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Women sue lingerie companies over fat-reducing garments

Two Massachusetts women who purchased undergarments infused with capsules of caffeine and vitamins are suing the lingerie companies that manufactured them, alleging the products failed to live up to claims that they would melt away fat.

Annique Bellot of Newton and Tara Stefani of Hingham filed a proposed class-action lawsuit in US District Court in Boston this week against Maidenform Brands LLC and Wacoal America Inc., joining other women who have recently brought cases against the companies for allegedly misrepresenting the garments’ powers.

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The Massachusetts suit states that the slimming shapewear, constructed with microcapsules containing caffeine, Vitamin E, fatty acids, and other ingredients that are absorbed by the skin, is marketed as a way to “permanently change women’s body shape and skin tone.” The products cost 50 to 60 percent more than identical garments that do not have the microcapsules, according to the suit.

The two undergarments named in the complaint, the $38 Flexees Instant Slimmer shapewear by Maidenform, and Wacoal’s $60 iPant, are both made with a fabric called Novarel Slim, produced by the Spanish company Nurel. Wacoal claimed the “anti-cellulite” iPant, referred to as “hope on a hanger,” would “reshape your lower body in 28 days with lasting results,” according to the suit, if worn eight hours a day, seven days a week, and would continue to work even after 100 washes.

“It’s very unfortunate that there are companies out there that are preying on people’s insecurities with claims that may not be supportable by science,” said Newton lawyer Mathew Pawa, who is representing the plaintiffs.

Nurel’s website says that its nylon microfiber “incorporates active principles helping to control cellulite appearance during the garment use” and that after 28 days of use women reported a slimming effect and a reduction in cellulite. Plaintiffs Bellot and Stefani purchased their undergarments during the last week of March, according to the suit. Nurel was not named as defendant in the suit.

Pawa’s co-counsel on the case, Tim Howard, a Tallahassee lawyer and president of Cambridge Graduate University , filed a similar suit against Maidenform and Wacoal in Florida in December.

Telling women you can lose weight “by putting coffee and whatever else you put in the fabric of underwear” is “absurd and extraordinarily crass,” Howard said. There are probably tens of thousands of women who have purchased this type of shapewear, he said.

Two women filed a nearly identical lawsuit in November in federal court in New York, which has since been transferred to New Jersey.

Nutrient-infused textiles are a $600 million annual business, according to the Massachusetts lawsuit. The plaintiffs are seeking refunds and punitive damages, as well as an injunction that would keep the companies from selling the apparel.

Susan Malinowski, vice president of marketing at Wacoal America, based in Lyndhurst, N.J., declined to comment on the pending litigation. “Wacoal as a company and a brand is well known for creating and delivering quality products to women,” she said. “We have a very passionate following of women who wear our brand, so it’s an important part of our reputation.”

A spokesman for Maidenform, which was recently bought by Hanesbrands of Winston-Salem, N.C., said in a statement that the company “has recently learned that the manufacturer of the fabric used in certain shapewear products marketed by Maidenform may be unable to provide the level of substantiation for advertising claims that Maidenform expects.” There is nothing wrong with the products, the statement said, but unsatisfied consumers are entitled to a refund.

Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.

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