INSIGHT – Smart shopping: How technology is making our clothes fit better

For anyone who has ever left a high street changing room sweating, weeping or with a partially dislocated shoulder, a glimmer of hope is on the horizon.

Retailers are finally beginning to realise that they’ll sell more clothes if they have a better understanding of the way our bodies vary in shape and size (my boobs aren’t ever going to be on my back, guys, that’s just science), and technology is playing a key part.

This month ASOS joined forces with Manchester Metropolitan University to launch Size ASOS, a project to help them refine the fit of their clothes by gathering a whole pile of data on their core customers’ bodies.

Over eight days in June and eight in July, they’re scanning 1200 women and 1200 men aged 18-30 using a non-contact, 3D body scanner. Based on safe ‘white light’ technology, the scanner takes two minutes to produce a digital copy of the surface geometry of a person’s body, generating a silhouette of the shape and over 100 measurements for each volunteer. These will then be compiled into an enormous database that’ll be used to teach ASOS designers more about how sizing affects our shopping habits – where we go in and out, and why clothes go back.

But this isn’t the only project of its kind. ASOS already works with Swedish ‘virtual fitting’ company Virtusize, formed in 2011 by a group of friends frustrated with the limitations of e-commerce. And by limitations, I mean straining seams, high-flying hems and that ‘ack, Post Office queues – I’ll just keep it and never wear it’ guilt.

The Virtusize tool allows shoppers to compare the dimensions of potential purchases with garments they already own, and has been used by the likes of Monsoon, Acne and Esprit in an effort to reduce their numbers of returns. Last year ASOS CEO Nick Robertson said that a fall of just one percent in returns would immediately add £10 million to the company’s bottom line, so more accurate sizing would be as beneficial to retailers’ pockets as it would to our wardrobes.

Another startup with its eyes on our size is, a virtual fitting room tool that creates an onscreen model with your exact measurements to try garments on in different sizes, pointing out places that might be too snug or too loose. A bit like shopping with your mother, but more helpful. The company’s clients are currently all rather high-end, but I’ll throw a party the day Topshop gets on board.

While the potential for disappointment with online buys is (sort of) balanced out by the comfort of shopping from your sofa, there still aren’t many modern experiences more exhausting, dispiriting and rage-making than a trying-on session in some of our high street’s less generous stores – so what of the real-life shopping experience too?

In February this year eBay acquired PhiSix, a similar startup to, only with even bigger ambitions. As well as 3D virtual fitting room technology, the company is developing in-store virtual models who would take you beyond the changing room and show you how outfits looked in different scenarios. On the beach! At a party! At your Granny’s 90th birthday lunch! With a little foresight, buyer’s remorse could soon be a thing of the past too.

So while retailers are still a long way off my dream – clothes that are all available in varying cup sizes, hip sizes and clearly marked as ‘sweaty fabric’ where relevant – we’re definitely edging closer to a sizing utopia. Or less time stood in Post Office queues, at least.



Lauren Bravo

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