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One size does not fit all. Not in business, not in fashion, and certainly not in the age of personalization and consumer demand. As technology transforms an ever-changing industry, the fundamental requirement for success is meeting the needs of customers in a challenging and competitive retail landscape.
In the past decade, technology has transfigured the customer journey, changing the way we view, browse, and shop for apparel. Yet so much is happening on other levels: at concept, design and product development, sourcing, across supply chains, in manufacturing, even in wholesale and distribution.
Fashion businesses, and markedly luxury brands, have been relatively slow to uptake new technologies, yet it is obvious that tech-driven advancements are making an impact across the entire value chain, from automated manufacturing to data-driven forecasting to AI-powered personalised marketing campaigns.
Two years ago Forbes heralded 3D printing as a game changer that would revolutionise the fashion industry, noting the possibility to print complex things quickly and cheaply would empower individuals and businesses alike. Yet 3D printing is but on the cusp of a larger digital transformation happening in fashion. There is a quiet revolution taking shape behind the scenes, and a surge of apparel-technology companies are ushering in a new era of innovation.
One such innovator is Alvanon, a privately-owned fashion-tech business that has been empowering brands for three generations to create their perfect fit. By perfect fit we mean providing solutions and technology for not just designers, but applicable to all apparel businesses, retailers and brands, to help define their true size DNA.
Founded by Dr. Kenneth Wang at the turn of the millennium, the company found its niche when it looked at the possible ways to standardize the selling of online apparel after Amazon was launched in the 1990’s.
Today Alvanon is a global innovation company that has conducted over 1.5 million body scans and created over 6,000 body shapes. In the era of size diversity, Alvanon’s data is one part scanning technology, and another that incorporates a brand’s sales, returns and demographic info. Setting a new industry standard in product development, Alvanon’s technology is used by an array of brands including Adidas, Chanel and Under Armour.
FashionUnited spoke with Jason Wang, Alvanon’s Hong Kong-based COO, who oversees global operations together with his sister Janice, the company’s CEO and brother Jon, VP of Research and Development. Wang is considered one of the world’s leading experts in body shape analysis and 3D avatar creation and shared his insights into how Alvanon’s technology is empowering brands.
In the current age of individualisation and customisation, one size doesn’t fit all, making it difficult for retailers to cater to all body types. To play the devil’s advocate, buying off the peg with so many brands and retail options, it isn’t difficult to find decent fitting garments. In which capacity do you see your service the most beneficial to brands considering the vast amount of choice consumers have?
JW: Since launching in 2001, Alvanon has worked with hundreds of brands, retailers and designers to define and create their fit standards, size offering and measurements, based on factors including their current shopper demographics, their target demographics and fit issues that have been reported.
After a consultation with Alvanon, brands typically walk away with their core size defined, a grade rule and body growth chart for sizing up and down, and virtual avatars and corresponding mannequins from which they can create samples. These fit standards become the brands DNA by which their garments are made.
One size certainly doesn’t fit all, but for mass-produced apparel I think that the 80/20 rule applies. Alvanon is installing fit standards for our clients’ products to fit the majority of their target customers.
Garment sizing for apparel companies is often inconsistent. Even within a brand’s same core categories, like denim or jersey, there can be enormous differences between sizes and ratios. With complex supply chains, outsourcing, shortened lead times and cost factors, how can brands and retailers ensure an optimal fit with multiple considerations?
JW: I think this is one area where 3D can really help in the long term. Today, brands send out tech packs with size charts, measurements and a simple sketch of the product. What all of this lacks is the ability for the vendor to understand the fit intent of the product. If this was, instead, sent with a 3D file of the product dressed on the virtual bodies, this would save precious time and remove misinterpretations from the onset.
3D is definitely changing our industry; there’s nobody who’s not starting to touch it. Since launching this January, over 100 brands have uploaded their 3D fit standards to Alvanon’s digital body hub, The Alvanon Body Platform. Clients who have been working with the 3D avatars have been able to make much better product, with improved sizing, because the standardization involved really facilitates next-level accuracy. They have also been able to move faster and increase speed-to-market to remain competitive.
Someday soon, apparel brands may rely on virtual bodies to fit their entire size range, and fashion retailers to keep tabs on their digital supply chain.
McKinsey in its 2019 State of Fashion report predicts virtual sampling to be a key trend in 2019. It also sees a move towards micro factories for rapid sampling and a new generation of customised clothing start-ups. How do you adapt to an evolving industry and meeting the needs of new tech developments and trends?
JW: The first industries to embrace 3D were performance wear and activewear, and now mass players like Walmart and Gap are coming on board. The adoption of 3D technology is certainly picking up this year and we are seeing more and more brands implement or at least get educated on the subject. That said, I think that while it’s a trend, the reality is that it will take more time for the majority of companies to effectively use 3D design in product development. In this scenario, we feel that the best course of action is to provide the fundamental tools that our clients require to embark on their 3D journey, while developing new technology that will be released as soon as we feel that the apparel industry’s 3D ecosystem is ready.
From a sustainability perspective, companies wishing to adopt the technology should do so at which stage? i.e. at design, first prototyping, production? How do you see fit innovation contribute to sustainable practices?
JW: 3D is sustainable no matter at which stage it is implemented, but we can see immediate results in the initial prototyping and product development stages. If companies that adopt 3D can reduce 1 - 2 samples per style, they will not only be saving time and money, but will also be saving the environment.
Using Alvanon’s Body Platform (ABP), brands can expedite products’ speed-to-market both by eliminating processes like shipping samples back-and-forth for tweaks and approvals, and by cutting out unnecessary middlemen. Players across a brand’s vendor base and supply chain can access the platform and the brand’s set collection of avatars.
Consumer technologies like virtual try-ons and fit predictors can contribute to sustainability when the supply chain catches up. If actual clothing produced is close enough to the consumer app algorithm then I believe that this could enable better buying behaviour and reduce returns.
To find out more about how 3D fit technology and sizing solutions could benefit your business, visit www.alvanon.com
Images courtesy: AlvaStandard North