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Sizing up India - project IndiaSize measures people across the country for a better fit

By Simone Preuss


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Photos: Michael Burrows via Pexels

It is hard to believe that a country with a population of almost 1.4 billion people could be ignored but when it comes to sizing, this is exactly what is happening. For decades, international fashion brands and retailers have been trying to tap the Indian market, some more successfully than others. A common mistake is to simply dump the clothes on the Indian market without making adjustments.

And this is exactly where it gets tricky, especially in terms of sizing. Not only are US, UK and EU sizes inconsistent, they also often do not fit the Indian body shape. While someone could be a size M on top and a size XL around the hips (or vice versa), few western brands take this into account. When it comes to Indian traditional wear, there is less of a problem as it is more adaptable, for example a sari, which is draped individually on the wearer’s body, or a salwar kameez, which consists of a loose-fitting tunic and pant combination.

International clothing brands are missing out in India

Trying to fit into western clothes, therefore, has come with a lot of frustration: “I like the clothes I see at western fashion brands in malls and shops but trying them on is difficult. Often they are too tight in some areas and too loose in others. It is rare that a piece fits right away. If I like it a lot, I will have it tailored later but often I get frustrated and just leave it,” shares college student Shraddha Sharma from New Delhi. Or, as management consultant Jyothi Gopalan from Mumbai puts it: “I hate having to fit my DD-sized breasts into an A/B cup! The girls don’t like being cramped.”

No doubt, international brands are missing out because of this oversight. “Whenever I shop for western wear, I tend to prefer Indian brands like And and Biba that make an effort with sizing. I wish western brands would look into Indian sizes and not ignore this large consumer market,” says Pratibha Patil, a homeopathic doctor based in Mumbai.

“One of the biggest challenges in the Indian apparel industry is that there is no body size chart for the Indian population. Most of the developed countries like the US, UK, EU, Japan etc. have their own size charts. This lack of standardisation results in products that are ill-fitted, increasing product returns and decreasing customer satisfaction,” confirms Indian textile minister Smriti Zubin Irani.

IndiaSize tackles lack of sizing standards in India

But all this is going to change now. Called “IndiaSize - National Sizing Survey of India”, the Indian government’s ministry of textiles is currently undertaking an extensive anthropometric research study with the aim to develop a comprehensive body size chart for the Indian population. The ministry’s National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) based in New Delhi has already started with the project that will entail gathering anthropometric data from more than 25,000 men and women between 15 and 65 years of age across India using 3D whole body scanning technology.

“To overcome this shortcoming, the government of India has initiated the IndiaSize project, a first-of-its-kind project in the Indian history. The project aims at providing standardised body measurements for Indian population to address inconsistencies in apparel sizing systems and provided fits. This will result in customer satisfaction and better sales,” adds Irani.

IndiaSize via NIFT website

Scanning in Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and Shillong

As part of the planning stage, the sample size of 25,000 participants has already been determined, also the six scanning locations in six Indian regions, namely New Delhi (North), Mumbai (West), Chennai (South), Hyderabad (Centre), Kolkata (East) and Shillong (North-East). The next step was to identify a global standard and scanning system as well as data points and posture.

“The IndiaSize survey will result in the creation of size identification number for a customer through mapping, categorisation and defining of their body size. This will help manufacturers to produce goods suited for the body size of the target consumer and help consumers to identify sizes that will be best suited for them resulting in a match and hence improved sales,” explains IAS textiles secretary U. P. Singh on NIFT’s dedicated IndiaSize page (nift.ac.in/indiasize).

According to a scanning schedule published on the page, scanning is slated for New Delhi from July through September 2021, October through December 2021 in Chennai, January through March 2022 in Mumbai, April to mid May 2022 in Hyderabad, mid May to mid August 2022 in Kolkata and mid August to mid October 2022 in Shillong. Those interested in participating can sign up on the webpage.

Findings to help all brands and other industries

Once all anthropometric and socio-economic data has been gathered and analysed, the aim is to develop body size charts specific to the Indian population. The system will then be validated and customised and hopefully put into practice not only by Indian brands and retailers offering western wear but also by international brands and retailers active in India.

In fact, the findings should be interesting for US, EU and UK brands and retailers in their home markets as well as customer bases are diverse and often struggle with the same sizing issues as Indian consumers. Take Patil’s children for example, now studying in Lithuania and Germany, respectively, who have problems finding European clothing sizes that fit them well. Gopalan, on the other hand, finds it more difficult to squeeze into the current Southeast Asian sizes. All the more reason to finally standardise Indian sizes.

As for the Indian market, the study findings will also be applied across various other sectors such as automotive, aerospace, fitness and sport, art and even computer gaming where the insights gained are meant to result in ergonomically designed products geared for the Indian population.

“The vision of this project is to dress the Indian population with very good fit and undo the prevalent practice of using size charts which are largely tweaked versions of size charts of other countries resulting in fits that are a cause for concern. The project also envisions a reduced product return which currently hovers in the range of 20 – 40 percent in the ready-to-wear industry,” concludes Shantmanu, director general of NIFT.