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Fit Shapes Up

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Alvanon president Ed Gribbin always heads straight to the sale rack when he visits a store. He’s not looking for bargains – he’s confirming that many garments don’t sell because of confusing sizing.

While merchandise color and styling are crucial for consumer satisfaction, fit really is the game changer for a sale. “Color may be the No. 1 reason shoppers gravitate toward a garment, but fit is the No. 1 reason people buy it – or return it,” Gribbin says, “and fit is the No. 1 reason they go back to a particular brand.”

Last year, $200 billion worth of clothing was returned to stores because it wasn’t the right size, according to Alvanon. Add to that inventory that doesn’t move because consumers don’t like how the clothing fits, and the trouble can sink right to the bottom line.

Alvanon hopes to change that. Injecting technology into fit, the self-described global size and fit expert works with clients ranging from Prada and Hugo Boss to Walmart and Target.

“Every brand looks at their fit as something that’s proprietary, like their ‘secret sauce,’ and none is willing to share that info with anyone else,” Gribbin says. But customers want consistency that requires a more scientific approach.

“Our current customer base is a seasoned shopper: She understands fabric, fit and comfort,” says Kyle Kennedy, divisional vice president of technical design at Coldwater Creek. “While she wants to be fashion relevant, a flattering fit to frame her body is important to her.”

Thousands of body scans
Alvanon works with brands to expand the number of people they can dress by focusing on body shapes, not just sizing. Originally developed in 2001 by Intellifit Corporation, Alvanon’s AlvaScan is a full-body scanner that captures accurate measurement data in seconds. That data is aggregated and used to create a 3D virtual body, the starting point for making a mannequin. Alvanon has built the largest global database of body measurements by placing the scanners in retail stores or malls.

“Every single one of our mannequins is based on thousands and thousands of body scans of real people,” Gribbin says. “And when we go to our database, we have empirical evidence that backs up what real women out there who are size eight or 10 really look like.

“There is no perfect anything,” he says. “We are so diverse that in any given size, there are probably four or six different body types that are represented.”

The original fitting standards evolved from a measurement study commissioned by the WPA in the 1940s. Nearly a decade later, the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) reanalyzed the original data and developed an official system. That system has been the basis of all future systems; in 1995 the ASTM (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials) published a table of body measurements. An apparel subcommittee was established within the structure of ASTM to take control of the standard, update it and spread it throughout the industry.

Representatives of dozens of major brands and retailers began meeting twice a year to determine how to update the standards, but the lack of empirical data about how sizes had changed meant that everything the committee did until about 2007 was based on the anecdotal experiences of committee members and their companies. In reality, very little changed during that period — besides an acknowledgement of the impact of vanity sizing.

After joining Alvanon in 2006 as the head its consulting practice, Gribbin volunteered for the ASTM committee with the goal of sharing some of Alvanon’s 3D body shape data. In 2007, the ASTM Girls Standard was updated using Alvanon research, data and talent.

Most recently, Alvanon released information on its latest range of sizing and fit tools based on the dominant body shape of real U.S. women. Its U.S. Missy Standard avatar and AlvaForm technical fit mannequin range are the result of thousands of 3D body scans taken of women between the ages of 25 and 45.

The tools enable brands and retailers to select the best sample size for their target consumer demographics while also validating their fit across sizes — ultimately designing clothes that fit more of their customers better. Alvanon plans to introduce Mexican and global junior standards later this year.

Proportion and fit
“Alvanon has been an instrumental partner to Coldwater Creek … helping us to better understand our customer demographics, sizing and standards,” Kennedy says.

Over the past few years, Alvanon helped roll out standard fit forms that allowed for universal fit to include proportion as well as fit balance. Coldwater Creek customers are typically between the ages of 45 and 65, Kennedy says, but as the assortment evolves, the offer is being expanded to capture a broader demographic and entice mother-daughter shopping. Fit will be crucial in that effort.

Fit may be even more critical in the bridal market. Minhee Seol-Park, vice president of technical design for David’s Bridal, says the retailer has worked with Alvanon for seven years on projects ranging from developing core body forms for petite, missy and plus consumers to evaluating customer satisfaction.

“Typically, the bridal customer has envisioned this special day since she was a little girl,” Seol-Park says. “Her expectations are high and she wants to look perfect for herself, her husband-to-be, family and guests. The way she looks on this special day is recorded and kept for life and may be passed on for generations to come. Therefore the fit of the dress must be exceptional.”

With competition in apparel fiercer than ever, fit is assuming a bigger role. “The consumer has more choices and is fickle. You have to make them want to come back,” says Gribbin. “Taking a scientific approach to fit removes one of the obstacles to building consumer loyalty.”