Sustainability & Sizing
Reducing Textile Waste by Increasing Efforts to Provide Proper Fit
When one reflects on the fact that the current sizing standard for garments was constructed in the 1930s by the Department of Agriculture, and put in place in 1939, it is obvious that re-thinking apparel sizing is long overdue, especially considering the latest data that reveals the average woman is a size 12-16.
The discrepancy between today’s sizing reality and industry standard, coupled with the surge in online shopping, is resulting in a staggering amount of returns.
Historically, returns tallied around 30 percent, but return numbers are rising rapidly. Jamie Campbell, manager sizing and fit, with Human Solutions of North America, is not surprised. Her company recently released its new Size Across America Survey based on body of scans 18,000 people (men, women and children) done between the years 2017 and 2019. Not only are women sized larger but 29 is now the average Body Mass Index (BMI) for women, described as between overweight and obese.
“We need better data on contemporary fit and sizing. More data and bringing made to measure production models to scale will allow for larger size offerings and better fit,” says Campbell, who adds that better fit equals less waste and a more sustainable approach overall.
With concern about fit and concern for the planet top of mind, the industry is looking to create a better system to match people to products in an eco-friendly fashion.
“There has to be a change in thinking on what sustainability in the supply chain looks like. But at the same time we need to manage customer expectations,” says Jessica Couch, founder of the firm Luxor and Finch, a consulting agency specializing in innovation around fit. She suggests finding new styles of communication around size and fit as well as implementing 3D technology to give designers an advantage. Couch adds, “Together this can make a huge difference when thinking about sustainability and size and fit.”
According to Couch, more than $64B of apparel is returned annually, and over 70 percent of surveyed consumers cite fit as the main reason for making apparel and shoe related returns. Additionally, returns and dead inventory contribute over 15 million tons of textile waste into landfills yearly in the U.S. alone.
Technical Design Today
Joelle Bond, associate designer at Athleta based in San Francisco, joined Couch and Campbell in a lively webinar discussion presented by FashionDex and LIM College as part of its virtual Fashion & Sustainability Series 2020. Bond explains that as Athleta has expanded its size range to 3X, demand has followed. She believes the activewear category may have an advantage when it comes to fit because of designs’ heavy use of spandex and stretch to accommodate sizing. “Made to measure is yet to get to scale, so until that happens there’s going to be waste,” notes Bond, who also highlights quality and longevity as key factors in reducing garment waste.
Bond, Couch and Campbell share the belief that Covid has accelerated acceptance and integration of 3D in ways the technology was meant, citing proper implementation and access to accurate virtual avatars as example.
But investment is necessary. “Investment of money, but also investment in re-thinking the supply chain and taking into account influence coming from the consumer not from the company,” states Couch. For example, her agency helps create better in-store and online experiences through technology integration with a focus on consumer-centricity, sizing, fit and personalization.
Addressing target audiences more accurately and quickly iterating designs for the consumers is also the way forward. In other words heightened focus on the technical design of matching people to product, which calls for addressing shape rather than strictly size.