Janice Wang, head of global technical fit and supply chain specialist Alvanon, is using the latest technology to shape products for buyers
Founded in 2001 by the late Kenneth Wang in the US, Alvanon started life as a mannequin business selling its top-range AlvaForms to retailers, brands and suppliers, and turnover grew at 35% a year for its first six years. Today, the business has headquarters in New York, London and Hong Kong, and research and development and manufacturing facilities in Dongguan, China. His daughter, Janice Wang, took over as chief executive officer of the private company in 2002 and has evolved it into a full service technical fit and supply chain consultancy, with a turnover in “the tens of millions” 2015.
You have just unveiled a project where you have worked with mainland Europe value fashion retailer C&A over 12 months to overhaul its denim range’s sizing, leading to a 17.4% increase in sales of its women’s autumn 15 range compared to the previous autumn, and a 7.8% increase in denim or all sales, including men’s and children’s. Does this reflect how the company has changed?
We had recognised for some time that our clients needed more from us than our mannequins. They needed guidance and support in how to make their practice and processes more efficient so they could realise the benefits of the technical tools we supplied [Alvanon indentifies a client’s core body standard and then produces physical and virtual technical fit mannequins, pattern blocks and grading rules] and achieve their business objectives – of which increasing speed to market, boosting sales, growing into new markets, improving conversion rates, reducing returns and engaging with consumers are top of most lists. So we went out and recruited the best technical practitioners and apparel process experts we could find. Ed Gribbin, COO of bodyscan company Intellifit Corporation, joined us as president in 2006, which was the start of that process.
Janice wang headshot
Since then, we have gone on to appoint outstanding technical talent: Don Howard, former vice-president of technical design at womenswear brand Ann Taylor, as executive director in 2010, and a whole team of people who have worked in product development at every level from design, to pattern making and grading, through to fitting, sampling and production. Our people know at the granular level how best to make garments that fit and how to align all the technical and supply chain processes to ensure consistency in the end product. The C&A project is a perfect example of our consultancy team at work. We had more than 20 of our experts working on it and there has already been a significant impact. Since 2009, we have had 280 consulting projects with 190 brands, such as Marks & Spencer, across 22 countries. So we are always travelling.
How else are you evolving the business?
We are always looking for better ways to do things. Our research and development team has grown from two to around 17 since 2009. We are looking at other technologies out there, such as Kinect-based scanners which are depth video cameras that capture 3D images, algorithm builders that break down big data and extract body measurement data from various sources, and computer-aided learning. I think the world will change significantly in how we look at product.
Alvanon is widely regarded for its research into different body types and fits around the world. How do you amass this data?
As a company we have conducted the world’s largest-ever 3D consumer body shape scan surveys in more than 20 countries, including China, the UK, South Africa and Germany, with a database of more than 400,000 3D body scans. Sometimes this is client driven and very specific, or sometimes it can be driven by a country’s apparel association.
What has it been like working in a family business?
I have been working in the business with my brothers, research and development director Jonathan and chief operating officer Jason, since the start. Our father passed away in 2010, but he was a great visionary and adviser. The company really reflects his vision and how he wanted to improve standards in the industry. My brothers and I work really well together and it is very much a collaboration.
Alvanon does a lot of pro-bono work, including your Fashion Fit Movement, which recently committed £50,000 worth of technical fit forms – AlvaForms – to London-based garment manufacturer and training centre Fashion Enter. Can you tell me about that?
We have different programmes running around the world. We also have the Dr Kenneth Wang Mentorship Programme, which has just announced its support for US womenswear designer Rosie Assoulin – a very talented who was recently recognised by the Council of Fashion Designers of America when it presented Rosie with the 2015 Swarovski Award for emerging designers in the women’s wear category. There is a skills gap that we need to help cover, and we are just trying to give something back to the industry that gave so much to our family.