A Fitting Solution
By Teri Ross, Imagine That!
The discrepancy in the actual size of women who may all - accurately - claim to wear the "same" size is one of the many fit anomalies that is reality today for the U.S. clothing industry. Little analysis of body shapes and sizes has been conducted since the 1940s for women and since before the Civil War for men.
This lack of research along with a lack of sizing standards, added to the growing practice of vanity sizing - adding inches to clothing to make it appear that a woman wears a size smaller than she actually does - has created a disparity between the clothes available to the consumer and their actual body shapes and sizes.
And that's only half the problem. Companies use sales data to get feedback on what sizes are selling and in what proportions - but sales data never captures lost sales. Not only is the consuming public being poorly served by this, but the retailer and the upstream apparel manufacturer lose out on considerable sales volume. Inevitably, people are forced to have expensive alterations done or simply wear clothes with an unsatisfactory fit.
For the past year, [TC]2, a non-profit organization providing products and services for the soft goods industry, and specializing in technology development and supply chain improvement, has been working on a solution to this costly problem. It has embarked on a national survey to gather sizing data with the use of its 3-D measurement system, a bodyscanner feeding data into measurement extraction software.
The Body Measurement System consists of four strategically placed cameras that use white light to register more than 200,000 data points on the body. These points are reduced to 40,000 and become coordinates for measuring from one dot to another. The results are 200 accurate body measurements delivered in less than a minute.
In addition to body measurements, the survey is obtaining anonymous information on six age groups, four ethnic groups, zip code, annual household income, marital status, lifestyle, education, employment status and apparel shopping preferences. The survey will fill 48 statistical cells that can be utilized in a variety of ways to support the needs of the manufacturer.
The study, which obtained more than 10,000 scans by the end of June, has provided some telling preliminary results. "I have shown several manufacturers the bust, waist and hip measurements of women who say they wear size 8-10, and they are surprised to see how much larger all three of the measurements are than their fit specs," states Jim Lovejoy, director of the SizeUSA project for [TC]2.
"From looking at the interim survey data, we can see the U.S. population has grown taller and heavier, but we are growing heavier faster than we are taller," he adds. "If you look at the grade rules for most manufacturers today, they do not reflect what we are finding in our size survey."
"We look forward to comparing the scan data with our sales data," states Bill Dillard, III, director of replenishment for the 338 Dillard's stores in the United States. "The trick is to use the data to improve our decision making."
In addition to giving a national composite, the data can also be used to look at regional differences in size and shape. The study may find that there are clusters of people of different sizes in different parts of the country, which could influence how sizes are stocked at retail.
At JCPenney, Andy Van, manager of research and technology, is interested in learning how the ratios of the fit proportions in the SizeUSA data compare with that of the firm's body fitting forms worldwide. "Half of our customers get clothes that fit them and half don't. Our goal is to get that number of customers with good fitting clothes up to 70 percent or 80 percent, which will not only increase brand loyalty, but improve sell through at the stores."
"We're involved with the Size USA program because of all the issues people deal with each day, comfortable clothing shouldn't be on the list," said Chuck Nesbit, president and CEO of Sara Lee Intimate Apparel and Hosiery. "Because the SizeUSA project literally fits our portfolio in size and scope, we see applications and uses across every category of our business. We are excited about the potential this data offers about understanding the changing size and shape of consumers."
"It remains to be seen what manufacturers will do with the data," states Lovejoy. "We hope this will lead to more realistic sizing, but so many companies use vanity sizing to get a competitive edge that it's hard to say how this will impact that practice."
Body size data could also be used for determining seating in airplanes and cars, for medical research, and for ergonomic furniture.
The results of the survey will be out in September, with corporate sponsors receiving early interim data. The final results will be available in a variety of formats. Scanning for the project will continue indefinitely at the [TC]2 headquarters in Cary, NC.
[TC]2 has support from the U.S. Department of Commerce to utilize [TC]2 personnel to organize and conduct the national sizing survey. The cost of the project has been borne by a growing number of sponsors, including VF Corp., JCPenney, Dillard's, Sara Lee, Russell, Target, Jockey, Lands' End, Federated, Sears and Liz Claiborne.
TERI ROSS is president of Imagine That!, a technology consulting, business development and marketing communications company to the sewn products industry. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ross also is the founder of TechExchange.com, an online information resource acquired by [TC]2 in 2002.
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