In addition, many apparel companies create product that simply does not fit the figures of their clients. The problem, all too often, is about body shape (otherwise known as ‘grading’).
Fit is as much about shape as it is about size, but the fashion industry largely exists in a state of ignorance as to the body shapes in the population.
Ultimately, this can lead to an inventory that offers no ‘right size’ for a consumer: nothing fits, because the shape is wrong. Shockingly, this unsuitable new stock can end up in landfill.
To solve this problem information is needed. Firstly, the body shapes of the customer base need to be gathered and studied so as to create an improved inventory, comprised of the correctly sized and shaped garments. Then individual clients’ body shapes need to be ascertained, at point of sale, so that the appropriate sizes are picked from that selection and sent out to them when they buy.
Information is the name of the game and it is incredibly valuable, yet it isn’t easy to get. Going out into the population to find meaningful data is a huge task, fraught with problems. Firstly, there has to be a big enough sample (which needs to be substantial and widespread: there is no inhabited continent where we can afford to make assumptions as to body shape and size). This study has to be on-going (body shapes change over time: for example, right now the waistlines of our population are growing and, simultaneously, certain demographics are changing such as average age, which is rising).
Then, the sample has to be accurate and representative. When testing the cohort, those groups who are happy to donate their time to undertake testing for, for example, financial rewards, may have distinct features (they may be a younger sub-group for instance). And other considerations also come into play. In the plus-size sector, many women who have ‘non-standard’ body shapes (ironically, body shapes such as ‘Pear’ and ‘Apple’ shape are far more common than the figure that is assumed to be the ‘norm’, but which is actually rather rare, the ‘Perfectly proportioned’ shape) are super-sensitive about having their bodies analysed. Many people contaminate their data by miss-reporting it, so the manner of gathering has to be bullet-proof.
Then there is the small matter of obtaining metrics from individual customers at point of sale. It all sounds perfectly easy: how much of a problem can it be to ask women about their weight and body measurements? (I’m being sarcastic, in case that’s not obvious: to many women, there can hardly be anything more fraught with complication and sensitivity than asking for these details.)
All this data is valuable; so who deserves to benefit from that value? Money flows back and forward in the fashion industry. It enters via the consumer when a sale is made, then some of that flows down the plug-hole of customer returns, wasted stock and lost trade. Would it be possible to divert some of that money away from these expensive (and ecologically damaging) causes, and send it back towards the provider of the data?
Imagine, if you will, a credit account whose currency is information. A consumer will ‘pay into’ this account by adding her data.
She might input her weight, height, bra size or any of a significant number of metrics. This gives her a credit. With just these inputs, it may be enough to qualify her for free delivery with participating retailers. At the point of sale, she is reminded that if she would like to also earn free returns, she might wish to ‘top-up’ her information with extra inputs. She could, for example, opt to visit a body scanner in her nearby sports or shopping centre in order to make a major deposit of information. If she is able to visit and be re-scanned regularly, she would be able to enjoy all free postage and she would also be eligible for entry into prize draws, get early notice of sales events and discounts: a whole cornucopia of rewards could be opened up to her if she were to provide enough data.
And the method of payment could be endlessly flexible. Each time she returns items, if she were to run through a thorough survey as to why the garment does not fit then this will also earn her credits. If she would like to link her social media account photographs to the system, this will pay into her account as well. Each picture uploaded into the process represents a credit. If she chooses to allow her anonymised information to be sold on to product developers who are analysing cohort data, this would raise some more credit for her.
She can also build up a good ‘fit credit rating’ by having a minimal returns footprint. A woman found to use a returns service sparingly in comparison to how much she has purchased, may indeed end up being offered free returns as a reward. Information has a sell-by date, so any data that she inputs will become stale and will need to be renewed, and she will be informed about this as it happens. Regular upkeep will earn her rewards.
So who would want to give this data? Wouldn’t it be risky to be giving away all this personal information? Not at all.
The data information credit service would work very much like a credit card. Every piece of consumer data would be confidential and held ‘in quarantine’. Just like payment with a credit card, the information would be applied as and when it was needed only through very carefully controlled channels. All the retailer would get to retain about the consumer is what is agreed with that individual.
The argument in favour of this system is a strong one. For a start it's system that pays for itself: there would be no rewards offered that are not covered by the savings obtained, and it enables brands to make a significant dent in the ecological damage that is being done by the fashion industry. It puts the consumer in control of the data and, if anyone is to make money out of her information, it is only fair it is the owner and provider of that material. It incentivises the customer to give the kind of data that is so desperately needed (and which is not as yet forthcoming in sufficient quantity and quality). And it also encourages individuals in the population to take responsibility for their own carbon footprint, by making them aware of their history of returns.
Information is valuable and it belongs to the consumer. Accurate, up-to-date data is desperately needed by the fashion industry. A system where the customer is paid fairly for their participation is equitable and beneficial to all.