Before we were so rudely interrupted, my sense of unease and dismay over inconsistent sizing within identical SKUs (as explained by our career tech designer) was growing. A consumer’s expectations are not unreasonable if they try on Style #12345 and -if finding it to their liking decide to buy two or more of them- have every reason to expect that the ones they didn’t try on will fit as well as the first. It is unreasonable to expect consumers to try on every single item of the same exact size, style and color. Size and fit consistency among styles of a given brand is something consumers should take for granted –if only because we ask them to.
Follow me: For better or worse, brands are a cognitive shortcut. In an overwhelming and cluttered marketplace, a brand’s reputation makes purchasing decisions easier and faster. If that is where you want to be, meeting expectations becomes an implied contract with the customer. On one hand you expect the customer to trust you to buy your stuff instead of someone else. To me, a minimal part of brand value is consistent sizing; if consumers take you at your word and trust you, they shouldn’t have to check up on you if they buy X quantities of an identical item. If you bought a set of tires and one of them didn’t fit, your trust in that brand would (should) be seriously eroded. I don’t see how this is any different when it comes to clothes. Sure you can say there are minute differences to be factored in with clothes because we are somehow more special than other classes of manufacturing (not) but this is also true of tires. Rarely are items identical to each other but performance tolerances are established, measured and met.
Flagship brands with inconsistent output used to be rare so people quickly learned which brands they needed to verify. Levi’s was an obvious example -variation was the norm owing to their operation and processes. For example, Levi’s hires contractors across the globe to produce a 501 jean. Each contractor made their own pattern and sourced their own denim for a package price. Consumers learned they couldn’t buy however many pairs of their size at the store because the fit between one pair and the next varied, sometimes substantively, because stores stocked 501s from a variety of Levi’s contractors. Few consumers knew they could shorten the buying process by examining the lot number of a tag to pick out other pairs on the same shelf. However, in light of what our tech designer had to say, it is increasingly less likely that strategy would even work these days assuming people knew to do it. This is very troubling because fit inconsistency owing to operational processes seems to have become the norm.
Today we have all manner of certifications that brands use on their websites and hang tags to instill consumer confidence. I don’t wish to sound cynical but being sustainable and sweat shop free is a matter of integrity; one shouldn’t need pat themselves on the back for doing what they should even if nobody is looking. I suppose it is still a relative rarity but I wonder if we need another? That of operational consistency to convey to customers the path by which their goods travel though the process to get to market. It’s probably a silly idea if only because consumers would then have to learn more about manufacturing complexity when they have enough to do as it is. When I buy a watch, I don’t want to have to learn how to build one. Again, goods brands are a cognitive short cut so you don’t have to think about stuff like that.
If something like that came about, I would be favorably predisposed to companies that set forth formal policies and practices. Nothing earth shattering really, the basics of manufacturing the way we used to. Most of this is in my book but amounts to:
- Pre-product development fabric testing,
- block patterns,
- fit testing on the midpoint size of the size range,
- establishing standards for seams and construction,
- established construction (based on specs) and construction order,
- etc ad nauseum. You know, how we used to do things.
It’s pretty basic stuff. I close with these words of caution:
1. Some folks go full bore and start inspecting everything. That’s usually a bad sign. It means one doesn’t understand where their controls lie.
2. Everyone should do things my way.