Conscious About Sustainability? Let’s Talk About the Sizing Conundrum…
words THUY NYGUEN
While a much-awaited increase of the conversation around size inclusivity has helped bring a greater understanding – and greater size range – to many fashion labels, it also brings with it issues of grading problems and ill-fitting clothes. Brisbane-based Thuy Nyugen, CEO and Director of Fashion360 and the often-in-the-shadows consultant behind many well-known local fashion brands, explores the complications that inclusivity and fit brings to brands.
Most would agree that the most talked about topic over the past five to ten years is sustainability through its many different lenses. We hear about the polluting of waters through toxic dyes causing cancers and other fatal diseases for the locals of the region; the uprooting of ancient forests for housing and farming resulting in soil erosion, flooding, greenhouse gas emissions and the displacement of wildlife; and the enormous mountains of discarded clothing and textiles, a result of overproduction and overconsumption of cheap fast fashion!
Yes, we’ve all come across at least one of these co-contributors but there seems to be very little mention of the one problem many fashion brands experience: ill-fitting garments caused by generic and automated size grading which results in mass returns of merchandise exacerbated by the scaling and inclusivity concept embraced by fashion businesses with little or no technical knowledge of garments and its relation to the diverse human form. One might ask then where most of these returns end up…
Throughout my entire 26 years of working in this industry, it’s the one issue that very few businesses have invested time and finance to resolving. Here’s the typical ‘stylised’ process you’ll find occurs in most fashion houses:
A huge focus on designs and fabrics, concepts translated into patterns and transformed into a sample that is fitted and tweaked to the desired fit on a fitting model, patterns adjusted to reflect fit analysis and the cycle then repeats until the sample is perfected to the best of the technician’s knowledge and capability. The next stage from here is all about production and marketing, marketing and more marketing with grading considered a minor pre-production process, generally automated from a CAD system, particularly if executed offshore. Aside from a very small minority, the digital patternmaker inputting the cardinal increments for grading simply applies the same standard numbers to every design with no consideration to how these increments will effectively fit/sit on these different sizes. My point, put simply, is a fully grown human does not increase/decrease proportionally up and out throughout every size! To clarify, a size 6 cannot be graded to a size 24 in a standard way and be expected to fit properly. Nor can a design with a strap be expected to maintain similar proportions as its sleeved counterparts in the same size with same graded proportions. The accumulative factors often result in racks of unsold garments of similar sizes or mass return rates which equates to financial losses and more landfill of unwanted goods.
It is, therefore, vital that fashion houses wishing to implement diverse size offerings, invest in the knowledge to execute these sizes properly.
The situation looks to be intensified with the current social climate of inclusivity, where fashion brands are encouraged to extend their size offerings as a starting point. While this is an extremely positive movement and an inspiring mind shift, it will not meet the key objective if garments do not fit due to the standardised grading system. It is, therefore, vital that fashion houses wishing to implement diverse size offerings, invest in the knowledge to execute these sizes properly. This, in turn, requires extra financial investment, hence should be carried out strategically to ensure the sustainability of the business is maintained. I would suggest reaching out to the intended customer bracket to explain your intentions with a release date. No doubt with this communication, potential customers will be more understanding to the underlying issue while brands slowly build on extending the size offerings.
In addition, I would encourage emerging designers, especially those who resonate with a fuller figure, to focus on creating amazing designs for this market. After all, the best outcome generally derives from lived experience! In a world inundated with unwanted garments, why produce more for a segment already saturated? This was the very recent advice I gave to a client who reached out for assistance with development of a new swimwear brand. She expressed the need to offer her designs from a size 6 to size 24. I asked what her reason was for this expanse in size offering to which she replied, “I want to be inclusive.”
I applauded her vision, however, with many years of mentoring emerging designers predominantly with limited financial means, I went on to explain further the processes and financial implications for development of a well-executed diverse size range. The realisation prompted her to explain her initial inspiration for her own swimwear range, due to being a fuller figure with very few options in the current marketplace. We concluded with the goal that her swimwear brand would be launched with the offer for fuller figures until financial growth allowed for further size offerings.
You don’t have to be everything to everyone to be inclusive.
This was a great example and validation to my theory: you don’t have to be everything to everyone to be inclusive especially if it means a decrease in quality to your core product offering. Find a market that resonates perfectly with your personality and aesthetics and serve it ridiculously well with amazing products. No one should be shamed for not being able to afford a complete smorgasbord of sizes and shapes. There is a market share for everyone with genuine purpose.
To conclude, I urge designers, creators, and fashion businesses to prioritise grading as an essential key process that applies individual style analysis and incorporate testing of samples that exceed three sizes from the master pattern. Let’s all proudly represent our industry by reducing waste and producing carefully crafted designs for your selected market segment with realistic sizes that fit proportionally.