The rising urgency of the issue of fit and its impact on brands and retailers today

The rising fit issue

A major problem plaguing the fashion industry today is the need for better fit. This has been a growing issue, compounded by consumer habits pivoting to more online shopping, which was accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and some manufacturers sacrificing quality and fit to maintain a price point in an atmosphere of high inflation rates. Along with the steady growth of e-commerce, return rates are increasing. Some retailers have reported online returns to be as high as 30-50% across categories, many apparel returns being due to poor fit. In a recent study conducted of over 2000 shoppers who had made online returns within a 6-month period, 45% of those cited fit as their top reason for returning a purchase.1 This has a high negative impact on brands and retailers, contributing to billions of dollars in economic losses every year within the US alone.

Close up image of a fashion designer cutting fabric using a pattern piece and gold handled scissors, with a yellow measuring tape laid across the workspace.
Apparel manufacturers in the US have historically relied on universal sizing to produce mass market clothing, but sizing standards have proven to be flawed.

The history of sizing

Beginning in the 1930’s, American women were entering the workforce and the military, catalogue shopping was becoming popular, and it became apparent that there was no data on women’s sizing for clothing. Several studies were done to address this, but these programs excluded non-white women from their data pool. One early study conducted by the Department of Home Economics would recruit “measuring squads” to collect the measurements of tens of thousands of women across the United States but would dispose of any data collected from minority women. These studies also failed to consider the many variations in shape found across women of all demographics, instead landing on one average figure, of which no singular woman matched. Throughout the last century, numerous initiatives have been launched to measure members of the American public and create updated sizing standards, but companies have strayed from maintaining these standards. Brands have engaged in various approaches to fit, used vanity sizing, or excluded larger sizes altogether. There is no consistency.

A crowd of empty mannequins facing backwards, an indication of the lack of inclusivity in women's sizing.
The industry has historically leaned towards trending silhouettes for what has long been considered "conventional" body types.

What this means for the apparel market today

As the apparel market has engaged in a massive shift from brick-and-mortar stores to the e-commerce model, the flaws in current sizing practices can no longer be ignored. Brands have attempted solutions such as size-recommendation tools specific to their products, but they have failed to solve the sizing dilemma. For the consumer, poor fit not only results in an unpleasant emotional experience associated with body image, but also taints a customer’s experience with the brand, damaging the trust between brands and their customers. In response to the fit issue, shoppers have adopted practices such as “size-bracketing,” meaning a customer will buy multiple sizes of an item, returning the ones that don’t fit.

Two hands holding a stack of folded jeans and loading them into an empty cardboard box.
63% of shoppers have reported size-bracketing as part of their online shopping routine.2

While online stores have historically offered free returns as incentives to their clientele, this policy has proven to be economically harmful to businesses, resulting in billions of dollars lost every year. As much as 50% of online returns are not re-sellable, adding to returns’ negative financial impact.3 It is estimated that 5 billion pounds of returned goods are being sent to landfills every year, which is not only a financial issue, but also an environmental one.4 Now, retailers are changing tactics, implementing restocking fees to lessen their losses, thus putting more financial responsibility on the consumer.

What can be done?

Initiatives to address fit and sizing as well as sustainability has resulted in more movement towards on-demand manufacturing and made-to-measure brands. Levi Strauss famously introduced made-to-measure denim in 1995, but it was unsuccessful without today’s technological advances. Today, new companies such as Unspun are approaching made-to-measure denim using 3D body scanning technology and eliminating size altogether. The push for more sustainable production practices is also influencing on-demand manufacturing technologies with companies like Shima Seiki, which is reducing waste and leftover stock with optimized inventory and the use of minimal resources.

A tiny shopping card holding American $20 bills sitting next to an open laptop.
Top performing companies are using data analytics to provide a more personalized shopping experience.

In an increasingly digital world, brands are being galvanized into investing in technology to improve and streamline their business, and the results are evident. Top performing fashion companies are spending on digital tech and data analytics, optimizing their inventory, integrating back-end business practices, as well as improving shopper discovery online. Strategies such as customer-insight-led design and brand development has showed 2-5 point higher gross margins, and the personalization of e-commerce journeys has led to between 30-50% digital sales growth. Companies can use today’s tech to build databases that will improve size standards for their customer base and offer purchasers a more customized shopping experience. The impact of data and analytics applications driving more personalization in e-commerce has resulted in a 10-30% reduction in returns as well as revenue growth.5

A TrueToForm avatar with line indications of different points of measurement along the body.
TrueToForm offers a smart-phone based remote 3D body scanning technology.

Entering this data space is TrueToForm, offering a flexible suite of body data solutions that makes it possible for any brand to access tools to improve fit, for use cases that range from product development to e-commerce. TrueToForm believes in a better future for fashion companies and their customers and has developed a 3D body scanning platform to create more representative sizing and offer an accessible way for shoppers to send their personal measurements to made-to-measure brands. For design teams at brands like Ridestore and Burton, TrueToForm is a hardware-free tool that allows designers to access body data on sponsored athletes, fit models, and product testers remotely. TrueToForm is also influencing e-commerce with brands like Kalypso Couture Suits, offering the team a tool to increase shopper confidence and reduce the cost of returns and alterations.

Is your business looking for innovations for sizing and fit? Contact us to learn more.



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