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This Robotic Mannequin Can Help Fix Apparel’s Sizing Problem

Merchandise returns accounted for $260.5 billion in lost sales for U.S. retailers in 2015, according to a report published last month by The Retail Equation in conjunction with the National Retail Federation (NRF). And while 3.5% ($9.12 billion) of those returns were seemingly fraudulent, a huge proportion of those items were likely sent back because of sizing issues.

Many a start-up has sprung up to steer shoppers through the murky waters of ill-fitting apparel, but they’re not getting to the root of the problem: the fact that the majority of brands are still basing their fit and sizing on the shape of the fit model they use. Furthermore, as the co-founders of menswear line RFM said at last month’s NRF Big Show, standard sizing hasn’t changed in more than 70 years.

That’s where i.Dummy comes in. Created by the Hong Kong Polytechnic’s Institute of Textiles and Clothing and a recent golden award winner in the engineering and technical design category at the A’Design Award and Competition in Como, Italy, the automatically adjustable robotic dummy was developed to replace the need for the many mannequins usually required to make one complete size range of clothing.

Over the course of four years, the team behind i.Dummy studied the size charts of various countries—including the U.S., the U.K. and Japan—in order to understand the guidelines used by different apparel companies, as well as analyzing scanned body profiles of the female population in those locales. The resulting mannequin is made up of several panels designed for every possible means of bodily change (such as chest, bust, waist, hips, neck, natural waist length and waist to hips length) and controlled by dedicated software so as to flexibly fit a vast range of sizes.

For instance, if a designer wants to make a garment to fit a U.S. size 10, the operator clicks that size on the graphic user interface and the i.Dummy will automatically change to the required dimensions. According to the inventors, the mannequin allows customization down to 0.1 centimeters, or 0.03 inches.

In addition to helping apparel manufacturers improve their production process, the mannequin can also be used as an education tool at fashion schools, as well as in haute couture design.