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The perfect fit

Inconsistent sizing could be a thing of the past with a new pan-European mannequin. Now its maker Alvanon has set up a mentoring scheme to pass on its knowledge.

Operating in today’s global market is fraught with challenges, not least when it comes to sizing. With designers catering for different body types across the globe, relying on communication between their design studio and manufacturers (who are often based offshore), and then paying for samples to be sent back and forth, their operations need to be as slick as possible.

It’s with this in mind that clothing fit solutions firm Alvanon has launched a global mentoring programme for fledgling designers to mark its 10th anniversary. The two-year programme is being trialled in the US, Europe and Asia and participants will receive a free, pan-European AlvaForm technical fit mannequin, significant discounts on additional mannequins (or forms, as they’re known), and five hours of monthly global sizing and fit technical guidance – all of which would normally cost $40,000 (£25,058) per year.

Janice Wang, co-founder and chief executive of the global Alvanon Group, says the family-owned firm decided to launch the initiative following the death last year of her father, the company’s founder Dr Kenneth Wang, to mark his legacy and give something back to the industry. “Designers can usually get a lot of business advice, but they might not be able to get a lot of technical help. Often they know what they want to create but they might not have the production means or the technical know-how,” she says.

“Larger companies already have the infrastructure behind them, but a lot of designers operate with a small team and have basic needs that they need to overcome. Many don’t have the money, and those are the ones we want to help, because other people helped us to grow at the start, and now it’s our turn to do the same.”

Alvanon’s first wave of participating designers includes London-based designer Saloni Lodha, eco-fashion designer Carrie Parry in the US, and Asian kidswear brand A for Apple. The current crop of designers came through recommendations, though Wang says the company is looking to set a criteria for the next group of participants in 2012. Each participant gets two years of guidance and the programme is ongoing, with no official cut-off date announced as yet.

The fit specialist sent two of its new EU standard AlvaForms to Lodha at her north London studio and one to her garment production facility in India to facilitate fit and design communication between the two sites. The designer received the forms, two sized EU 34/UK 8 and one size EU 38/UK 12, just in time for finalising her spring 12 collection, and she has used them to size and fit dresses and trousers.

Taking form

Before receiving her AlvaForms, Lodha, whose designs under the brand name Saloni are stocked in the UK by cSee Boutique in Cobham, Surrey, Square in Bath and mini-chain Matches, and internationally by the likes of New York department store Barneys, says she had been using a “very old school” form with an outdated body shape, while her manufacturing facility in India was using a different mannequin altogether.

“We do a lot of our fittings over Skype with our factory in India. Having the same forms to work from has improved communications between the two sites and now things can often be improved at a much earlier stage, reducing the number of samples we need to make and saving on shipping costs,” says Lodha.

Wang says larger companies have an advantage in that they have the funds to invest in the same forms for their design offices and offshore factories: “They can obviously afford to do this and production speed is important to them. In a small designer’s case they might be working from the mannequin that they have in their studio and then telling their production exactly what they want, but there is no reference, and this can lead to inconsistencies in fit.”

Alvanon’s EU standard AlvaForm was brought to the market in May and is the first pan-European fit form. It is based on the analysis of 3D body scans of more than 50,000 male and female consumers aged between 20 and 40 in the UK, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Russia and Spain, along with World Health Organisation data from 17 other European countries.

“When we decided on the pan-European fit it really came with a lot of research behind it. Fashion designers don’t just sell one brand in one country in Europe. They want to expand beyond their own country’s borders,” says Wang.

Designer womenswear label Temperley London has invested in eight forms in total, two for its London studios and a further six for its factories in India and the Far East. The brand’s product director Carla Woidt says the forms have helped the brand iron out the fit issues it had experienced when using previous forms: “I thought the research behind the forms into body shapes was very interesting. The form has a woman’s curves in all the right places, and the way garments fall on this form is very close to how they would fall on a real body.”

Value chain Peacocks has also invested in the forms. “The AlvaForm is the starting point for all our product development,” says head of product technology Paul M Smith. “We fit on the stand [mannequin] in the first instance, for consistency, then subsequently on a live model to check for comfort, ease and movement. But the standard point of reference will always be the stand. We will also be encouraging our strategic and key suppliers to buy into the stands, which we see as a key investment for both parties.”

Smith says that as well as helping Peacocks’ customers to shop with confidence in terms of sizing consistency, the forms have also sped up the retailer’s product development process, improved communications with factories and reduced the number of samples that need to be made. “Any improvement we can make in lead times is of obvious benefit, allowing us to work closer to the season, improving our forecasting accuracy, markdowns and cash flow,” he says.

The next challenge

However, like all new products to market, there are areas for improvement. Lodha says she finds it difficult to drape onto the mannequin because the material covering the form is too hard to take pins easily. And despite Alvanon’s best intentions of creating a pan-European mannequin, because UK retailers still use imperial measurements, they have to translate their European metric measurements back into imperial. For example, Peacocks says the girth measurements for grading on AlvaForms’ mannequin is 4cm, supporting European sizing, as opposed to the standard British two inches. “We’ve worked around this by [using the Alvanon forms] and then provided our own grade rules, based on the British sizing code. Alvanon has then commission-made the extra sizes we required,” Smith explains.  l

  • Are you a commercially established designer who wants to expand internationally? Contact Amanda Dix at Alvanon on 020 7792 5977 or email to see if you meet the mentoring programme criteria

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