Size set sample

July 30, 2010 at 09:57 | Posted in Research | Leave a comment
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Variations in body sizes are becoming more apparent with advancements in body scanning technology and a number of sizing studies that give a more complete picture of an individual’s size.

It is common knowledge that no two bodies are the same. Although clothing sizes help to categorise bodies into general fits, each garment is going to hang a little differently depending on the consumer.

“Through 3D body scanning we can understand body size from a larger perspective,” says Dr Lenda Jo Connell, Under Armour Inc Professor of apparel, merchandising, design, and production from the department of consumer affairs at Auburn University, in Alabama, US.

“We can get a visual idea of a person’s shape and look at the array of different bodies. It’s not just about size it’s about how a person’s measurements play out into shape.”

While it would be easy to assume that standards in sizing have changed with the knowledge available, this is yet to happen.

“Changing the actual sizing still has a long way to go,” adds Connell. It still varies by retailer and is based on each retailer’s preferred measurements.

Large-scale sizing surveys such as SizeUK have helped us see how bodies have changed.

SizeUK captured 130 measurements (per person) for 11,000 people living in the UK. The comprehensive survey, which was completed in 2002, was the first time size had been measured so broadly in the country since 1951.

“We saw a very significant change in average measurements,” explains Andrew Crawford, director of Sizemic, a fashion technology company. “For example the average waist girth for females increased by 16cm since the original survey.”

Crawford, however, points out that we need to consider that we are, “comparing data with a time when hourglass figures were in fashion and the first survey was not as large.”

Although in general, “We are gradually getting larger and taller. Younger generations on average are bigger than previous generations.”

The same is true on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Connell notes that in the US, when a company decides on what sizes to offer, if they do not cater for the obese population then they cut out a third of the market. That said there is also a need for sizes at the other end of the spectrum.

“There are many different cultures in America, which represent many different sizes,” she says.

It’s the same in China, too, as size and fit specialist Alvanon found two years ago when it carried out China’s largest ever body measurement study, scanning over 28,000 people across the country.

Among its findings, which are designed to provide apparel brands and retailers with an insight into consumers in this huge and growing market, it discovered that the core body shape in China is smaller and more homogenous than in the US – which means a smaller number of clothing sizes are required to cater for them – and that the younger generation in eastern China is growing taller and heavier.

Tailoring to the target market
Addressing size and fit issues has a key commercial role to play too, by helping companies increase their sales – and full-price sell-throughs.

“One of the things we analyse for our clients is sales percentage by size,” explains Ed Gribbin, president of Alvainsight, a division of Alvanon.

“You would expect a bell-curve of sales by size, with smaller percentages at the ends of the spectrum. But we also take it one step further and look at full-price selling by size, because that shouldn’t be a bell-curve: you should sell an equally high percent at full price in your small size and your larger size as you do in your core size.

“Most merchants don’t think about it that way, but when they look at the pattern it becomes apparent that if they have a much higher sell-through in the larger sizes then they could potentially have some fit issues in the smaller sizes, or vice versa.”

Connell, meanwhile, believes more brands are figuring out what their target market is and then tailoring to that market. As well as seeing sizes go up we are also seeing sizes go down.

“A lot of it revolves around the brand. For example women’s clothing store Chicos used to be a more moderate sized brand but they have increased their size downwards.”

Brands may offer a range of sizes or two size ranges such as petite and tall, but offering a broad size range such as 0-22 can be hard for a clothing company, especially when it comes to grading a pattern.

Despite this, in the UK, Crawford has noticed an increase in size range – particularly when it comes to adding larger sizes. However, like Connell, he believes: “This [increased size range] can create huge logistical problems in terms of manufacturing, floor space etc.”

On the other hand: “It can create opportunities for niche retailers to target specific groups,” he notes.

Consistency in sizing is another crucial, but often overlooked, issue.

“If a brand can execute its fit consistently across categories – for example, a UK 12 – and maintain this from season to season, they build a competitive advantage through customer loyalty,” explains Gribbin.

Additional challenges
When it comes to taking products overseas, some retailers face more challenges than others.

Ed Gribbin says the sheer number of different product categories available from a retailer like Marks & Spencer presents more fit and sizing problems than those faced by Gap or Banana Republic, for example, who have relatively limited product lines.

“If [M&S] adjusts the fit for women’s dresses, what about women’s intimate apparel and casual sportswear?” he asks. “They have to adjust many categories, and it becomes a design, technical, production and logistics challenge because you have to co-ordinate so many different pieces of the puzzle.

Phuong Ngyuen, director of the Vietnamese clothing export company PTA Company, believes material and style also have a role to play when it comes to sizes that can be sold worldwide. “If the fabric stretches or if it’s a knitted garment, it can be worn by any country’s fit.”

She adds: “No body is perfect, so customers might prefer to wear one size bigger just to get a better loose looking fit in some styles and might also want to wear a smaller size to get a better tight fitting look in some other styles.”

Nguyen has noticed: “All the high end brands of Europe have stores in Asian countries, and Asians will pick the sizes that fit well on them no matter what is mentioned on size label, as long as they like the look of it and the price is attractive.”

But this also comes back to Gribbin’s observation that while there’s currently a great demand in Asia for western brands, most of this is based on novelty and newness; and if firms fail to adjust size and fit for local consumers “they’re going to hit a wall at some point.”

Price adjustments?
For companies targeting a larger sized population they might have to consider increasing their prices as people’s waistlines expand.

“In catalogue clothes shopping there is already a difference in pricing between larger and smaller sizes,” says Connell. “You may not notice this when you’re in a store, but it is happening.”

The same garment can have a different price depending on what sizing range it’s in: for instance in the US, ‘missy’ (or ‘misses’), ‘petite’, ‘tall’ etc. Connell stresses the most expensive part of costing is the fabric: if it takes more material to make a garment, it is going to cost more.

Crawford has noticed some moves to pass costs on to consumers in the UK. “Marks & Spencer has introduced higher prices for bigger bra sizes.”

Nguyen adds: “If the size range is large, then consumption of fabric or yarns will be more and obviously, the garment’s price will also be more than small sizes.

“The manufacturer will have to take into consideration every inch of fabric or every centimetre of yarn that they consume so they can lower the cost of the garment, but the buyer will not be happy to spend more on a big size than a smaller size. Not only when exporting [out of Vietnam] but also for sale among local customers.”

Companies need to consider the additional cost of larger sizes when determining their size range.

At the end of the day: “Consumers are loyal to brands with clothes that fit well for them. If every single brand sold the exact same sized clothing some people would find that no clothes fit them at all,” states Crawford.

Tailored, well-researched, and well-adapted sizing, rather than a one-size-fits-all motto, can help companies gain a competitive advantage.

By Karryn Miller.

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