‘Body Research And The Shape Of The Global Fashion Market’
What are the main differences between European, Asian, and American clothing sizes?
Sizing designations are different all over the globe, but the actual sizes are quite similar in Europe and America. The majority of fashion brands still rely on an outdated “hourglass” shaped body standard for women, for instance; the base size is a 38 in Germany, 12 in the UK, 40 in France, 42 in Italy and 8 in the US, yet all are loosely based on a core body with a 88-90 bust, a 70-72 waist, and a 94-96 low hip. European companies that ship globally (H&M, Zara) will put the different country size-designations in every product label to help customers pick the right size for them. Despite the general similarity, however, every brand uses a slightly different fit model or a slightly different fit form, based on their unique understanding of their target customer group. That is why different brands in the same size will often fit quite differently. Fit is also influenced by overall brand culture and design attitude. Brands focused on a younger target age will often fit closer to the body, in the same size, than brands focused on serving an older demographic.
Another key difference between clothing from different countries is grading — the amount of difference from one size to the next. Even if a middle size, like a US 8, UK12, EU 38, is comparable country-to-country, it is unlikely that the larger of smaller sizes have a clear equivalent size because different countries use different grade rules. The US difference between sizes, for example, is 1”, in the UK it’s usually 5cm (2”), while the European difference is typically 4cm (or, about 1 2/3”). So, while a size chart or label might say that a US 14 is equal to a UK 18 and an EU 44, the three could be significantly different. The issue here is not so much fit as it is marketing — brands and retailers could do a much better job of guiding customers to the right size for them if they took the time to examine their grading and then communicating size conversions accurately.
Asia is quite different in that there is US/European product, which is often not adjusted for the Asian customer (so there are lots of confusing country-specific sizes for the Asian consumer to decipher — and clothes that run big and don’t really fit well in critical areas), and then there is Asian-designed product, with its own unique fit (smaller and straighter in China, smaller and curvier in Japan) and size designations (S, M, L is popular in China, although there is no relation to the same sizes in Western countries and many China brands offer metric height/chest sizing, such as 160/84; Japan uses its own, 1-3-5-7-9 size designations).
How is consumer body shape research helping retailers and brands deliver better fitting fashion?
Alvanon is conducting consumer research all the time, sometimes body scan studies of specific consumer populations (last year, Alvanon scanned 35,000 Chinese consumers in shopping malls in seven different Chinese regions), sometimes qualitative research on consumer feelings and attitudes about fit and sizing, and sometimes both. Alvanon’s scan database, the largest in the world, provides significant insights into how the human body differs from traditional clothing standards, how it has changed over time, and how the body differs from country-to-country, or even regionally within one country.
What happens to consumers who cannot fit into standard clothing sizes?
Based on Alvanon’s analysis of global body data, at least half to two-thirds of consumers do not fit well into standard clothing sizes. They must make some alteration, or compromise when they buy off-the-rack clothing. This is one of the reasons for massive consumer frustration with shopping — 67% of consumers in the US complain that they cannot find clothes that fit at retail. When they compromise, it’s usually because their body shape is different than the shape that the brands are building for (the classic hourglass). So, a customer might be a size 38 in the bust, a size 42 in the waist and a size 40 in the hip —- those are all standard “sizes”, but they are not found in the same garment!
The industry has discussed and researched made-to-measure clothing to help people who are hard to fit, but have found that, while consumers like the idea, they are generally not willing to wait for the product to be made or pay a premium for the service. Also, manufacturers are not lining up to make one at a time garments. The truth is that the industry — both retail and manufacturing — are more focused on making a lot of garments in as few sizes as possible for efficiency’s sake. They know it doesn’t work for everyone, but they are not willing to invest in smaller quantities of additional special sizes. The exception are some catalogue/e-commerce companies (Lands’ End and L.L. Bean in the US, for instance, and Shop Direct in the UK) who offer extended ranges of sizes for hard to fit people; they can afford to do this because they have the inventory in one place.
Scientific research shows that young people, especially teenagers, are taller than their ancestors. Are brands and retailers responding to this change?
Yes, largely because of diet and lifestyle issues (hormones in dairy products, fewer people performing strenuous, manual farm labour, vitamins, better healthcare, etc.), people all over the world are taller than they were a hundred years ago. We can even track small increments decade to decade. The rate of increase over the last thirty years is quite small, but it is still happening, so that we can generally expect that our children’s generation will be approximately .2-.4 cm taller than our own generation. Most clothing standards, unfortunately, are based on live fit models who are much taller than the average people in society. So, clothing sizes are generally made to a standard that is slightly long for average people, and accommodate people who are taller than average. They are not the ones who have issues. It’s the 30-35% of the population that is shorter than average by, say, 4-6 cm who have the harder time shopping because everything (sleeve length, pant length, jacket length) is too long for them.
How are the current needs of society shaping change in fashion now and in the future?
We watch emerging markets, like China, India and Brazil, with great interest, because they are all experiencing significant population growth combined with increasing wealth generation, which means they are growing a very large middle-class who will have money to spend on fashion. Because of global pop culture influences, they already have the desire to “look good” and have a serious interest in fashion. India, in particular, is a country with a strong traditional apparel heritage where the vast majority of clothing, especially for women, has been home-sewn from local fabrics. That is changing as an increasing percentage of younger Indians, get jobs, earn money and dress in Western fashion. With changing of foreign direct investment laws in India, there will be a huge influx of Western brands trying to sell to Indians, but perhaps without a clear understanding of cultural, religious and regional differences. We hope to do the research that will help brands navigate these emerging markets and more successfully engage new customers and build more successful businesses in the process.
For more information on sizing and fit issues and solutions visit www.Alvanon.com