SPESA Trip Report: Kathleen pt.4

Another thing that seemed to be the rage at the show (see Eric’s and my previous posts) was dress forms. Lots and lots of dress forms. Dress forms -or Judies as our northern neighbors say- have gone high tech. While the traditional “off the peg” papier-mâché Wolf form crafted to ASTM specifications were available in abundance, the focus was on new technology. Companies are scanning and molding live bodies and using innovative materials. The leader in this market was easily Alvanon with their Alva Forms.

I don’t even know what to write about this company. They definitely intend to dominate fitting technologies in the international apparel industry. Maybe that sounds negative, how to better phrase it? Alvanon has made incredible investments in studying body sizing worldwide and we -to include consumers- will benefit. They’re upending the apple cart. Right now, the data from sizing studies is only available to people who can fork out $20,000 for the Sizing USA study but Alvanon is a private company, not public like TC2, and I expect the cost of their data sets to be much lower, even tenable. Perhaps even better, you can order a dress form matching these dimensions. Actually, you can buy forms in a way I think is much better, demographical, according to your target market. The ASTM data sets aggregate measures. You have no idea what the “average” customer reflected in the charts is willing to pay, her tastes, lifestyle, and disposable income. Alvanon’s forms will reflect a profile consumer of your choosing. One interesting form you can buy is that of your “aspirational” customer. I wanted to ask about it but even with Janice Wang’s ear, our meeting went over budget with many questions left unasked.

Speaking of, I have a (perhaps premature) disclosure to make. I will be affiliated with Alvanon in some way (and they will be supporting F-I). We’ve agreed to work together but my role is as yet undefined. My contributions may be loosely related to analysis and feedback on research, specifically morphology, anthropometry and discussions of the potentiality of the application of both. That sounds nebulous. Put it in the context of my thoracic shaping entries and you can figure out what I mean. Interestingly enough, once I described the characteristics of this kind of chest shaping, Janice said their stock fit model Maureen had this configuration but they modified her shape for the stock form. I’m hoping they’ll start tracking this body type so we can get an idea of how prevalent this is.

Off topic but bearing a mention here, Alvanon is an active participant of ASTM D-13 and they’ve made some recent contributions with regard to the presentation of the data sets (body measurement charts, see more here). It has irritated me for years that the measurement points in the standards are described but not illustrated -and don’t get me started on the descriptions themselves. With the goal of eliminating some ambiguities, Alvanon has donated their proprietary body shape depictions (by size!) with the measurement points marked off. I made the suggestion that the visuals could be modified to include the measuring point designation numbers as this would help everybody immensely but non-English speakers as well. This new format (still in balloting) will be effective with the release of the new standards, mostly likely November, I’ll let you know (I profoundly regret I can’t include samples but I have a non-disclosure with ASTM). One last bit of sizing news, the new standards will include measuring charts for plus size children’s wear.

I imagine I’ll be writing about Alvanon more as things progress. While most of their existing products and services (largely fit and size consulting as well as custom form manufacturing) are geared toward larger players, I’m anticipating the “crumbs” (poor description) of their research in the form of data sets to be accessible to everyone. They are remarkably transparent and accessible. They are planning very exciting studies, one of which is a do-over of the sizing for women over age 55 (I have never liked the existing study). Janice says they plan to break it down by age blocks of ten years each and include demography data. Ever the easily amused, this makes me happy happy happy! Speaking of Janice (Alvanon CEO), here’s a picture of her. She’s so young. Most of the people working for her are much older.

Returning to the topic of the dress forms, I preferred the Alvanon forms for several reasons. Below is a photo in which I was attempting to capture the shape of the upper center thoracic region. Most dress forms show this area as concave (hollowed) but the upper region of the thorax is convex (bows slightly outward) in real life; the Alva form (but not the photo) reflects this shaping.

Below is a photo of the bust and waist area. I love that the bottom of the rib cage shaping is evident. I also like the taping off and the grid lines. By the way, these are easily pinned, more so than the traditional forms.

Below is a view of the derrière. In this view, I like the upper side thigh shaping -slight saddlebags- which is more accurate of women’s thighs albeit more slender than average.

Below are two photos of the child forms. Wholesale adorableness aside, unlike the heads on other forms, these include the phisionomic features required when designing children’s hats and hoods.

Continuing on with dress forms in general, rats and double drats but the photos I took of the Tukatech forms didn’t come out other than the ones in the background of this photo with Ram.

I’m on the fence about the Tuka forms for two reasons. One, they were weirdly squishy, it was kind of gross (sorry Ram) but they were definitely pinnable. Squishy is actually a good feature in many kinds of product design so please, don’t let my impressions sway you. Second, these were definitely modeled after real people and while you’d think that is the selling point, reality doesn’t always work that way. One of those forms reminded me wayyyy too much of old me, ham hocks, cellulite and all. I kid you not. Call me neurotic but I avoided the forms, they made me uncomfortable. I wonder if other women have that reaction and if they do, how strongly. Maybe we’ll have to send the boys to buy our forms. These were definitely accurate. If you’re targeting the plus size market, I’d definitely recommend you consider these. I didn’t ask the price. I don’t know why I didn’t. Now I almost feel guilty for giving n-hega such a hard time. I did inquire at one point but the price didn’t register beyond noting the price was a value proposition.

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  1. Karen C says:

    Yippee!!! A new over-55 body stat study. You know this makes me happy. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait too long. Good post, Kathleen. Thanks.

  2. Karen C says:

    OK, I checked out the website. Must say it took me way too many clicks (over 20) to get to the pricing and ordering. Busy business people do not have that much time. It was frustrating. They may want to re-work their site to make it more user-friendly.

  3. Ann K says:

    The Alva Forms look like something I could definitely lust after. However, I couldn’t find any mention of price on their website. Could you give us a rough idea of the cost, Kathleen?

  4. Suzanne says:

    Okay, I WANT those children’s forms!!! Thank you for the report. It’s great to see so much progress being made in this area, and I think that the relationship with you and Alvanon sounds perfect. :-)

  5. Alisa Benay says:

    Ann, on the Alvanon site, there is an “online store” button. Root through there & you can find pricing. Although they don’t give the measurements, just says “size 8” etc.

    I love their logo.

    I’d be creeped out by cellulite on dress forms, too, Kathleen. gross.

  6. J C Sprowls says:

    I think the initial perception is shocking. I averted my eyes at first, too. But, if you had a product which necessitated working on that type of form (i.e. undergarments), it would be invaluable.

    From personal experience, I know that the waistband curtain of a trouser can have one of the seams located in an uncomfortable position. I’ve tried to elicit feedback from customers on that; but, they sometimes have a difficult time articulating. A human may not respond kindly to me plunging my finger inside their waistband to check the fit, position and finish of the interior seams.

  7. Miracle says:


    I’ve been a follower of Tukatech forms for some time and two of the markets they really target is swimwear and lingerie (i.e. the bust only form in the background), which is the reason for the “squishiness” of the forms (I believe they are made of silicone, no?).

    The squishiness has a definite advantage, depending upon the type of apparel you are manufacturing. It is made to emulate the fleshiness of a real human body and is supposed to show you where your clothing inappropriately pinches the body or causes a “piece of anatomy” (for lack of a better phrase) to do something (or look a certain way) that it should not.

    Having said that (as some of you know, I’m in the intimate apparel industry, so I’m biased), I totally understand the squishiness and although I love accurate shaping of the firm, pinnable form, I do think the Tukatech product introduces a very valid, and important, feature. And in certain markets, I am not even sure it makes sense to fit against a firm form because you would not get that “feedback”.

  8. Debra says:

    A company I worked for in the past researched all the top dressforms makers. We visited Alvanon, they demonstrated how they can scan a live person, in this case our fit model, and we watched on the PC screen as her body was in fact copied from head to toe, and shifted her body double around on the screen. She then came out from the scanning area to also view her double.
    She couldn’t believe it, she said it was very surreal to see “her” body duplicate, even her face had her features. It was wierd, but also very interesting. Of course then they would incorporate all the data into producing a dressform in the end that was identical to her bodyshape. The process had many steps, including a mold made identical to her, and that would make the final dressform.
    I can’t remember the cost, I do remember it was high.
    Next we visited Wolf, Superior and a few more.
    Dressform making is very interesting, making the molds, filling them with paper mache’ in layers to actually mold into the shaping of the form, workers also did this with there hands, then in rough form the bodys would be hand sanded and sent to the workers that fit the muslin on, kinda a shrinking technique in the end, they also hand sew all the seams on the body parts, as anyone can see when they look closely at the seaming. Amazing. I thought it was quite an art. Our company did end up chosing one of the makers to build a copy of our fit model, which we then used in product dev. when she wasn’t present. (In addition to the standard size dressforms we had). I wondered most about what happens if she quits someday and they hire another fit model? What was the point of all that work and cost if they had to use a new girl and she still was a size 10 BUT, her shape is not the same? Would they once again have this fit model “cloaned”, and would they be in need of the previous fit model, and on and on? I saw many fit models come and go there. Personally, I say use a standard fit for your company and go with it, in all the market research we did at that company, we discovered the obvious in the end …in my opinion, everyone who has been in the product dev. process, knows of course you could have 15 size 10’s all lined up, dressed in the same tights, in front of you , also having them turn this way and that to compare while taking photos and measurements, creating spreadsheets and diagrams ….and see that those 15 are all shaped differently yet they wear size 10’s.
    (of course some looked better fitted then others). In the end you just have to try to fit a general shaped 10 body, keeping within some tolerances.
    and yes I have touched those spongey dressforms, they are unique, and I favored the regular dress form with the added feature of just a soft belly, so when you tried slacks on the form you could stick your fingers between that and the waistband to actually feel how tight it might feel on a real belly. I have stuck my fingers in between waistbands and a real body as well. You have too, it is part of fitting.
    In the end all the dressform businesses were great! Their prices varied.

  9. Eric H says:

    I believe Miracle is right about the squishiness. I can’t remember if it was Ram or someone else who told me that fitting things like swimsuits was exactly why they used that material (silicon I think). The squishiness also gives it a “tackiness” like real skin.

    A software vendor located near Tuka told me that the forms had been “molested” and that many people would look around to make sure nobody was watching.

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