Putting on a few pounds can make a woman self-conscious about the way her clothes fit. And then there’s putting on a few dozen pounds in a few months while the old hormones are bouncing off the walls. Ahhh, pregnancy! The experience of buying maternity clothes to fit a rapidly changing body can be daunting. But maternity shops are finding success selling a selection that closely resembles customers’ pre-pregnancy wardrobe.

"Quality and performance are the two leading criteria modern pregnant woman look for in a premium wear...For instance, premium denims that include branded denims with flattering and high-quality offerings are further driving the growth of the pants segment at an exponential rate."

-Global Industry Analysts, Inc. ,

“Maternity isn’t what it used to be — thank God!” says Sarah Pollak, owner and founder of Mom’s The Word, a California-based maternity retailer with three locations and an online store. “A grown woman shouldn’t be wearing sailor tops. And professionals shouldn’t be trying to fit their blazers over growing bellies.  We’re very often dealing with women who no longer know how to dress themselves. Some walk in and we’re like, ‘Oh, honey. Let’s make you look good.’ And they leave smiling, not crying anymore.”

The style mix at Mom’s The Word includes denim — from destructed skinny to boyfriend cuts — cropped tops to wear over a tank or form-fitting dress, asymmetrical skirts and vests, as well as dresses that come in mini or maxi lengths.  And DL1961, Laundry by Shelli Segal and Michael Stars can be counted among the designer labels.

The industry’s drive for comfort and true fashion has led to a $2.87 billion maternity business, with expectations that it will reach $3.67 billion by 2020, according to Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (GIA), a leading market research publisher.

Today’s Millennial moms-to-be have helped steer the course toward more on-trend maternity attire. Almost half (47%) of women age 18-to-34 describe themselves as “fashionistas” and are significantly more likely than other females to prefer buying new and different styles (67 percent versus 53 percent), according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey.

 

The GIA reports there has been an emphasis on the quality of materials and fabrics. “Cool and comfortable clothes continue to dominate the market, irrespective of the season.”

The majority of women say cotton clothes are very comfortable (63 percent), breathable (58 percent), and soft (53 percent). This is nearly double the responses for clothes made from manmade fibers like polyester and rayon, according to the Lifestyle Monitor™ data. These are among the key purchase drivers in women’s apparel purchases. And according to the Lifestyle Monitor™ survey, more than 3 in 4 women (77 percent) prefer cotton-rich clothes and the majority (52 percent) say they are more loyal to brands offering apparel made from natural fibers like cotton.

“There is something about the comfort factor that women just hormonally want,” Pollak says. “Wovens can work, but that’s not really driving the business. Women want items that stretch with her body. And there are a lot of things that can make them look and feel good while they’re pregnant. And when you consider she’ll wear that top or dress for those six or so months as much as someone who wears something for three years, when she factors in the dollars per wear, it’s worth it.”

The GIA says factors such as reputation, brand name, customer service, quality of merchandise, ability to quickly respond to emerging trends and fashion, and to offer a broad gamut of variety play a major role in the success of a retailer. Destination Maternity, with a market share of 23.5% in the year 2013, is the leading specialty maternity retailer in the U.S., according to the GIA data. Walmart and Target occupy second and third positions, accounting for 16.6% and 15.1% share, respectively, in the market. Some other major retailers operating in the market include Gap, Old Navy, and H&M.

Maternity had long been an industry that generally left women with limited choices. But these days, the industry is following mainstream fashion in that it more closely considers what the customer wants rather than dictates what she must wear.

This all makes sense as today’s moms-to-be have a wealth of platforms like TV shows, social media, and a slew of broadcast celebrity events in which to see what’s new and trendy, as well as where she can buy it. Women under 35-years-old are significantly more likely than older females to draw apparel inspiration from TV (20 percent versus 14 percent), celebrities (15 percent versus 8 percent), and online (42 percent versus 30 percent), according to Lifestyle Monitor™ data.

Besides all the media influences, women lead more active lifestyles and more work away from home, according to the GIA. It states the number of working women in the U.S. has risen from 18 million in the 1950s to nearly 66 million in 2010. These changes created a great need for convenience in the maternity apparel market. But it’s transitioning from cost-focused toward convenient products that offer extended functionality.

“Quality and performance are the two leading criteria modern pregnant woman look for in a premium wear,” the GIA states. “For instance, premium denims that include branded denims with flattering and high-quality offerings are further driving the growth of the pants segment at an exponential rate.”

When it comes to panels (the fabric that covers a growing belly), Pollak says most women are anti-panel, preferring under-the-belly bottoms that have hidden or side panels to accommodate the bump. And many of the clothes work just as well post-pregnancy as her body goes back down.

“We look far and wide to find the right things,” Pollak says. “It’s so much fun to turn the ugly duckling into someone walking out looking good.”