More pregnant women in Singapore aspire to look stylish and even flaunt their growing bellies, instead of hiding under baggy clothes. Retailers around the world, notably online merchants, are catching on to the cultural change driven by career women and delayed childbearing.
More women are working through their pregnancies, which means they need clothes suitable for work. Later pregnancies also mean a rise in spending power.
To capitalise on this, retailers are expanding their maternity lines, keeping styles more up to date and roping in celebrities to design collections.
Online fashion retailer Asos recently expanded its maternity collection to include petite and tall sizes. A maternity dress on the site can cost between $26 for a simple black tunic and $282 for an embellished evening maxi dress.
American maternity label A Pea In The Pod has used celebrity power to burnish its fashion status.
German model Heidi Klum and American television personality Nicole Richie have released collections under the label in the last two years.
Klum, 43, had just given birth to her fourth child when she designed her line, while Richie, 35, was expecting her second child when she created her range.
In Singapore, labels are also seeing an increase in demand for fashionable maternity wear. Home-grown company Maternity Exchange, a maternity clothes store and website that sells and rents its clothes, saw sales increase by about 20 per cent from 2014 to last year. The brand was founded in 2005.
Its director Deborah Ng says expectant mothers today are more aware of trendy maternity wear. “They look for clothes that fit better, instead of wearing normal clothing in bigger sizes where the proportions at the shoulders and hips may not fit.”
She adds: “Many expectant mothers are also working in the corporate sector and require decent clothes to keep them looking professional.”
Singapore label Spring Maternity saw a yearly sales increase of about 12 per cent from 2013 to last year for its in-house maternity apparel. Its founder Joey Kwa says: “Pregnant women want to retain their sense of self and wear styles similar to what they liked pre-pregnancy.”
Noting that trends in office clothing have become more smart casual than formal, the label has incorporated fun geometric prints and bright colours such as emerald in its collection. This allows customers to pick outfits that are “less serious or severe and a little more fun”, she says.
Fast-fashion label H&M declines to disclose sales figures for its maternity line, but Ms Abby Wee, public relations manager for H&M Singapore and Malaysia, says it has been “doing well” and the label hopes to extend the range. The maternity collection has been available in Singapore since 2011.
Ms Wee says: “Our trousers are designed for pregnant ladies and come with a band that goes over the belly. They are our most popular pieces.” Maternity boyfriend cut jeans from H&M cost $59.90.
Retail experts also point out that an increasing demand for fashionable maternity wear can be a good thing for the retail industry.
Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University, says: “In these challenging times for retailers, every new, uncovered segment is a small opportunity to keep sales growing.”
He attributes the increase in demand to a few factors.
Many Singaporean women work till they deliver, which means they need clothing that are suitable for the office. Later pregnancies also mean women have more savings and thus more spending power, he notes.
Those who plan to have only one child may also indulge and treat themselves to more clothes during their only pregnancy.
Private investor Eve Pek, 31, who is eight months pregnant with her first child, says she still makes the effort to dress up even though being pregnant means being tired and vomiting a lot. Maternity leggings are one of her favourite pieces.
“Maybe it is because I’m hiao,’’ she says, using the Hokkien word for “vain”. “But I feel that, just because you’re pregnant, it doesn’t mean you have to look ugly.”