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How do you solve a problem like fit?

The Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry examined issues around fit at its latest fashion sizing conference

To better serve today’s shoppers, brands and retailers must be fit for the future. That was the conclusion of the third conference on fashion sizing hosted by the Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry at the Marriott Hotel in Peterborough last month.

The last conference on the topic took place nearly two years ago, the first was six years ago. With more shoppers buying online, sizing has grown in importance in the intervening years as consumers demand that their clothing, from petite to plus-size, fits first time so they can avoid the hassle of returning their online order.

However, recent figures from global market research firm NPD Group show that just 17% of UK consumers are happy with fit, meaning more than 80% are not, highlighting the need for brands and retailers to do more.

Speakers and fit experts at the conference debated the ongoing changes to how patterns are produced and garments fitted, and delivered updates on the latest developments.

Among the speakers were Tesco technical director Alan Wragg, Marks & Spencer technical manager for lingerie Julia Mercer, and Philip Parker, vice-chairman of Savile Row tailor Henry Poole & Co.

Ed Gribbin, president of size and fit specialist Alvanon, set the scene for the delegates, which included technologists and designers from the likes of Arcadia, JD Williams and LK Bennett.

Gribbin produced a series of figures to show how investing in technology will improve efficiency and cut costs, including the fact that 40% of items sold online and in store are returned due to issues with fit. 

“We sit in fittings all the time and in most cases it’s not a fitting, it’s a redesign session or remerchandising session. We’re mashing all of these disciplines together and hoping that good things come out in the end. And the one thing that doesn’t change is the delivery date,” he said.

Technology’s increasing role in solving fit issues was highlighted by a number of case studies throughout the day.

Mercer from M&S told how the retailer is keeping abreast of regional differences in bra sizes and empowering shoppers to use online technology to measure themselves.

M&S’s online Bra Fit Tool, which launched in November 2014, has been used by almost 170,000 women so far and generated £160,000 of sales since going live. The conversion rate of those using the app sits at 10%, more than double the online average of 4%.

“The new opportunities are endless to combine new technologies with bra fit and I’m working on new things all the time,” Mercer said, pointing to a mobile app version due to launch this month.

Similarly, Wragg, who has been working behind the scenes at Tesco’s F&F clothing business for 10 years, discussed how F&F saved £3m in 2014 alone by investing in 3D pattern-making software Modaris to improve margins and reduce online returns.

He revealed that just 14% of online purchases were returned in 2014, compared with 19% the year before, which he credits to the software investment.

Modaris, created by French retail technology firm Lectra, uses a 3D model to show how clothing will look on a person. The software is also used by Matalan and Swiss-based sportswear brand Odlo.

Wragg said it has reduced lead times because fewer fittings are needed during production: “If we can cut the lead time by one to two weeks, we sell so much more at full price rather than having to discount. If we do this on 30% of styles we make between £20m and £40m more profit.”

Other retailers were keen to find solutions for their own fit problems. Debenhams head of quality assurance Fiona Graham outlined its battle to get shoppers to buy online, revealing that its research showed 40% of its customers avoid shopping online because of worries about fit.

Debenhams is in the early stages of adopting elements of technology such as fit and styling videos for the Jeff Banks tailoring line. However, Graham also told Drapers it is considering a number of other options including digital at-home measuring tapes – a small device that shoppers can use to sync their sizes to a retailer’s website – as well as 3D body scanning during production, and virtual fitting rooms.

There are numerous versions of 3D fit software. All largely follow the same principles of digitally stitching garments onto a virtual model, allowing alterations to be made before sampling and improving communication with suppliers who can work from the same avatar anywhere in the world.

The topic of fashion sizing is so pertinent that the ASBCI is in the process of compiling a technical booklet, Apparel Size & Fit - A Definitive Guide, which will contain information such as size survey and fitting processes, alongside contributions from members including Alvanon, Lectra and Manchester University.

The booklet will be available to order online from in the coming months, priced at £100 for members and £185 for non-members.

Readers' comments (1)

  • The key issue with 'size fit' is that mass market clothes rarely match the size quoted, owing to imprecision of the manufacturing process. You only have to measure 2-3 garments in the same size to see what I mean.

    Research we carried out in M&S and Debenhams found variances of 10-15% in same size garments as well as sizes typically larger than those quoted in each retailer's size chart ranges.

    Until garments are more accurately manufactured, all forms of fit sizing will be flawed. I'm always amazed how few know or even acknowledge this.

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