Right-sizing fashion

The project to develop an Indian size for garments, like the European and American ones, has been 12 years in the making.

WrittenBy:Harkirat Kaur
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A trip to a clothing store always brings a bunch of surprises. It could be a knock-off range of an ‘exclusive collection’ from the recent fashion week or the sight of an attire similar to the one last seen on an Indian film celebrity. But for shoppers who desire a perfect fit rather than the latest style, it can be the annoying, unsuitable cut of an outfit, that wasn’t made for their body type in the first place.

In times of vanity sizing and multinational brands with individual size charts, a standard size for our country is a concept that shoppers really need. The good news is that NIFT, under the aegis of Ministry of Textiles, is working on India’s own comprehensive size chart for the ready-to-wear industry based on body measurements of 25,000 males and females, from six different regions in the country with an elaborate population density and diverse anatomical structure. The bad news is that none of us are getting younger as we wait for this process to be over. 

 “It is a scientific exercise where anthropometric data will be collected from a sample population in the 15-65 age group to create a database of measurements that will result in a standardised size chart which is representative of the Indian population and can be adopted by the apparel industry,” said Noopur Anand, faculty member at NIFT Delhi and principal investigator for this project with an extensive experience in Fit analysis and Pattern Engineering.

“We have chosen metro cities like Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Shillong, to ensure a good mix of races,” Anand added.

For the longest time, Indians have struggled with the size systems of other countries, to a point where they bought brands that produced India-inspired clothes with a fit that suits an entirely different set of people. “Labels like Biba and FabIndia, who have been there in the business for years, have gone through enough hit and trial to get their sizing right according to the Indian consumer. I don’t see them looking forward to any such initiative by the government,” Shreya Khurana, a Pearl Academy graduate who recently started retailing under the label Es, said. “Maybe the international brands will utilise it better, but again it’s another investment for these labels to put to use a new sizing system.

“US is a junction of various ethnicities and the most exotic brands, but it does have a standard sizing in place that illustrates an average American built,’’ said Anand, when asked about the relevance of standard sizing in India where people have varied anthropometric built across the country. The process, that will use 3D whole-body scanners, where each scan will take less than 10 seconds, recording more than 120 measurements of 25,000 people, can be a complex exercise to deal with. “Once the data is recorded, we will organise those as separate body shapes that will have their own statistics,’’ Anand added.

In these years, both fashion and the human body have progressed in many ways. Fashion systems around the world have undergone a series of experimentation, both aesthetically and technically, with new silhouettes, cut, textile, ideas and even ways to construct a garment, whereas human lifestyle has changed in a way where we lose and gain multiple kilos within a couple of weeks. In a scenario like that, a standard sizing system for India may turn out to be a short-sighted enterprise.

Social media does the spying and suggesting, turning online shopping into one intense pastime for a lot of us. With Indian apparel e-commerce that is ready to touch $30 billion by 2020 (according to a report by BCG & Facebook), bad fit will certainly not add value. “A standardised size chart for Indian apparel will be of tremendous value, as it will lead to a reduction of returns,” says Rajesh Shah,  chairman of the NIFT board, who believes that the primary reason for low returns is poor garment fit. “It’s increasing with the increase of e-commerce,” he added.

According to the same report, 33 per cent of all urban fashion consumers will buy online by 2020; here a better means to reach the right size will make for a happy deal for both the buyer and seller. Apps such as True Fit are quite a hit in the West, that not only enable people to choose the right size, but also the style to go with their body type form the available apparel retailers. Then there is ‘Fits Me’ as well, where one can create a digital version of their body, and pick out a virtual wardrobe from tonnes of high-fashion brands and see how different sizes fit them on their phone screens.

“Ready-to-wear garments became popular in India in the ‘80s. After 30 years, it’s all done and over,” said Asit Bhatt, an associate professor at NIFT Kangra, who is not too excited about the results of this investment.

The project is assigned an amount of Rs 30 crore, wherein Rs 21 crore will be provided by the Ministry of Textiles and NIFT would cover the rest. This project, at its completion, will help India join the list of 14 countries who have completed their national sizing surveys like the US, Canada, Mexico, the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Korea, China and Australia.

 The project that was first discussed in 2006, took 12 years to reach a stage where it is ready for execution. “This is one special instance when the government, industry and academia have the right resources to conduct this survey and the willingness to work on this project together,” says Anand.

 The project that is being regarded as a gift from NIFT to India, is still under evaluation until its first draft comes out in 2021, ready for India’s apparel industry to bring it into service.


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This article was first published in the Patriot.


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