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The Apparel Industry Needs To Embrace Size Diversity

Extended sizes represent less than 20% of women’s overall apparel sales. Discover how the lack of size diversity is hurting a brand's revenue. 

To underestimate the potential of including extended sizes is to miss out on the opportunity to address a growing market share. There is still a huge gap that exists between what real consumers want in terms of sizing and what most brands offer. In fact, when it comes to the market on inclusive sizing, Forbes called it a “$21 billion market that has potential to reach $60 billion by 2020”.

Apparel brands traditional range of core sizes usually run from XS, S, M, L, XL and occasionally XXL. Yet this fails to consider actual consumer sizes. According to statistics cited by Walmart, More than 50% of US women ages 18 to 65 wear a size 14 or higher. And yet, most designers tend to stop at a size 12 or 14. The lack of representation of sizes that reflect real bodies is an issue that goes beyond the cosmetic. It also undermines a brand’s lack of inclusivity; shortsightedness when it comes to addressing diversity in the market and a failure to recognize the very real market potential of increasing the size range they offer.

Currently, extended sizes represent less than 20% of women’s overall apparel sales. But brands like Universal Standard and 11 Honoré are just two examples of successful fashion brands that offer stylish apparel for a wider range of customers. Yet, even when a larger range of sizes are offered, fit consistency might be an issue—just take a look at how this Buzzfeed writer tried to fit into size 12 clothing in 4 different stores without much success and it’s clear that with some brands, the offer of larger sizes is nothing more than a fallacy.

One of the reasons fashion brands tend to limit size offerings is cost. To create larger sizes, brands can’t just scale up existing designs. Instead, they need to work with larger fit models and grade accordingly to ensure that the design and fit aren’t compromised. This can be expensive as highlighted by the founder of plus-sized clothing brand Hennings, Lauren Chen, in an interview with Well+Good.  Chen mentioned how “creating for samples or for production, adding more sizes comes at extra costs. The process requires different machines and looms, more pattern-making, additional fit models, and the expertise to design for a variety of shapes.” It is an initial investment that might seem daunting to brands without deep pockets.

Here’s where technology can help them. Both with the challenges of including more sizes and with helping connect customers to better-fitting clothing.

By leveraging body data and machine learning technologies, companies like Bold Metrics have developed solutions to help apparel brands guide customers to clothes that fit them better. The Smart Size Chart, for example, has customers answer 4-6 simple questions (none of which require a measuring tape or body scan). It then leverages a proprietary algorithm to take the responses and predicts up to 50 different body measurements to create an accurate size profile for each individual. This information is used to connect customers not just to sizes that fit their body shape, but also to size recommendations based on personal shopper preference and fit. Using feedback from customers and returns data, detailed data-driven insights can be generated to help brands hone their production process when scaling up their size offerings. Detailed analysis and insights harnessed from integrating fit technology can provide the kind of data-backed feedback that enables change right from the design stage. This, in turn reduces the cost and headache of trying to guess what range of sizes to produce, or stock, to meet demand.

Conclusion: There is a lack of size diversity in the apparel industry that fails to address the very real demand for extended sizing from brands. With a market potential of $60 billion by 2020, brands need to recognize the need for more diverse sizes and offer more plus size clothing or lose out. Fit technology can help apparel companies expand their size ranges more effectively and efficiently.

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