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Can Merchants Help Solve the Fit Problem?


Following his article earlier this year exploring the importance of a ‘Chief Fit Officer’, here WhichPLM’s fit expert, Mark Charlton, shares his views on the role of the merchants when it comes to apparel fit.

I have a passion for great fitting apparel and, for over 20 years, I have been helping brands fit apparel, understand sizing constructs and globalize fit offerings.

Most of my articles thus far have addressed the complexities of creating, perfecting and executing fit across a diverse and changing consumer landscape. This is a complex issue – there’s no two ways about it – and opportunities to improve are aplenty.

Perfecting fit is, in most cases, seen as the accountability of the technical team and executing fit the supply chains challenge. Whenever there is an issue with fit or complaints about the fit of a product these are funnelled to the technical and supply chain teams to solve or debunk.

In this article I would like to address the role of the merchant in the fit process and how the needs of diverse consumer landscape could be solved by merchandise assortments.

Most retailers and brands have one identified target consumer and a body shape, size, proportion associated with said consumer. If a brand or retailer has done their homework this body shape, size, or proportion is reflective of the ‘sweet spot’ of their sales. I refer to this as a one-dimensional sizing construct; whatever the sizing construct (be it S, M, L, XL, or 0-2-4-6) it’s based on one body shape with a scale up and down from that body shape and proportion.

As we know, humans are individuals and differ in body shape, size, and proportion along with taste, preference and trend adoption.

The first step toward a solution is to offer more than one dimension in the sizing construct. Understand the shape, size, and proportion of your target consumer then understand the shapes, sizes, and proportions of your actual consumers and any potential consumers you are not currently catering for.

Then, create a multi-dimensional sizing construct to accommodate the diverse shapes, sizes, and proportions of your consumers. This will look different depending on the brands’ and/or retailers’ target demographic, the reach of their actual consumer base, and the delta between the two.

Creating a multi-dimensional shape and sizing construct, along with product to fit these different shapes and sizes inline with an effect efficient process, I believe is absolutely the responsibility of the technical and supply chain teams. However, what product to offer across what shape and sizing construct and what products are offered across multiple shapes and sizes is where, I feel, the merchant plays a vital role.

Merchants have always done an amazing job of curating product lines that offer choice through styling, color, texture, print, and even fit – just think slim fit, regular fit, loose fit etc.

The needed change I am suggesting is that shape and fit be a multi-dimensional offer so, rather than slim fit, regular fit, or loose fit being developed on one body shape, there are multiple body shapes that this fit proposition is developed upon.

I do think there is some inherent leveraging of product across the matrix. Let me share a crude example for illustrative purposes:

Take a size Medium, slim fit t-shirt developed to fit an athletic build gentleman. (Think rugby player, cross fit athlete with a strong, bulky build, but still an inverted triangle.) This same product could be used as a regular fit, size Medium, for a slim build gentleman (think runner / male model), or even a size Large, slim fit for a slim build guy!

Simple it is not, however the diversity of body shapes across a consumer landscape is not simple either. And to think this can be solved with a one-dimensional matrix is insanity, leading to today’s fit problem and today’s consumer confusion around fit and sizing.

Of course offering just one more shape into a sizing construct, going from a one-dimensional to a two-dimensional offer, has the potential to double SKU count, therefore knowing what product to offer in what shape and where to leverage and where to offer choice is a critical balance.

Then the next challenge is consumer communication of the matrix.  Offering more choice in terms of body shape, I believe, will aid consumer understanding of what is designed and developed for their specific body shape.

As individuals we know what shape our body is, we know what we like and we know what we want. The current challenge is: we don’t know what shape a brand uses to design / develop their product to fit. This is the reason fit communication is such a challenge. Solve this challenge by offering choice and dimension in different body shapes.

It’s a complex solution, but then it’s a complex problem.

Mark Charlton With more than 20 years’ experience in the apparel industry, Mark Charlton is a technical leader who has worked with manufacturers, trading companies, direct-to-consumer retailers,omni-channel national and global brands. His key focus is product groups from M2M tailoring to lingerie and everything in-between. He has an uncompromising approach to understanding the complexities of apparel fit, both on a consumer and global level. Additionally, Mark has a proven record of driving and implementing organizational and process change from corporate teams throughout the global supply chain.