It is not enough to gather body fit data – understanding how to use it is crucial.
For many fashion retailers, grasping the importance of good body-dimension data is just the first step. The next question is how to use it.
Outerwear brand Patagonia used an analysis of general body scans alongside its own product lifecycle data – including sales and return rates – to determine the core size of its male and female customers (case studies, p33). It realised that its core female shopper has a more athletic, less curvy body type than it first thought. Using the findings, it created a new platform for all product categories, including new fit blocks and libraries.
“The block library is the starting point for most of our products,” explains Patagonia’s product development director Alma Balling. “It ensures consistency and that things such as arm holes are always the same size.”
Some brands are taking this to the next level, offering truly bespoke options. For US shirtmaker Stantt, the best way to disrupt the market was to offer a solution to a common problem.
“We were shocked to discover that the traditional sizing system for men of small, medium and large results in ‘a perfect fit’ for only 15% of all men,” explains co-founder Matt Hornbuckle.
Stantt examined data from body scans and created 50 different sizes for men. Its customers can now go online and enter their chest, waist and sleeve measurements, and an algorithm works out exactly which fit of shirt would be right for them.
The consumer of today has realised that standard sizes in clothing don’t necessarily fit very well
Jan Hojman, Tailor Store
Swedish online retailer Tailor Store takes a similar approach, offering made-to-measure shirts and custom clothes. Customers enter their height, weight and collar size for shirts, or hip, seat and inseam measurements for trousers, and an algorithm calculates the correct size.
“The consumer of today has realised that standard sizes in clothing don’t necessarily fit very well,” says chief executive Jan Hojman.
Retailers can combat poor fit if they drill down into data about body size, explains Don Howard, executive director of fit specialist Alvanon.
“[Using body-dimension data] allows you to make accurate adjustments that are relevant to customers who do not fall into the dominant size ranges,” Howard says.
“Previous purchase history tells you a lot about your customer,” adds Janice Wang, chief executive of Alvanon. “The marketing lens will tell you your customer is, say, aged 14 to 28 and likes showing skin, but what size are those people? We provide the algorithmic point of view – how you make a 6, 8, 10 or 12 in the right body shapes.”
Once a brand or retailer knows how to apply body-dimension data across a wide spectrum of male and female builds, it will be much better placed to make informed forecasts of stock requirements. It is also less likely to be left with excess inventory.
Expanding into new territories
Furthermore, using and applying body-dimension data can open up new geographical markets. Understanding the size demographics of local populations enables brands to cater directly to their needs.
Say, for example, you are expanding into Japan, says Howard: “Do you go ahead and make a smaller version for the Japanese market, which in many cases means you’re flying blind? Or do you retail sizes that are a very specific pan-Asian fit, informed by the data?”
“When a brand knows a new market, that really helps,” explains Wang. “Say a huge athletic brand goes to China and knows people there are generally smaller, so they make the trousers three inches shorter. But then they realise the height difference isn’t that great in northern China.
“It’s about having that gut instinct backed up by facts,” she adds. “And those facts might surprise you. The more you know about your demographic, the better you will do.”
Fiona Heygate, head of womenswear buying at Jaeger, agrees: “Once you have your global sizing data, you can tailor your sizes to any chosen market. That leads to fewer returns on orders as a result of size inconsistencies.”
The important thing for fashion brands and retailers, regardless of whether they are set on international expansion, is to make sure they are using body-dimension data to inform their wider product lifecycle strategies, and, by extension, to capture and retain customers.
The dos and don’ts of using body dimension data
Emily Robertson-Hood Senior consultant, Alvanon
- Do review your current approach to fit and sizing. Does your fit model resemble a real customer?
- Do remember that age has one of the biggest impacts on how the body looks. Determine the real age of your customer – not who you want it to be. By all means seek a younger customer base, but make a considered plan – do not jerk the wheel to the left.
- Don’t get hung up on very specific regional data. I always ask: can you support creating product on a specialised basis for specific regions? If you are selling in eastern and western Europe, it is not really necessary to know the body dimensions for every country – but do note key differences, such as height.
- Don’t worry about collecting masses of data. Having data that was collected with a quantifiable, systematic and thorough approach is more important that having tons of data gathered with questionable methodology.
- Do seek expert help to enable you to analyse body-fit data in a commercial way, taking into account what is feasible in terms of manufacturing, or what is meaningful to the customer.
- Do test the application of body-dimension data before launching into full-scale production.