A new initiative to size up the British population was launched in London yesterday with full backing from the government, major high street and home shopping retailers, and some of the country's leading academic institutions.

The National Sizing Survey is the first attempt since the 1950s to collect measurement data from 10,000 volunteers - and makes use of 3D body scanners created by [TC]² in the US, and foot scanners provided by the UK's Shoemaster, to compile detailed information about body shapes as well as size. It is also the first time that men have been involved in such an ambitious project.

The objective is to produce a national sizing database which retailers and manufacturers will use to improve the way clothes fit. Speaking at the launch, Size UK manager, Margaret Branney of GUS Home Shopping said: "As garment fit is a major factor in achieving customer satisfaction, any additional improvements we can make in this area will yield significant benefits for all shoppers." She added: "Because it has been finded by both the Department of Trade and Industry and the retailers involved, it is a truly collaborative project."

Retail names such as Arcadia Group, Debenhams, Freemans, Grattan, GUS, Bhs, Marks & Spencer, Oasis and Tesco will also have a vital role to play in recruiting 5,000 men and 5,000 women volunteers, inviting their own customers to sign up via in-store leaflets, direct mailing or via the Internet. Scanners are scheduled to visit Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester, Nottingham and Southampton from August onwards.

On behalf of the participating retailers, Sir Stuart Hampson, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership explained: "Size UK is the culmination of two years' unprecedented co-operation in the fashion industry as retailers, manufacturers and academics have worked to exploit the best of new scanning technology for the benefit of the consumer. The sheer scale and complexity of the survey would be impossible for a single organisation to handle alone. It's the natural instinct of retailers to compete, but in this case we've been happy to collaborate to ensure the survey's success."