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Consumer Shape Holds the Key to Fashion Future
Feature: 1/6/2011

Delegates are urged to ‘get real’ at the ASBCI Interactive Sizing and Fashion Technology Seminar

ASOS.com, Boden, Burberry, Burtons and BHS menswear, Dorothy Perkins, George, Joules, Marks & Spencer, Monsoon, Mothercare, Next, Topman, Topshop and Peacocks were among nearly 200 delegates to attend the seminar at the ASBCI’s two day interactive sizing and fashion technology workshop and seminar held recently at the Leicester Tigers, Welford Road Stadium.

Speakers gave delegates a vision of fashion’s future in a series of presentations that put the shape of the global consumer at the heart of consumer ‘fit’ and retail success. With the “decade of quantity” behind us delegates were urged to enter a “decade of quality” where value, quality and consistency would give more consumer satisfaction and uplift sales.

State of the art technologies such as 3D body scanners that generate detailed shape data by age, gender, ethnicity and geographic area are already playing a major role in making fashion fit more consumers better and this is predicted to increase as the technology is developed for home use and in retail outlets.

The seminar programme opened with apparel fit expert Ed Gribbin, president, Alvanon Inc., who tackled the consumer “fit frustration factor.” He argued that: “The disposable fast fashion decade of quantity is finished” and the consumer demand for value, quality and consistency will drive a new “decade of quality.” Fashion success will depend on satisfying consumers’ demands and ‘fit’ plays a key role in securing a purchase and preventing a return.

In the face of a UK and European population in which two-thirds of its female population is obese he urged fashion suppliers to abandon the old idealistic “hourglass or athletic build” fit standards. He explained it is time to adopt scientific fit practices and processes based on real consumer shape data generated by 3D body scanners and design garments on 3D virtual Avatars and customised technical fit forms.

For brands that achieve a consistent fit the reward will be customer loyalty, increased full price sell through and reduced returns. He concluded: “Communication is key – tell your target customers why your fit is better for them.” To this end Alvanon is currently developing a new consumer shape and fit mobile app – to be launched in 2012.

Karen Schiller, senior consultant fashion, Lectra agreed: “Global morphology is very varied so fashion suppliers should go to size surveys to identify their target consumer demographic, then generate body measure charts for their consumers that can be translated into design and pattern charts.” 3D design prototyping on realistic idio-parametric Avatars allows designers to create styles with visually correct proportions across the entire target size range and in over 140 fabric types. “There is no investment in fabric or shipping and it allows for fine tuning before any physical samples are made saving time and money.” She added: “Making clothes that look good for size 8, 10 or 12s is easy but making clothes that fit well on size 14 plus is more challenging…Some fashion companies are still making five or six physical samples of a design before approval.” Design in a virtual environment is the future because ironically it is based on body data from real people.

Dr Jochen Balzulat, director 3D body scanning, Assyst Bullmer UK partner Human Solutions GmBH is also committed to delivering the technology that: “adapts products to the real human shape by providing detailed information on customers’ sizes and shapes.” The Human Solution 3D laser body scanner collects detailed measurements of size, shape and posture from which it produces size tables. This vital marketing information can be used to determine market share potential for companies thinking about exporting product into new overseas markets. It is also used to produce 3D models upon which 2D patterns can be “thrown”, modified and validated.

He warned: “If you do this visualisation you need a realistic shape of your target customers across your size range.” For companies that cannot afford a customised consumer data programme, shape data by population can be obtained relatively easily and inexpensively through the company’s on-line iSize morphological data taken from existing global 3D scanning projects.

Andrew Crawford, managing director of consumer shape research specialist Sizemic has worked extensively on a number of the UK’s largest shape collection projects including Size UK. He advised delegates to: “move away from its fixation with linear measurements as they have little to do with body shape.” The industry must acknowledge that the classic hourglass figure of the 1940s and 50s is now straighter and less curvy. Retailers who have invested in 3D shape research not only know the shape of their target customers but what percentage of their offer would fit that population, what adjustments they need to make to fit more of that target market and even how the shape of their preferred fit models compare with the body profiles of the consumer population.

Putting the theory into practice is Jackie Lewis, head of technology ladieswear with the UK’s largest e-tailer Shop Direct Group, SDG. She gave delegates a fascinating insight into how SDG developed and launched its new 50+ fashion brand isme.com. Recognising that body shape changes as we get older SDG tasked it technical teams and isme designers to create: “Fashion with no age barrier” and to focus on women between 50 and 65 years where the average dress size is 14. Body shape data taken from real women in the target population helped isme designers produce clothes that fit.

New sleeve lengths, neck drops, hemlines, revised bust darts, rise lengths over tummies together with discrete control panels in trousers, curved waist bands, trouser leg lengths according to preferred heel sizes were all taken into account and patterns were redefined to suit the target shape. Then real women were invited to wear and try the garments and their feedback informed new designs. Crucially isme is communicating the technical differences to the customer so they understand why the clothes fit them better.

Paula Cannon, design & technical manager with bespoke corporate clothing specialist Incorporatewear agreed: “Getting fit right for each individual is crucial and we can only achieve that if we have total customer focus.” So how does Incorporatewear manage to fit its extensive wearer profiles ranging between 16 and 65 years of age and from size 4 to 30? Accurate self measurement practices; extensive wearer trials on real employees and the magic three: “Three fit blocks per style, three age bands, three designs per garment type, three fabrics and three lengths in skirts and trousers!,” supported by relentless process driven communication: “We have to listen to our wearers, designers, manufacturers, suppliers and we have to tell them how to do it and why we do it the way we do.”

At the other end of the population extreme Richard Barnes, managing director of Select Research gave delegates a master class in children’s shape research a subject upon which he is an authority having recently completed the first 3D children’s shape survey in the UK since 1978. Some 2,500 four to 17 year-olds were scanned generating 500,000 measurements for 3D analysis and delivery.

The results were a media sensation as it showed girls’ height increased by 2.5cm, waist by 11cms and hips by 4cms. But as explained by Richard Barnes: “It isn’t comparing like with like as the ethnic mix of our population means the most recent survey contained a representative spread of children from more varied backgrounds who will be different shapes due to their ethnicity.” Such factors have to be borne in mind when analysing data. Select is currently inviting interested parties to fund a baby and toddler research survey – but this time the measurements will be taken manually.

Dr Mike Fralix, president and CEO of body scan technology specialist [TC]2 showed how such brands as Victoria’s Secret lingerie and Levi jeans are successfully using in-store 3D scanning booths to match customers’ body shapes with the best fitting garments. While this has been a huge success it also represents a big investment in money and floor space so only a limited number of retailers will be able to move a booth in-store. However, this is about to dramatically change with the advent of the NX-16; the world’s first portable home or in-store 3D body scanner.

Still at the prototype stage the NX-16 is being developed by [TC]2 in collaboration with Microsoft Kinect to work on the Xbox. Users can scan their bodies, fully clothed, in the comfort of their own home or in-store, to create a three dimensional Avatar. It can be personalized by uploading a digital photo of the users face onto the Avatar. Then users select garments from compatible fashion web sites or designs in-store and try-on for style and fit suitability in a virtual world.

This: “Vision of the future” is set to transform on-line home shopping and will challenge existing retail store lay-outs: “Retailers could make better use of their retail space in a ‘combination mall’ lay-out where you identify and try-on your chosen garment, in the right size for your shape, in a virtual world before it is ‘pulled’ down from a warehouse space for a final try and buy – it’s a different model of retailing.” The NX-16 is due to be launched in the US in the autumn 2011.

Duncan Ross, senior commercial manager of independent digital printing consultancy AVA CAD CAM was the first of two presentations on textile design and colour. He demonstrated how too many retailers and fashion designers are wasting money, damaging the environment and missing opportunities by supporting inefficient design, communication, development and approval practices in the textile design supply chain: “Bad practice makes companies very conservative in their design selection because they want to avoid new costs.”

He advised companies to revisit their workflow and showed how the most successful retailers and mills are using integrated CAD CAM solutions to achieve first colour approvals.

Continuing the digital colour textile theme, Carola Seybold, channel management textile Europe, Middle East and Africa with Pantone and X-Rite, explained: “Matching colours on different fabrics is very difficult and to dye them consistently across batches is very difficult.”


To help the process X-Rite in association with its sister company Pantone have developed a handheld colour capture device called Capsure® that not only captures a digital image of a colour but also matches it to the nearest of 8,000 Pantone colours and free on-line dye colour recipes. The wireless device can capture up to four colours at the same time and features a voice recorder for mobile memos. Once colours are captured the data can be exported to colour management tools such as Lectra’s Kaleda software or if working with a trend forecasting company web site users can download an image and Capsure will produce the Pantone match.

The ASBCI interactive sizing and fashion technology workshop and seminar is the latest in a series of events organised by the association to familiarise the UK’s fashion supply chain professionals with the very latest developments in sizing and fit strategies and technologies. Previous ‘sector specific’ seminars run by the association have addressed sizing and fit issues in childrenswear, fashion & corporate wear and in lingerie, swimwear and sportswear.

Author: Catherine Christie
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