Fit and sizing entropy

When I said I could write an entire book about why vanity sizing was a myth, I was exaggerating only slightly. What I should have said was I could write an entire book about why clothing fits so poorly and what we can do about it. I reiterate that a comprehensive discussion is controversial; the ideas of which are going to make me very unpopular with everyone from consumers to manufacturers. The fact remains, the issues of poorly fitted apparel are so pervasive and complex that they cannot but include everyone in the user-producer stream.

A rough section outline of what this book would include came to me today. Obviously, my goal is to be burned in effigy before sunset.

Guilty of gaining weight to the extent that humans are falling outside of their natural scale and shape; sizes are so large as to be untenable to manufacture comfortably. The entropy of fit can be attributed to body shapes that are too large to cut anatomically correctly on fabric spreads of currently manufactured widths. If this continues, the industry will need even wider tables, wider spreaders, more handling equipment, and inventory space. Weavers and spinners will need new looms to accommodate the wider fabrics …the list is endless as are the costs. Our tables and looms were designed to accommodate a healthy variation of something approaching the natural weight of what a human should weigh. Expectations of greater design integrity can’t be justified if the costs of product development and facility infrastructure -industry wide, both vertical and horizontal- are incalculable. It’s cheaper to cut boxes.

Failure to respond to what the industry needs, preferring to cave in to the romantic notions of fashion designer wannabes. For-profit franchise schools contribute awkwardly, inflating the growing pool of inappropriately educated graduates. Much of education’s research is self-serving with a stridency reminiscent of self-preservation in an era of drastic apparel program cuts. Much of the cross-spectrum research is either inappropriate or characterized by glaring omissions. While it’s true too few manufacturers provide worthwhile intern possibilities, it’s hard to do so if the schools aren’t listening. Just as often, the schools don’t want to listen. Lastly, education is easily wooed by the latest technology as a cure for making their jobs -in this admittedly complex day- easier.

I wouldn’t know where to start. I think there’s a special hell reserved for institutions charging $20,000 for the results of a tax-payer subsidized sizing study. 68% of U.S. manufacturers are small with fewer than 20 employees. They can’t afford $20,000 and it’s tragic because smaller firms are much faster and more likely to rapidly respond to consumer fitting complaints so it is inappropriate for said institutions to gnash their teeth, complain, and use the trade press to accuse manufacturers of not caring about consumers sufficiently to pony up. Similarly guilty of touting technology as the miracle cure. Lastly, have you ever read any of the published research from leading academics? It’s preposterous, amounting to chest beating reverberating in their self imposed echo chambers while all the while, attempting to license an unoriginal and completely obvious whiz bang size to shape construct to enrich their personal net worth. Here’s an example, they blame us for failing to use Sheldon’s racist sizing standards (the methodology was truly appalling) developed in the 1940’s as the basis of sizing and then in another paper by the same author, will decry these same standards as being inadequate to fit the range of today’s consumer.

This may surprise most of you but my quarrel is not over lowered tariffs and import barriers. Rather, I’ve always said that the government protected domestic industry to its own detriment. Being immune to international trade pressures created a pervasive climate of entitlement among manufacturers who were inoculated from the need to innovate. My beef with government is due to gross contradiction. In an era of lowered barriers to trade, Congress reduced educational and research assistance to small manufacturers by 68%. This in spite of the fact that small businesses employ more people than large ones. NIST is but a thin veneer of what it once was.

Retail practices have encouraged and fostered the growth of push manufacturing. Retail likes to stand around with its arms open saying “but I didn’t cut it, I’m innocent”. Retail only wants to sell what sells; their influence subverts the fit feedback loop but they still want their margins and liberal return policies to be subsidized by manufacturing. Their greatest crime is denial of their role in the whole affair.

~sigh~ I don’t know where to start. I have written a book about this. Everything from arrogance, to blaming consumers, to blaming retailers, to blaming politicians. As painful as it is to say, many in the industry are lazy and don’t want to innovate preferring the path of least resistance. They just want to make clothes without a lot of bother and input from anyone and get paid for it. Some companies will thrash around jumping at miracle cures and magic potions. The industry is remarkably unfriendly to new growth and start ups, having forgotten it’s own kitchen table start long ago. The industry is childish for one so mature; innovation is not welcome on the factory floor. The failure to adopt lean -with a core focus on the customer- will continue to leave a lot of dead bodies lying around for others to clear out of the way. Until then, we’re stuck with the stinking morass you see at retail.

I really don’t want to even start with CAD. I’ve developed a complex social theory blaming CAD companies for everything from the Black Death, the bombing of Dresden and teen pregnancy to the hole in the ozone layer. CAD companies in the apparel industry are singularly responsible for the decline of western civilization as we know it. Okay, that’s not true -and I do love my CAD system- but it is true that the CAD templates are the single greatest impetus of fit entropy -in addition to their use in easing the spread of the consequences of push manufacturing. Moreover, the logical outcome of simplifying processes is seductive; operator skills continue to degrade perilously. The latter is obviously not the fault of CAD companies but it is a consequence of them. Perhaps contradictorily, I believe CAD companies are our greatest hope for style and fit regeneration.

Actually, this will surprise you. In my opinion, everybody in the apparel industry should bow down and thank god for the exclusive and even sometimes whacko couturiers. They’re the closest thing to an industry marketing group we’ve got. If it weren’t for couturiers, I think consumers would have given up on fashion long ago. Couturiers are the closest thing to a “got milk” campaign as we’re ever going to get and it doesn’t cost us a dime. We can’t lose. We look more rational and reasonable by comparison.

I’m disturbed by the idea that all other areas of human endeavor continue to improve. Our cars, computers, food products, and medicine are superior to what we had 20 years ago but our clothing is worse. Carrying this to its logical conclusion, in 2132 we won’t be wearing those cool clothes and uniforms you see in science fiction movies because we’ll all be dressed in sweats and tee-shirts. When will this situation begin to reverse itself? A more accurate depiction of Star Trek cast members on the bridge would be the wearing of tee shirts reading “beam me up Scotty!”. I do think there are solutions to our myriad of problems but I’m dissatisfied with the existing parameters of discussion.

…and as I started this discussion, I fully expect to be burned in effigy before sunset. Let the hate mail begin!

Please refer to the other articles in this series which offer substantive supporting material. Add to the discussion rather than backtracking to topics discussed elsewhere. It is likely that the exceptions you’ve thought of have been dissected in depth. For your convenience, links open in a new window or tab.

The Myth of Vanity Sizing
Fit and Sizing Entropy
Push manufacturing; subverting the fit feedback loop
Sizing evolution
Shrinkage and fit
Alternatives in Women’s sizing
Tyranny of tiny sizes?
The history of women’s sizing pt 1
The history of women’s sizing pt 2
The history of women’s sizing pt 3
Sizing is a variety problem
The birth of size 10?
Vanity sizing shoes
Tyranny of tiny sizes pt.2
Vanity sizing: generational edition
Vanity sizing: generational edition pt.2
Vanity sizing: the consumer spending edition

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