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Can the kidswear market agree on sizing?

A report surveying children’s measurements offers the prospect of consistent sizing across kidswear, but will this become reality or remain a fairytale?

As any parent knows, buying clothes to fit their children is no mean feat, particularly with discrepancies in sizing across the industry. However, the kidswear industry has made its first steps towards embracing new guidelines for a consistent approach, which will be beneficial to both retailers and consumers.

After several years of research, body shape analyst Alvanon and sizing research company Select Research along with six retailers have launched Shape GB Children’s Sizing Report, the most comprehensive nationwide study of children’s measurements since 1978.

The report, which provides standardised sizes for kidswear, aims to help retailers and brands become more consistent and accurate. It will be available to download and purchase through the Shape GB website from February 28. There will also be new technical fit mannequins to buy, which will match the new sizes.

The data found wider variances of body shape rather than height within age groups. Therefore the new report recommends sizing body fit according to different height points and aligning these to age, rather than the more commonly used measure across British retail of correlating body shape directly to age.

In the last 35 years British children have grown both in height and in girth, so the report has been gratefully received across the entire industry.

“This has been a long time coming,” says Verdict senior clothing analyst Honor Westnedge. “There is no competitive advantage for retailers keeping their sizing data confidential.

By combining their information with the survey results Britain will have a more logical approach to kidswear sizing.”

Ed Gribbin, president of Alvanon, believes the failure to update sizing standards since the late 1970s has created problems for both retailers and shoppers. “Kids have changed.

The standard previously published is outdated,” he says. “There is inconsistency across brands and retailers, creating confusion and frustration for shoppers and a high percentage of returns and exchanges.”

Gribbin is confident the new standard will ultimately lead to fewer returns, and even greater economies of scale when it comes to manufacturing.

“Consumers will find children’s sizing is more accurate and consistent regardless of where they shop,” he explains.

Retailers including George at Asda, Marks & Spencer, Monsoon, Next, Shop Direct and Tesco invested in the research and are already able to access the information, meaning they could standardise their sizing imminently.

With these six retailers making up 48% of the kidswear market, according to Kantar Worldpanel, that could be the start of a real sea change for the sector.

John Danes, senior kidswear technologist at Monsoon, believes Shape GB will “realign kidswear sizing across the high street”.

Kevin Parkin, head of kidswear design at home shopping retailer Shop Direct Group, parent company of Very.co.uk and Littlewoods, says the move “eliminates guesswork when shopping for children”.

Paul Wright, head of ethical and quality at George, says the new up-to-date information will help Asda’s label to maintain fit and sizing accuracy.

All three argue the standards can and should be adopted by others in the industry. According to Wright the guidelines “will benefit smaller businesses who wouldn’t normally have access to such research, as much as it will benefit parents”.

Indies are already applauding the sizing report, saying it will help reduce confusion for parents.

“We always have to advise customers on sizing,” says Liz Pilgrim, owner of Ealing kidswear indie Babye and agency The Baby Agency. “There is a huge discrepancy, particularly with the designer labels as they are slightly on the smaller side. Non-designer brands are all over the place, though; I sometimes don’t know where they get their sizing from.”

Amaia Arrieta, owner of two-store London kidswear indie Amaia, agrees. “A standard set of measures would make everyone’s life easier. We try our clothes on our kids first; we have to know how they fit so we can advise customers.”

However, Arrieta doubts how universal the standard will become in the wider kidswear business - she stocks brands from all over the world, but these guidelines are only meant for British sizing.

It also seems it could take a while for smaller brands to convert their sizing to the new guidelines.

Fiona Bell, owner of premium kidswear brand Their Nibs, says she will be in no hurry to make any changes, as the current sizing works well.

However, she does welcome the guidelines in principle, saying they will help the industry as a whole - particularly as etail becomes increasingly important. “[Current discrepancies] do cause problems, especially if people are buying online and can’t try it on,” she says.

Rachel Riley, managing director of the eponymous kidswear brand, is planning to adopt the measurements in the Shape GB report soon.

“I look forward to having a similar sizing structure as other manufacturers - consistency is good for businesses and customers alike,” she says.

“Sizes are very varied for children, and it was for that reason that when I set up my own company, I wanted to make sure the sizes corresponded to the ages of the children as closely as possible,” says Riley.

Despite this enthusiasm, while those retailers that participated in the study are already using the guidelines in their own manufacturing, it could take several years for the new measurements to trickle down to all others in the industry.

“It will be interesting to see the new standards materialise across retailers over the next few years, and whether smaller boutique players will make the investment,” says Westnedge.

“Time and investment will be required from retailers and their suppliers and manufacturers - especially those producing clothing across a number of different retailers,” she adds.

“But manufacturers stand to benefit in the long term, with designing, pattern cutting and labelling becoming far more efficient. Kidswear players with international operations will also need to consider whether the British standard sizing is suitable for global stores.”

By having a new working standard for kidswear and a new set of technical fit mannequins, everyone in the supply chain down to the end consumer stands to benefit. And with almost half of the kidswear market already starting to impose the new measurements, it won’t be long before the rest of the industry should begin to follow suit.

Story in Numbers

2,885 - Children scanned during the research
12 - Locations used to scan for the study
200 - Measurements per child
6 - Retailers took part in the report
£1,450 - Price to buy the report

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