the caption with the either professional or ominous promise of, “I will be in touch soon.”
Soon came a month and a half later on Monday, when Kardashian re-upped her collection in a somewhat impressive feat of spin. She did not apologize again or even mention the K-word. Instead, she began with, “My fans and followers are a huge inspiration to me—I’m always listening to their feedback and opinions, and am so grateful they shared their ideas for a new brand name,” as if she had crowdsourced new titles.
Enter Skims, which she teased again with a photo by Vanessa Beecroft. It showed twelve women of varying skin tones (and, to a lesser extent, body shapes), squeezed into taupe spandex, as if the viewer had interrupted a cult meeting.
The reveal included a video which opened with the word “SKIMS” in white soap font over a black background, showing Polaroids of Kardashian modeling in between a direct-to-camera address where the founder played with her hair as she drawled, “I’ve always been obsessed with shapewear. It’s like, when everyone was getting bras and underwear, I was always getting shapewear.”
“There were times when I tripled shapewear-ed it up,” Kardashian continued. “People would write me all the time and would say, ‘Oh my god you look so good after the baby.’ I was like, that is three pairs of shapewear, that is not me.”
Kardashian tells the story in her usual, Southern California coo, so light and lilting you can only hear it if you’re wearing hefty headphones or have the incredible hearing capacity of a dog. The origin story sounds innocuous enough. Kardashian says she spent a decade “sewing” fabrics together herself, as if anyone would believe that she knows how to thread a needle by herself. But is Kardashian’s marketing strategy of “cut off your circulation to look good on Instagram” going to fly in an increasingly bare-all world?
Kardashian, a fashion powerhouse already worth $350 million, is following in the footsteps of someone perhaps even more powerful. Sara Blakely’s Spanx story is well-known and covered in the industry; the founder built a $1.1 billion empire after she decided to cut the legs off from her pantyhose to reap the benefits of its control top underneath her tight white pants.
What began in 2000 as an operation run out of her Atlanta apartment is now sold in Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales, and Saks; through basically inventing modern shapewear, Blakely’s company name has become shorthand for the product.
Blakely continues to own the company; last year, The Cut estimated it does $400 million of sales each year. Though a go-to for body sculpting products, Spanx also sells swimwear, leggings, athleisure basics, and $128 pull-on jeans.
Spanx’s traditional advertising shows blonde women in red lipstick jumping for joy, looking more like members of a Bridget Jones book group than Kardashian’s Yeezy wannabe models. But both appeal to women who want to cover up, who see a saggy stomach as a personal failure. Spanx describes its “Power waistband” on leggings as such: “This style fives you a flat gut and a great butt. In these leggings, you’re everyone’s asspiration!”
Wishful thinking and the increasing visibility of body positive activists might suggest that women care less about serving “asspiration” and more about wearing what feels good. After all, the future of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is sinking so quickly this year’s (maybe canceled) event might as well be held on a Titanic replica.
“Angelic,” gauzy undergarments are out, Rihanna decided, and in are Fenty’s fur-lined rompers, loose fitting and available from size XS to 3X. At the MTV Music Awards on Monday, the eternally smile-inducing Lizzo twerked in front of a giant butt emoji, alongside dancers in assless chaps, feeling no desire to cover up.
So the women’s lingerie industry seems trapped in an identity crisis. Despite nascent calls for comfort, which could topple the ubiquitous assumption that a tight dress demands shapewear underneath, business is still booming.
A prediction written by Persistence Market Research found that sales of the garment are expected to swell to $3.8 million by 2027. In good news for Kardashian, who sells Skims online for $22-$98, the study claims that women will shop more online for the product.
Perhaps the success of shapewear depends on how flexible it really can be. Kardashian’s bodysuits, for example, can be worn as tops with a skirt. Halsey just wore a mesh bodysuit by Spanx for a June feature in Rolling Stone.
For anyone who wants to get in on the action: enjoy the act of exhaling while you can, because Skims drops on Sept. 10.