Why are clothing sizes so erratic and can they be fixed?

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Meepl app on a phone
Image copyrightMEEPL
Tech firms are using artificial intelligence to work out sizing

Sorcha O’Donoghue has long been annoyed by the disparity in sizing between clothes bought in different stores.

“If these apps are linked to a list of basic blocks across retailers, then that’s a big step forward as they will minimise returns – the biggest bane of online retailers,” says Maria Malone, principal lecturer in fashion business at Manchester Metropolitan University.

“With apps like these you’re only actually ever making what is already pre-ordered by the customer, so that’s going to reduce waste.”

No consistency?

Israeli company MySize also has an app that can measure a person’s size, but without using the phone’s camera.

Instead, a user moves the phone along their body and the app uses the accelerometer sensors and gyroscopes in the smartphone to work out dimensions.

Billy Pardo at MysizeImage copyrightMYSIZE
Billy Pardo says MySize can give customers a truer sizing

MySize has used the data collected from customers to train an artificial intelligence program to recognise patterns and features of human body shapes, which it then uses to make its calculations more accurate.

Each person’s dimensions are stored in a database, which retailers can access to get a size recommendation.

“The [fashion] industry doesn’t like consistency,” says Billy Pardo, chief production and operations officer at MySize.

It is an industry that often resorts to vanity sizing, which is the practice of labelling clothes a size smaller so that brands mislead customers into thinking they are thinner than they actually are, Mrs Pardo says.

Piles of Recycling and general rubbish lay uncollected at Tesco Extra Store, 1 April, 2020 in Wembley, London.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionOnly a small proportion of unwanted clothes are recycled

“Some retailers give me a size 38 in European sizing. In fact, I’m a 40,” she says.

“When you know the profile of your customers, you will manufacture less, something that will eventually lead to a more sustainable industry.”

The fashion industry is under pressure to cut waste. Each year, 85% of all discarded textiles, that’s 21 billion tonnes a year, go into landfill, according to a report from the United Nations Economic Commission.

Cheap and trendy clothing, manufactured quickly, and sold at low prices to meet an ever-shifting consumer demand inspired by celebrity culture and the catwalk, is a major culprit in all this.

‘Crazy’

The rise of so-called fast fashion over the last 15 years has established a business model whereby some brands produce 52 collections each year, which translates to one collection per week.

The apparel industry accounts for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, according to the UN report.

Mysize appImage copyrightMYSIZE
Image captionMySize’s app measures a person’s size, but without using the phone’s camera

“This is crazy,” says René Stampfl, vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa at meepl.

“Fast fashion has changed how consumers in the Western world are thinking about buying clothes.

“There is so much overproduction that in the end millions of pieces of garments end up in landfills or are incinerated.”

Micro-factories

Mr Stampfl is confident that technology like his, which can create a unique body profile, can help tackle this issue.

“When the consumer shares their personal body measurements with brands and retailers, clothing customisation is achieved for everyone,” he says.

Mr Stampfl thinks that, in the long run, sweatshops will give way to so-called micro-factories.

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