Design, fabric choice and communication hold the key to garment 'fit,' not to mention improved brand loyalty while reducing returns and inventory.

Speaking at a special UK seminar on 'Sizing up the global market,' fit experts shared advice on how to optimise customer satisfaction by identifying "consumer commonalities", creating "flexible styles" in the 'right fabrics' and implementing targeted and consistent sizing strategies.  

According to Ed Gribbin, president of Alvainsight, a division of Alvanon, there is a complex "emotional consumer connection" with sizing.

"20% of fit is technical and the rest is how you communicate it," he said - within the supply-chain and to the consumer. 

Most garment suppliers have a global consumer profile where "diversity is the reality" and there is no such thing as a "pan-European or even Asian fit."

Sizing he explained is not a simple linear issue. "You cannot sell a UK petite range into China - it won't work."

Rather he urged firms to use global and local sizing survey and research data when constructing their sizing strategies, to help identify and target crucial "consumer commonalities".

Within the fashion sector, "it is far better to be consistently wrong than be inconsistently right," he added.

Children's size survey
Richard Barnes, managing director of Select Research, who is currently undertaking the first ever national survey of children using 3D scans, ShapeGB, agreed.

"Sizing is about shape, contour and curves, not linear averages." 

His use of advanced scanning technologies and methodologies allows him to capture an individual's Body Volume Index (BVI).

Unlike the Body Mass Index (BMI) that only takes into account height and weight, BVI analyses weight distribution in relation to age, gender and ethnicity, giving a far more accurate analysis of body shape and health. 

As part of the ShapeGB project, Select Research is currently working with several universities to scan thousands of children across the UK and generate BVI profiles for each.

The results are being shared with sponsors including the NHS, which is using it as an indicator of children's health/obesity, and with participating retailers, including George, M&S, Monsoon and Next, who are using the data to re-evaluate their sizing strategies.

2D and 3D technology
Christopher Schyma, strategic account manager at Lectra, recognised that the global supply-chain in its quest for faster fashion with better quality and 'fit' can be supported by 2D and 3D technology. 

From 2D digital patterns Lectra CAD systems create a virtual environment to generate any number of samples before a commitment is made to make a physical sample. 

Pattern adjustments will automatically update up to 33 measurements on an on-screen "fit parametric mannequin, which can be fed directly from body scan information."

Consequently a visual representation of a style's 'fit' can be generated, checked and validated in just two hours. 

Crucially he explained: "Teams across the supply-chain can collaborate across the globe - the technology in itself creates an efficient communication environment." 

Corporate clothing challenges
Specific challenges for the corporate clothing sector include promoting a 100% professional, presentable, corporate image regardless of age, size, stature, ethnicity or body shape.

"Every size has to fit so we need an awful lot of sizes...There is no target demographic, it's everyone," Ed Gribbin explained.

Indeed garment inventory is a major challenge for corporate wear suppliers and buyers.

For those with large corporate purses the answer is often to "throw money at it." 

However for smaller budgets, getting the shape and grading right will reduce inventory: "Research target end-user populations as there will be differences and commonalities with specific fit characteristics.

"Develop an optimum range of sizes needed with grade intervals that minimize size SKUs. Once you have your size range, slap down in the middle should be your core size.

"Then put robust tools, such as a block programme, and processes in place to make consistent execution and communication inevitable." 

Louise Johnson, retail corporate wardrobe manager, retail chief operating office, Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest who with over 20,000 people to 'fit' has found communication between garment suppliers, the buying team and wearers a crucial factor in its recent corporate wardrobe success.

Fabric choice has played a major role in wearer satisfaction in recent ranges, for example a cotton/spandex fibre mix for shirts has improved comfort and fit. 

Self-measuring campaigns and the consistent use of sizing blocks over a period of time have also meant that fit has improved with each new collection.

And return rates and post roll-out wearer surveys are a vital source of feedback on fit satisfaction. 

Paula Cannon, head of design at Incorporatewear, one of the corporate clothing sector's foremost suppliers, showed how it is investing significantly in communicating 'best' fit practice to wearers through brochures, on-line, workshops, train the trainer programmes, DVD guides and a helpline.

With over 150,000 people to fit from 16 to 65 years of every ethnic background and shape, including 'special' requirements, Incorporatewear constantly evaluates styles and fabric choices to create the most "flexible designs."

She explained: "We have learnt from experience that when we launch a new uniform range…we need three designs each for our core jacket, trouser and shirt collections - that way we can meet the different performance requirements for every job while keeping the 'look' consistent."

Incorporatewear regularly surveys all the main retailers' size charts and evaluates and adapts its blocks on a regular basis.  She added: "We want to make sure that nobody feels left out."

'Sizing up the global market' was organised by the ASBCI (Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry) in partnership with Company Clothing and sizing technology specialist Alvanon.