The power and pay-off of inclusive sizing.
ONE SIZE… FITS NO ONE
Breaking news! There is NO size standardization in the fashion industry. Just kidding…that is not breaking news at all.
Sizing is complicated. Dependent on the design of the garment, the fabric properties used in the garment, which brand you are wearing, which country you are shopping in, etc, etc, etc, all sizes are just not created equally. The question right now that many brands and designers are asking is, should it be? The answer to that question seems more and more to be no. Many clothing brands these days are really tech companies that happen to sell clothes. With the amount of data that is being collected by these companies, we should be moving toward a day where fit stops being a guessing game. Right?
The good news is that some companies are actually starting to collect the right kind of data in order to inform their decisions on garment fitting, as well as to improve their consumer education about how their specific product will fit. Other companies are moving towards on demand manufacturing and mass customization. That sounds great. Let’s do that! However, the retail cost of made-to-measure garments reflects the still-luxury nature of such a thing. Many are trying, but so far, no one has really nailed a truly customizable apparel range that can be sold at a price point that most people can afford.
Inclusive sizing is a hot topic in the fashion industry right now, and rightfully so. Fashion is finally starting to embrace all kinds of different body shapes and sizes. However, it is still a really slow march to creating a size inclusive industry as a whole. Although 68% of US women wear a size 14 and above, only 10% of mass market apparel and 0.6% of luxury apparel are categorized as plus size. That is a huge disconnect! Sales of plus size apparel are growing at a rate two times higher than straight sized apparel. That means big business for the brands that accommodate this market.
What becoming size inclusive means for brands is providing more expansive size ranges. Only carrying Small, Medium, and Large, is just no longer going to cut it. You may ask, “What’s the big deal? Why can’t all brands just carry more inclusive sizes so everyone can find their fit in every brand?” Let me explain. Now, when it comes to large brands that are fully funded, investor backed, with seemingly unlimited resources, it becomes a little bit easier to roll out new sizes in their range because they have the capital, and maybe even some data, surrounding how to do so. But even for them, it can still be a challenge. These challenges are magnified for the newer, smaller, self-funded brands. Now, this doesn’t mean that smaller brands should not work towards inclusive size ranges. It is important for brands to listen to their consumer and to provide for their needs. Bravo to brands who have launched with inclusive size ranges from day one. If your brand has not but your goal is to get there, making the push to size inclusivity is something to budget for and prepare for as soon as possible.
When you build a product for a certain retail price point, everything that goes into that garment is factored into the cost and profit margin. When you include more sizes, those numbers change since some sizes use more or less fabric and materials than others, some take longer to cut and sew, some need additional seams or details to improve fit. All of these changes affect the average cost per unit, which in turn affects your margin and possibly what your retail needs to be.
Then there’s the inventory question. How do you go form stocking 6 sizes to 12 sizes or more? How do you plan your inventory buy? Having too much inventory is a problem for any company. Unless you have solid data that tells you otherwise, it is a good idea to buy smaller in new sizes when you are first increasing your size range so you can test the market before buying huge inventory of sizes you’ve never sold before. This means changing your buying ratios so that, for example, every size XXS or XXL you buy, you may buy 3 size Mediums. This ratio will vary depending on your core customer. The more selling seasons you have under your belt, the more accurate your buying patterns will become.
Intimate apparel, bras especially, is an area where I never recommend dumbing down sizes unless absolutely necessary. It is also one of the more challenging areas to offer extended size ranges, since sku count goes up very quickly when you’re working with traditional bra sizes. Hanky Panky has long championed the one size fits all lace thong. The bralette has turned things upside down a bit in the market. While they offer consumers an alternative to the super padded, heavily underwired, bras that are starting to look like dinosaurs to most women, what they lack is great fit and support for most body types and sizes. Sizing a bra S, M, L is tricky because women’s bust vs. rib size is so much more dynamic. Doing so often results in a select few customers finding their ideal fit, while most customers are left with cups that are either too big or too small, or a band that is not fitting quite right. What it does help, is the brands that are selling bralettes to reduce their sku count and still claim to cover the full size range of busts. When a brand starts with a rather small size range, let’s say 32B-36DD, that’s already 12 sizes. Go up to a 42DD and now you have doubled to 24 sizes. As a small brand with limited funds for inventory, you have to be strategic about your sizing and buying. Creating well fitting garments in a more limited range, might be better to start than creating poorly fitting garments in a larger range. Once you establish your footing, you can add sizes, hopefully with some hard data from consumers that are requesting your product in their particular sizes.
Consumers can also do their part by being vocal to brands they love about sizes that they may be missing in their range. Brands will strongly prioritize product and sizes that they know for sure will sell if they produce it, over ones they are only guessing might be in demand for their particular brand.
Below are 5 insights on how to address fit and size inclusivity for your brand.
Speak to your customers
Take to social media to poll your followers. Ask them what you’re missing and what they want to see. You may not need to make all styles in your line in extended sizes. Listen to what your customers want to see the most. You may be able to start extended sizes in a more select, focused group of styles in order to keep development costs down.
Put stock into your technical design team
Offering sizes in larger or much smaller sizes is not as easy as just grading up or down. When you extend your size range, you are going to need to develop a new pattern. This takes skill and knowledge of how you should be adjusting the pattern in order to fit, and how your grade rules should change between straight sizes and plus sizes. This is comparable to developing an entirely new style. If you cut costs here and try to circumvent the need to create new patterns with experienced patternmakers, you risk disappointing customers and high return rates when the garments don’t fit properly. Get the right team in place to do it well and you will save money in the long run.
Fit models are worth their rates
Clients often ask, “Do I really need a fit model?” Yes, you do. Finding a model that understands your brand and your product is also important. Building a relationship with a fit model that you will use consistently can be a huge asset to your brand. If you are entering a new sizing category, it’s also really helpful to listen to your fit model about what she is looking for, how she prefers things to fit, etc. She is representative of your target audience. If it’s a viable option for your company, it’s also great to test you fit and size range on numerous fit model to see how your product performs on different body types.
Consider your costing
Passing the extra cost of fabric yield and production costs of extended sizing onto your customer never leaves a great impression on the consumer having to pay more for their particular size. As a brand, you will need to consider the different costs for all sizes and factor it into your pricing. Take it from New Look and Boohoo, British retailers who charged up to 30% more for plus size garments. When consumers caught on, they blasted them all over social media for this practice.
Realize what you sacrifice when you dumb down sizes
It’s important to know what you are sacrificing when you decide that your brand is going to offer a one-size-fits-all product, or you try to reduce sku count by offering sizes that are meant to fit a range rather than one particular size. When you combine sizes, you are creating a scenario for your product to fit more customers without having to invest in the inventory of more sizes, but they may fit most customers in a mediocre to poor way. There are products and markets that this may work better for, like something meant to fit really big and boxy, or something that has a ton of stretch and does not need to offer support, or a low-cost fast fashion product that is meant to be in and out and the consumer would not pay more for a better fit. When your working with functional garments, like intimate apparel, or higher priced items that are meant to last, nailing a great fit is key!