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Study: Speed to Market is Killing Quality Garment Fit

Fit has been an ongoing issue in the apparel sector for decades, but with the rise of online shopping, consumers are getting further from the ability to find clothing that fits the first time around. And add to that fast fashion—which has contributed to fewer fit cycles and even eliminated the human element in favor of virtual fit—and it’s little surprise that issues with fit have exacerbated.

Highlighting a study she conducted on Fashion & Fit Issues late last year, Andrea Kennedy of apparel industry publisher Fashiondex, said during a Texworld USA talk last week that 94 percent of fashion professionals surveyed for the study agree that garment fit is a problem at retail today.

With the way the industry has evolved, however, fit issues don’t yet look likely to let up. Slow fashion and its 12 to 18-month lead times has given way to fast fashion and turns that are closer to three to six months, or in some cases, just two weeks. Which is likely why, when asked why there are more fit issues at retail today, 75 percent of respondents pointed to fast fashion.

“Fit is getting worse because retailers want everything faster,” Kennedy explained.

On average, the majority of companies are fitting two samples per style to keep timelines tight, and then seeing as much as 68 percent of their returned garments coming back to them because of fit. By comparison, 20 years ago, companies were fitting as many as four samples per style and fit issues were only to blame for fewer than 30 percent of returns.

“We’ve halved our fit samples and doubled our returns,” Kennedy said.

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Delving further into the issue, the survey revealed that 40 percent of companies do still use a professional fit model to fit their samples, 23 percent make someone at the company who wears the sample size try it on, and 15 percent just try it on themselves. Though 3-D virtual fit has been getting a good amount of press in recent years, only 2 percent of those surveyed said they are using it.

[Read more about fit: This Korean Startup is Ditching Standard Sizes to Realize Better Fit]

That means, as Kennedy explained, “20 percent is not hitting a person, but we’re putting 20,000 of a style out there without seeing if it fits.”

Most companies aren’t doing size run fittings anymore either. Rather, they are fitting the sample size—and finalizing before perfecting it—then scaling up and down from there for the other sizes.

“We need to do size run fittings and regular fittings again, fit never used to be the issue it is today,” one survey respondent said.

That kind of blind action hasn’t been working for retail lately, whether it’s an issue of fit or simply not hitting the mark with what the consumer wants and when they want it.

One problem among the many, is that companies are often not making, fitting and correcting their samples all in the same place—which often means DHL packages back and forth, and drawing out delivery times as a result of all that transit.

Eighty-nine percent of those Fashiondex surveyed said they’d be interested in a service that would allow them to complete the full fit process locally. What companies want most in order to improve the fit of their garments is time, and local fitting and sampling could help them afford that.

“I could arrive at the perfect spec for the garment…unfortunately at my current employer I have to get comments out the same day as the fitting,” one respondent said.

The downside to domestic fittings, however, is the potential inconsistency with the way the factory does things at production.

“The factory may have different cutting/sewing/measuring methods and this could lead to more work back and forth necessary to educate them about what you are going for since they would be left out of the process,” another respondent added.

For some, whether fittings happen domestically or abroad won’t solve the issues the apparel industry faces.

“We are moving further away from fit, and speed to market is everything,” one fashion professional said in the survey. “As new generations come, they don’t know what a good fit is. Also, everything is moving to the factories in the Orient where the bodies have a different shape than in the U.S.”