Tyranny of tiny sizes pt.2

Shades of Tyranny of tiny sizes, my friend Valerie is a consultant. Old school like me, she writes complaining about changes in the trade with respect to sample sizing. She starts by quoting a line from The Entrepreneur’s Guide:

Everyone makes their samples in a size medium so if you make them in another size, you’ll be the only one who does.

This was the old school way of doing things. It is still considered the correct way among us old timers to make your first fit samples in a M or 10, and then grade down. This is not the way most high end design houses are doing it these days. Most of the high end design houses are using XS and size 4 fit models. They are using them for first fit and runway.

In many respects -but not without many caveats- she has a point. Before you rush off to follow either advice, there’s many things to consider. What’s your market? Who is your customer? What are your price points? Are you showing styles in fashion shows? Are your products marketed in showrooms (year round)?

Technically, the sample size is (or should be) the middle size based on range of sizes you offer. The reason being is that you can save yourself quite a bit of money by developing prototypes of that size and hold off on grading for other sizes until you see whether there is demand for it. Why grade something that doesn’t sell? How many sizes are you running? If you’re running five sizes 0-2-4-6-8, then size four is the middle of the size spread and in effect, is your “medium”. A part of me can’t deny that some impetus of the drive to smaller sizes has to do with Project Runway; the first step of your project being model selection. My not so inner codger says that is all good and well if you’re selling clothes to fashion models. Most of you aren’t. At best, only 3% of you are hitting the upper end of the market.

If anything, my overwhelming conclusion is that this is yet more evidence of size evolution (or inflation, take your pick). Size 10’s used to be smaller than they are now. With some pinning for catalog shots, you could use size 10 for photography. These days though, with consumers getting so much larger, the measures that constitute a given size have increased along with consumers (but models haven’t) so a size 10 isn’t as attractive in photos as it once was. My question is, of the people using size fours for fit and runway, what are their sizing spreads? Are they running size 4-14? (4-6-8-10-12-14). The most any new launch should start with is five or at most, six sizes. If one is running 4-12 (4-6-8-10-12), then it would be problematic that they’re using a four for fit and runway because it’s the far end of their sizing scale. In fact, my assessment would be that if you’re the type of line to do runway at all, then you should be hitting the lower end of the sizing spectrum (0-2-4-6-8-10) since wealthier people tend to be thinner anyway. For an upper end bridge line, it wouldn’t do to use a size 10 for fitting anymore than it’d be okay for a moderately priced line to use the upper end of their size range (an 16 or 18) for fitting and sampling.

Then there’s the matter of adopting a practice just because everyone else is. Should you? I don’t deny your PR or showroom people will want you to. Again, it begs a discussion of your market, how it’s shown, who’s buying it and how. If you’re showing your stuff in a staffed year round show room, you have to be able to hang fit-wise with everyone else in there. Whether it’s actual buyers or magazine editorial staffs looking at your products, the sizing must be commensurate with everyone else there otherwise you stick out like a sore thumb. This is what I describe as the pressure of sizing conformity.

I view this trend with some apprehension. The reason being that many producers who don’t show at the big shows or sell in show rooms will also adopt the practice but not without some (sometimes bizarre) twists of their own. As in specifically, augmenting the measures of their size “fours” and “sixes” in dramatic proportions as size four becomes the new “medium”. I have one designer bookmarked that I won’t link to for obvious reasons. She says (in a video clip) that she won’t make anything smaller than a size six because “nobody needs to wear those sizes”. Elaborating, she says she’s a size six. I just about fell out of my chair because she can’t weigh an ounce under 180 lbs. Some “vanity sizing” isn’t vanity at all. It’s more like sheer delusion or self deception.

Another element I find troubling is entrants focusing on the smallest segment of the market. I can’t tell if more DEs are shooting for the upper end because that’s where the best margins lie or whether this is a case of the extreme having the wherewithal (increasing power of PR firms and the predominance of showrooms) to exercise power over standard practices in the trade. I don’t like how many things have changed. Marketing didn’t used to be at this level, product demand grew holistically. While I agree clothes can look cuter on smaller bodies, is that where the market really is? It seems the competition is more intense at the smaller end of the market but is that where discretionary income lies for the vast majority of producers? Considering the increasing focus on the high end of the market (gestated I think, indirectly by handbags, a story for another day), this could open up the market for producers focusing on less lofty goals.

Valerie continues:

As long as that small fit models represents your target market you should be okay. The most important thing to remember is that there are many different types of size 4’s and every house is different. Start up design houses must set a fit standard and sick to it. Once you have established a standard, then you must establish your grading scale and stick to that. It is all about hanger appeal for showroom samples these days. I have a tee shirt I made that says please don’t feed the models…

I’ve said this over and over but I believe ultra-thin models have become more common precisely because obesity has become so common. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. More on the theory of ultra-thin models -and their increasing disposability (now what does that say about clothes?)- is here.

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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