Can digital fashion and technology solve the size problem?

Small, medium, large or extra large? Why does the fashion industry continue to define an enormous diversity of body types in such a small range of sizes? If fashion is about expressing identity, then why are people reduced to unlikely standards?

The issue of sizing in the fashion industry is not a new topic, but it is still not given enough attention. For decades, consumers have complained that they can not find their sizes in stores, or that the size of various brands is inaccurate or incomprehensible. There are also many stories of traumatic shopping experiences.

I’m sorry to disappoint anyone who thinks online shopping can solve this problem. Traditional stores that return the same clothing orders online as never before. In the United States, the average rate of return for online purchases in 2021 was 20.8 percent, sales are still making the same mistakes, and people are sending their 15 percent increase over 2020. This equates to $ 218 billion in returned online purchases, according to the National Retail Federation and Retail Appriss.

People do not find their size, do not enjoy their shopping experience and do not feel represented by an industry that is essentially founded for self-expression. How should we solve this?


This article is a collaboration between The Digital Fashion Group Academy and FashionUnited, written by Dr Lívia Pinent, digital professor of research at The Digital Fashion Group Academy.

Do you know your plus-size customer?

For Virgie Tovar, Body Positive activist, author and contributor to Forbes, it all starts with acknowledging and acknowledging how poorly body diversity is represented in fashion sizes: “We need to start by acknowledging that in the United States, 70 percent of the women plus size. The size of the problem becomes clear when we realize how the world is set up, not just for fashion. Our world is actually set up for the body size of the minority. ”

Tovar gives an example of how GAP Inc started exploring the plus-size market through the Old Navy and Athleta brands by doing market research of what their plus-size consumers wanted: “Brands say they have no market data and say these women have no desire to buy clothes and they do not come back.The problem is the feedback loop.This group is not considered a desirable or legitimate consumer.For example, a brand can expand a line or launch a Plus-Size brand, but it will not be published and then it will not go well. It will be data that will influence later decisions. ”

What can we do to change this scenario? “We need to fundamentally change the way we think about plus-size customers. The prevailing belief in fashion is that ‘she does not want to be plus-size, she does not want to invest in a wardrobe because she’s mostly trying to get thin. We’re looking at a cultural shift, “said the activist, adding,” while there is no evidence that overweight people by definition become light people over time. “Instead, the body positivity movement has become more and more important, the idea that you can live a great life, exactly in your size. ”

The editor of FashNerd, Muchaneta Kapfunde, says that “the open secret is that fashion brands are moving their sizes, which can make consumers feel slimmer. This is basically the emergence of the so-called vanity sizing, “and emphasized this with a personal experience:” I shopped at French Connection, I tried a size 10 (equivalent to size 38, ed.), and I thought, ‘Oh my god, I have a size 10’. And then I went to Topshop and had sizes 12 to 14 (sizes 40-42). I did not remember my size because it was so different. “Kapfunde understands that a few brands use this as a strategy. By adjusting the size, women get better at themselves in that brand and buy more. After all, size is an emotional issue for this target audience.

Technology can help, but at what cost?

Muchaneta, who has been beating fashion and technology for years, has seen many exciting projects emerge to help consumers in their quest for the right size, but she also recognizes the challenges the industry faces: “There are technologies to help shoppers “However, privacy laws prevent them from collecting and storing this data. Although these innovations help the industry, especially with its growing problem of returns, it actually creates another problem, namely privacy. “And Kapfunde raises the question:” How uncomfortable are we women to provide all the information about the actual size of our bra ? This is information we prefer to keep to ourselves. While innovation solves a problem, it also brings another problem to our hands. “The foreground.”

“Customers retain ownership of the data,” said Nicole Reader, CEO and founder of Modern Mirror, a customization system that uses 3D scanning and body movement capture to enhance the shopping experience. “The customer says with whom, when, where and how the data is shared, when they are deleted, that they are not collected on servers or sold afterwards. How can we use the data, share aggregated data and not the personal data. And what can we share with brands so they can start making clothes that better suit consumers? ” And adds: “We need to be very careful about how this data is shared, who owns this data, and how we can also protect our consumers.”

For Reader and her company, privacy is an important issue, not only when it comes to data collection, but also because customization is a delicate moment for the customer: “I’ve had customers who did not want to go into customization. Room, and I understands that “I also do not feel comfortable going into a rehearsal room and seeing myself. We were not taught to embrace what we look like. “Therefore, Reader understands that this problem goes beyond size:” We need to go beyond the question of size. It’s about how our clothes fit us, it does not matter what size we have, as long as we have the right outfit and it looks good, we feel good in it, and it fits our body, it is that which really matters. ”

Returns as modus operandi

For the fashion industry, returns lead not only to lost profits, but also to significant pollution at every transaction. But why do consumers return so many items? Reader explains “More than 30 to 40 percent of people say they buy clothes in three different sizes because they already know in advance that they will return two of the three garments. In 2019, before the pandemic, Revolve booked a sale on over 450 million but their losses were more than 500 million from returns and exchanges. Not to mention the loss of profits, from a sustainability perspective, this leaves a significant CO2 footprint for round trip transport. ”

Muchaneta Kapfunde added, “a company called Precise said that only 2 percent of online fashion buyers actually buy clothes in the right size. That percentage really shocked me. You might think 30, 40 percent, but 2 percent?” And what is the solution? For the editor of FashNerd, the solution is a strategic partnership between the fashion industry and technology companies: “The industry still has a small notion of innovation. It’s something very new, very scary for them. That’s why collaborations are so useful. Why do not team up with one of the startups that are bringing these solutions to the table and figure out how to get better results than these 2 percent? ”

“It’s not just the dealers,” Kapfunde said. “I would love to see consumers take that power back and create themselves. Imagine creating your own avatar through an app with your exact goals that you have access to, not the retailer. So when you shop online, use you use that app to get as close to your size as possible. The retailer no longer has your information, you keep it. Now many consumers do not trust brands. They have to earn it back. ”

Since the first industrial revolution, the fashion industry has owned the system: sizes, colors and fabrics in a top-down structure. It is difficult for these companies to realize that consumers actually own their own bodies, sizes and ideas. We could finally see a change made possible by digital fashion, where the consumer acted as co-creator. But is the fashion industry ready? We hope so.

This article is based on the webinar “Digital Design & Sustainable Future: The Sizing” hosted by The Digital Fashion Group Academy. You can take a sneak peek at the discussion below and watch the entire webinar on TDFGA’s website.

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