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Why Recreate a Broken Process?


In his latest exclusive for us, fit expert Mark Charlton discusses the recent obsession with re-designing the fitting room experience, and shares his plea for fit intent.

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.

In my introductory article for WhichPLM last year I talked about why it is so hard to make apparel that fits. I explored the components of fit and how the apparel industry had relied on the fitting room experience to help customers understand how the garments fit.

More and more I see technology solutions attempting to digitally replicate the fitting room experience. Scan your body, or enter details about yourself to create a digital avatar, then digitally try on 3D rendered garments and view these to understand how these garments look on the digital you. Technology has advanced where fabric properties can be replicated and even heat maps of tension / ease can be applied.

To use a popular colloquialism, here’s my beef…

The fitting room is not a successful model to recreate. Who enjoys the fitting room experience? Even if you do enjoy it, what’s the conversation rate? Take yourself out of fashion and apparel for a second. Would you invest in digitally recreating a model with only a 5 to 1 (or 4 to 1 at best) conversion rate?

Wouldn’t the investment be better spent understanding why such a poor conversion rate, then how to improve this?

In the world of health and fitness only a small percentage of the population are satisfied with their body – which isn’t to say there is anything wrong with the majority of us, it’s just that I would rather not see my physique digitally rendered on a screen.

Then comes the conversion rate issue. OK, in the digital space once the 3D renderings are created I guess you can try on garments until your heart is content with little expense. However, as an apparel brand, is this the experience we want our consumers to have? Try, try, and try again until you find something that fits. Is the self-service model really serving the needs of the consumer or are you just providing choice and information?

Technology shouldn’t be used just because it can! Just because it’s possible to create avatars of yourself and 3D rendered garments, then play in a digital space, does that mean we should? Is this really the answer? Clearly I am not a convert.

I do believe there has to be an answer to this problem, one that is much more consumer centric and seamlessly integrated into their environment / life.

Imagine an operating system that first understands you, your habits, your movements, your taste level, and your size. With AI (artificial intelligence) this is possible; I am no data scientist however I would guess with the right inputs on your current closet, linked to your calendar, understanding your clothes, when and where you wear these, this is possible.

According to everybody’s best friend, Wikipedia, AI is translated as “Artificial intelligence (AI, also machine intelligence, MI) and is intelligent behaviour by machines, rather than the natural intelligence (NI) of humans and other animals. In computer science AI research is defined as the study of “intelligent agents”: any device that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of success at some goal.”

Some goal! The goal here is to improve the satisfaction rate of apparel fit. Understand my closet, understand my size via the clothes I wear, understand my style with how I pair these clothes together, understand how my style changes from the office, to the weekend, to a night out, etc. Take this to another level, and understand my friend’s closet and how my peer group influences my choices and vice versa. Understand my influences: pop culture, Instagram feeds, current affairs.

With this knowledge, should I ever have to try garments on again? Wouldn’t my operating system know what I need and in what size?

If AI is artificial intelligence via machines from the environment and NI is natural intelligence from humans, add the fashion element to this and the fact that fashion impacts us all in different levels and at a different cadence, we don’t wear corsets and top hats anymore! If we are all impacted by fashion, then the solution has to evolve at our individual pace, the pace in which we all adopt fashion (think early adopter through to laggards).

So what I am describing here is more emotional evolving intelligence; predict what I need when I need it, that most of all fits me the way I want this to fit.  Technology will make this possible. However there is one foundational input required from the brands, and that’s “Fit intent”.

I do believe an operating system of the future can manage the convergences of:

  • Individual body shape
  • Individual body size
  • Individual taste level
  • Individual style
  • Individual movements
  • Individual fashion adoption

However, what is the fit intent of the garment? This is a critical input and one that is missing today. If we understand a brand’s fit intent for a product and the exact measurements of the body the product was designed and developed to fit, we could conclude how this garment fits the individual consumer, then make a purchase decision with all the facts.

My plea to fashion brands: set yourself up for the future. Effectively communicate fit intent and improve the consumer experience.

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.