The Denim Industry Has a Sizing Issue: Here is How Brands Are Tackling the Problem
It’s widely known that shopping for jeans is a nightmare. We’ve all experienced the frustrations associated with the lack of a universal sizing system across retail. It’s created a perpetual guessing game of what size will fit you best when shopping across different brands — at one store you maybe a 29”, but at the next, you’re a 30”. To add to this, cramped fitting rooms and an overwhelming amount of silhouettes, fabrics, and washes can make the whole process even more taxing.
It’s widely known that shopping for jeans is a nightmare. We’ve all experienced the frustrations associated with the lack of a universal sizing system across retail. It’s created a perpetual guessing game of what size will fit you best when shopping across different brands — at one store you may be a 29”, but at the next, you’re a 30”. To add to this, cramped fitting rooms and an overwhelming amount of silhouettes, fabrics and washes can make the whole process even more taxing. Earlier last year, a viral picture inspired a nationwide conversation about discrepancies in sizing between brands when a shopper laid bare on Twitter a single photograph of seven pairs of jeans that visualized the fluctuating scale of a ‘size 12’ from brand-to-brand. Ronen Luzon, the CEO of MySizeID, a retail measurement company working to democratize retail sizing, explained to Retail Touchpoints that not only does this issue highlight the exclusivity of retail sizing, it also leaves consumers self-conscious and confused, especially when shopping online. “With the inability to try clothing on before making a purchase, consumers are left to assume which size will fit best based off what size they buy most across brands,” explains Ronen. However, with the discrepancies in sizing, this method isn’t always reliable and often results in receiving items that need to be returned due to improper fit. Due to the lack of a true sizing system, the constant stream of apparel returns has become online retail’s most prevalent and costly problem. The widespread closure of stores during the recent COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the issue with consumers unable to try on garments in store. Any time a shopper orders an ill-fitting item, it’s up to the retailer to foot the bill for return shipping and mailing out a new item, if required. In fact, “nearly 40% of online apparel orders are being returned (with 70% of those returns due to problems with fit), costing the retailer anywhere from $3 to $12 per order,” explains Ronen. One study cites total expenses to e-Retailers from apparel returns at $1.4 billion dollars, roughly 2.5% of the total online revenue ($60B) of apparel and accessories in 2015. While denim brands continue to capitalize on jeans sales, the substantial amount of losses surrounding returns have become a significant risk for companies worldwide. Not only does the issue impact the bottom line, but the long-term consequences of poor fit can create further problems down the line. Inconvenience is one particular area that can ruin the trust between the consumer and brand and potentially deter the shopper from making any future purchases. So how can the denim industry go about making actionable change? In November last year, Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh appeared at CNBC’s Evolve summit in Los Angeles to share how the 166-year-old denim brand uses technology to usher in custom sizing. “Sizes will go out the window 10 years from now,” Bergh said at CNBC Evolve. “Everyone can do their own body scan on a camera.” Rarely does one size fit the same across the board, but Luzon says Levi’s CEO is on the right track. “[Bergh’s] vision is that everyone will do their own body scan on a camera, resulting in jeans that sculpt perfectly to their body, in the fit and wash of their desire,” he said in an interview with Refinery 29. “This will give consumers the pants that they actually want, resulting in less waste from the company and less returns for consumers.” Luzon has been helping denim retailers like Levi’s combat sizing issues online with his MySizeID technology. The app uses consumer measurements to create a unique sizing ID, making it easier to know your size at a particular store. “This eliminates guessing because the size recommendation is given based on your specific body measurements,” Luzon tells Refinery29. MySizeID tested the new features with Los Angeles-based sustainable denim brand Boyish Jeans over a two-month period. According to the Boyish Jeans case study, during this period user engagement “increased dramatically, with more than 75 percent of the size recommendations coming from guest users,” said Luzon in an interview with Sourcing Journal. The denim brand also reported that during the same period customer returns decreased approximately 31 percent after implementing the MySizeID widget on their website. There are other technologies on the market too, like virtual try-on and 3D scanning, the latter is being beta-tested by Swedish high-street retailer Weekday. Working with the start-up Unspun in the H&M Group’s innovation hub, The Laboratory, Weekday has developed size-free jeans using digital software. An algorithm uses a customer’s 3D body scan to create a paper pattern and list of measurements. The jeans are then produced in partner factories within 10 days of the initial blueprint – complete with any bonus trim, stitching or pocket personalisation required. According to an article by Vogue, out of the 100 tested users who trialled the service – 80 per cent of consumers said they were satisfied with the end product. (The retailer had predicted that 65 per cent would respond positively). Over the last 18 months, The Laboratory has been road-testing the technology on various Weekday products to ensure it becomes increasingly accurate over time, but admits there are issues that need to be resolved before the first scanner is installed in the first (as yet undisclosed) Weekday store. The biggest challenges are handling returns of the custom pieces, scaling up to supply and adapting the algorithm to ensure that each pair of jeans, which will roughly retail for $93 (£72), resembles the original Weekday style after resizing. Despite the availability of these technologies, many retailers are still apprehensive about implementation due to concerns over cost, effectiveness and ease of integration. Unsurprisingly, supply chain suppliers are too looking to tackle the problem through fabric innovations. Turkish denim mill Calik, recently launched ‘Selfsized’ a stretch technology that promises an end to the sizing issue. Available for A/W 20, ‘Selfsized’ uses Calik Denim’s T-Power technology that means one single size jean can fit a wide range of different sized wearers perfectly. One of the main benefits of the concept is that it minimizes the risk of buying wrong size jeans–especially in e-commerce. Calik claims that not only does Selfsized technology dramatically decrease the number of sizes that will be produced at the garment manufacturing stage, but it also helps support stronger sell-through and less waste. Brands like Edwin USA, Denim of Virtue, American Eagle, Zara Man and New Look have already implemented the fabric within their collections. Further complicating matters is the diverse body shapes of American consumers and the fact that waist sizes have gotten bigger. A study in the early 2000s sponsored by clothing retailers and manufacturers called SizeUSA measured more than 10,000 people and found that the hip circumference of women with a 28-inch waist varied from 32 inches to 45 inches. Brands like Good American and Universal Standard have been trying to solve this problem by offering inclusive silhouettes and sizes. “We’ve bridged the gap between a more straight ‘missy’ pattern and what’s considered a ‘plus’ pattern to solve a problem that shouldn’t even exist in the first place,” said Emma Grede, co-founder of Good American. “The reason Good American jeans fit so well is centered around our four-part waistband which we designed in house—it creates the perfect, figure-flattering shape with just the right amount of stretch and lift.” explains Grede. Likewise, Universal Standard offers one of the largest size runs of denim in the world, servicing women sizes 00-40, in regular, tall, and petite lengths. Universal Standard even released a new "See it in My Size" feature,that lets you see the pants worn on real women in any size across the entire collection. So, are we close to solving the sizing crisis? While brands like Good American and Universal Standard are proving that it’s good business to push the boundaries of traditional sizing, the increased number of fits and styles can create even more confusion for consumers. And when it comes to new technologies, there is still a long way to go before brands overcome the concerns over cost, effectiveness and ease of integration of sizing technology. However, with big data becoming more important and a powerful tool for retailers, there is a great opportunity for brands to increase customer experience while also improving their own bottom line.