Rich folks have it easy.
Those with the means can go to their couturier or tailor and have everything from evening gowns and bespoke tuxes to everyday career ensembles (assuming one has to actually “work”) created to fit their bodies flawlessly, assuring that they always look their best. As technology evolves, even the prices of made-to-measure tailoring have been driven down, allowing (mostly) men to get a suit from a company like Indochino for just under US$500 retail. American shirting brand Scott Barber is working with apparel tech company Formcut to introduce an iOS-based simple scanning technology to its retail accounts that results in a made-to-measure dress shirt (at around US$145 retail) being delivered to a customer within twelve days. The rest of us, particularly consumers who shop in the more value-oriented part of the market, just have to make do.
Readers of this newsletter know that garment sizing can vary wildly, even within a particular brand, especially if the same style is made in various factories across a global supply chain. Clothes are bought, returned, or exchanged and often end up tossed in a landfill adding to our planet’s environmental woes.
A recent story on earth.org reported that 92 million tons of apparel waste are disposed of each year and goes on to say that many items are only worn “seven to ten times before being tossed.” What about the many garments that don’t even get worn at all because the fit isn’t quite right?
That doesn’t even get into the amount of waste that is generated within the design process as samples are created, rejected, refitted, etc. As the apparel industry adopts digital design processes, thereby creating fewer samples, it not only has the potential to be more streamlined and cost-effective, but it also has potential to have long-term impact on the environment.
Twenty-year old global consulting company Alvanon specializes in garment sizing and fit. It’s “a global technology company focused on the body and its application and implications in the apparel industry.”
While it makes and sells actual fitting forms, its focus from the start was using 3D technology to design those forms, with the idea that, eventually, those forms would become a digital product for use in 3D design. The company launched its newest 3D product, the North America Women’s Standard in June.
Within the standard are several variations, including the Standard/6, Standard Plus 20W, Bold Curve/6, Bold Curve Plus 20W, and Athletic/6 ranges. Beyond these standards (which are primarily focused on women in the United States and Canada), the company also offers standards for adults and children in China, adults and children in Europe, and this drop completes adults and children for North America, as well as standards for Japan.
The forms are compatible with most leading design software tools, including Browzwear, CLO, Optitex, Lectra, Shima Seiki, and more.
“We’ve had most of our really large drops and are now moving into special areas like short men, petite women, big, and extended size European,” says Emily Robertson-Hood, a senior consultant at Alvanon. Looking forward, Robertson-Hood says sights are set on the Middle East (which may be a challenge because the population won’t allow body scanning), and India.
Don Howard, Alvanon’s executive director of consulting, said, “We acknowledge that there are changes in the population in terms of body size and shape. There’s a change in demand of size coverage and the ever-evolving technology and use features. If you don’t have a standard, there’s no logical basis for decision making. Even beyond the traditional use of standards, we’re also talking about line planning, marketing, and selling.”
“I would say most of our corporate clients, as well as consumers, have become increasingly focused on sustainability as a core value for their brand or individually as a moral obligation,” Robertson-Hood elaborates. “So, our point of view is that by standardizing fit and sizing strategies, you can really begin to make a significant impact on sustainability. An optimized size range is one where you have the best range coverage: covering the most number of bodies with the fewest number of SKUs.”
One key message was that inclusivity within the standards, particularly as it affects the Standard Plus and Bold Curve Plus markets, is not just about the size, but also how size is messaged to the consumer. Perhaps the most obvious example is Plus Size, a commonly used technical term in the American market.
“It’s been around for years, and what it does is designate a need to address evolving body size and shape that requires accommodation if you want the clothing to fit well,” Howard pointed out.
“We look at it like the consumer does. As consultants, we look at websites all over the world every single day. We’re well-versed in what works and what doesn’t. There’s a direct link to how fit is messaged to customers and the number of customer returns. When we do a project for a client, we always ask about how they plan to sell the product. Are they selling into a multi category store, or into their own store or website? Does the brand offer fits for different bodies? Is the product designed for a straighter body or a curvy body? We can help them to communicate that message as clearly as possible. Frankly, what we do is rather a lot of forensic work on a brand’s existing website fit messaging, examining it for ease of comprehension, and looking at it in terms of what their competitors are doing.”
Depending on the brand and how it markets itself, rationalized overlap, where a company chooses to pursue two or more different size ranges, can exist between the larger end of the typical standard size range and a plus size range. This can further add to the complexity of how sizing is communicated to the consumer. Beyond plus size, this body inclusivity and communication concept also crosses into the athletic range.
“Brands have gotten much better at addressing body consciousness and helping consumers feel good about their bodies. Much of that is in the messaging, accomplished by putting their product on a myriad of different shapes, sizes, and color representations,” points out Robertson-Hood. “You get much more of an idea how a pair of leggings might look on both a woman who is devoted to her fitness routine, as well as on the gal who obviously had a margarita last night, and still looks pretty great in them. ‘That might be me!’ That’s a really great thing that’s coming out of the whole inclusivity movement. Brands are being more open on their websites. At the end of the day, it’s a sales tool.”
As the industry moves further and further into a pure play digital world, it’s imperative to have digital standards that are based on real world measurements. Yet beyond those immediate applications, having the accurate data that standards like Alvanon supplies allows for more astute production and merchandising decisions, to reach an organization’s sustainability goals, as well as to offer on-point branding communications. Perhaps best of all, though, is that by incorporating these practices, we come closer to more people being happy with the way they look and feel in their clothes.
After all, maybe being rich isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
About the Author: John Russel Jones is the Digital & Fashion Editor of menswear retailing trade publication MR Magazine, as well as a freelance writer who enjoys covering design in all its forms, from fashion to architecture and interiors, as well as textiles and technology. A Fashion Institute of Technology graduate, he lives in Jersey City, NJ, USA.