‘Fitting Fashion for Real Women’ by Ed Gribbin, president fit expert Alvanon
Harnessing the power of 3D shape technologies will ultimately allow us all as consumers to liberate ourselves from the tyrrany of the size label. We will be able to identify fashion that fits in a virtual world – order it, try and buy it without ever having to know the size. It is the future of fashion.
1. The changing shape of women – past to present
How the shape of women has changed since World War II up to the present day. Also how it changes with age, childbirth, diet/exercise fluctuations, menstrual cycle, menopause and more!
Nearly all so-called clothing “standards” for sizing — which much of the industry used to follow, and a large portion still does — are based on data collected during WWII, when the body shapes and sizes of women were not only smaller, but far less diverse than they are today. Women’s bodies have evolved significantly over the past sixty years through changes in diet, lifestyle and attitude (how many women wear corsets or girdles today?…”shapewear”, by the way, does not act on the body in the same way as the unforgiving body girdles our grandmothers and great grandmothers had to wear day in day out).
Age is a massive factor in body shape.
None of us are the same shape now as we were when we were in our teens. Between the ages of 25 and 50 the average person loses about 2cms of height and a further 2cms between the ages of 50 and 65 due to spine contraction. Our posture changes – the shoulder slope increases, our back hunches and the pelvis moves forward. Unfortunately gravity works!
Then there is the cultural mix we have in our consumer base now. Immigration over the last half century has significantly diversified the shape of women shopping on the high street. Childbirth, menopause, exercise regimens, and diets all have various effects on size and shape as well. Add to that the fact that, even without those factors, women’s bodies naturally fluctuate in “size” through the course of a month, a week, even a day. Not only do these issues create challenges and frustrations for women buying clothes, they are an incredible challenge to the fashion and retail industries as well.
While, intellectually, women know that different brands fit differently and that their own body goes through normal size fluctuations, their collective emotional expectation is that they “ARE” a particular size. If I ask women what size they are, a specific number comes immediately to mind (whether accurate or wishful thinking). That expectation creates much of the frustration when women shop. If “their” size does not fit when they try something on, the first reaction is that that brand does not fit (or, at least it does not fit them very well). They often make a snap judgment about a brand or a store, that may, in fact, be unfair or inaccurate.
2. What are retailers and brands currently doing to make fashion fit better?
Many of the most successful and forward thinking retailers and brands are putting sizing and fit at the centre of their product development strategies and are using 3D body scan data of real consumers to drive those strategies.
At Alvanon, we’ve collected 3D body scans on over 200,000 women, the largest database of its kind, covering all ages and numerous ethnicities, in over twenty countries around the world. Each scan gives us 200 detailed body measurements for every person plus posture, stance and balance characteristics. We use this data to help retailers and brands fine-tune their fit and sizing strategies and standards in order to “fit” the highest possible percentage of their target customer base well. The average M&S customer, for instance, may not look the same as the average Topshop shopper, so their fit strategies and standards have to be different. We’re all saddled with the same sizing nomenclature, 8, 10, 12, 14, but one brand’s 10 should not necessarily fit the same as another’s.
So, our focus is helping every brand establish the standard that’s right for them and then execute that standard consistently, across product categories and seasons, so that their shoppers can come to expect and rely on their “fit”. That, we believe, will build greater brand loyalty and reduce shopper frustration, to some degree, at the same time.
A legitimate reason for consumer frustration, however, is that for every brand who is doing the ‘right’ thing, there are likely ten who are not. Unfortunately, there is no consumer fit rating, like we have restaurant or movie ratings, for instance, that says “if you are “x”, then M&S is a four-star fit” but “XYZ-brand is a one-star rubbish”. Interestingly, though, that’s something that we at Alvanon are discussing at a strategic level, in terms of how to publish a regularly updated consumer guide that provides that information, but in a positive way. (Even the brands with the best fit have disasters now and again…)
3D body scan technology is developing at a tremendous pace. Already 3-D scan technology is being installed in some shopping centres and malls in a bid to help shoppers try things on “virtually” on their own personal avatar, saving tons of time and frustration. Consumers can get their own personal scan and then try different clothes on their virtual body before heading to the shops for a final try and buy. In the not too distant future they will be able to download their avatar onto their phone and then and there they’ll be able to select different designs from a fashion menu and dress their scan image. They’ll be able to see how a particular size fits, how the next size smaller fits, even how it fits if they add a kilo or two over the holidays. This will be fabulous for online shopping in particular.
President Ed Gribbin
3. What is the consumers’ role in all this?
While many brands and retailers are actually doing a very good job of establishing fit standards that are accurate to their target demographic, and then executing them consistently through their supply chains, many do not do a great job of “marketing” fit, or educating their customers on the nuances of fit among different styles and fabrics. Part of this is a reluctance (appropriate, by the way) to state what is sometimes obvious, “sorry but in this style, you’ll have to go up a size”. Explaining the ‘fit’ message to consumers in an intelligent but emotionally engaging way is very tricky but it can be done. Levi’s has done a great job of aligning women with the best fitting jeans with their new “Curve ID” system, which, after answering a few simple questions, can help a woman determine which “curve” category — slight, demi, or bold — will flatter their body best.
Women know that every brand and retailer can’t fit all of the people all of the time so they have to identify their shape and find those brands that fit them best. I look at this as a three-step approach.
First, a woman has to adopt the same objective approach to size shopping for herself, that she takes when shopping for her husband and children. She doesn’t buy her husband a size 32” trouser, because that’s what he says his waist is; she buys what she knows will fit him best.
Second, she can still embrace the emotional side of shopping if she realizes that what she really wants is to look and feel fabulous, regardless of any number in a label; that requires a willingness to try on a different size if “her” size doesn’t do it and not care if it’s a size or two larger.
Third, and sometimes this is the hardest part, she could build even more loyalty to those brands who consistently offer her a great fit. Women say they are brand-loyal, but they are constantly looking…..for whatever will make them look and feel even better. That’s why they “shop-around”, so to speak. That, plus the inestimable influence of celebrity, pop culture, catwalk trends, and brand marketing efforts. They certainly don’t have to stop looking, but they should always have their “go-to” brand in the back of their mind to avoid frustration. If they want a new pair of skinny jeans for going out with the girls, or want a new dress to wear to a friend’s wedding, they should have, and rely on, their “safety-net” brands, which they know will not let them down.
For more information on sizing and fit issues and solutions visit www.Alvanon.com or contact:
Tel: +44 (0) 207 792 5977