Made to measure: What does an ‘India Size’ mean and do we need it?

Retail giants in India, however, are missing out on sales, as the likes of Kaushik would rather get their clothes stitched than pick up ready-to-wear attire that needs altering.

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Akanksha Kaushik, an instructional designer, is usually a disgruntled shopper. The 34-year-old from New Delhi dreads apparel shopping.

Akanksha Kaushik, an instructional designer, is usually a disgruntled shopper. The 34-year-old from New Delhi dreads apparel shopping. She doesn’t like going to stores, as she is unable to get a size that accommodates her heavy arms and thighs, and online shopping is a mix of trial and error. “The ill-fitting clothes have put me off ready-to-wear outfits completely,” she says. “If I match my waist size, I have to sport clothing that’s tight on my arms and if I pay attention to my arms, the waist goes for a toss,” she rues. Kaushik may be among the growing number of customers who are now opting for customised clothing. So it’s not without reason that the good old neighbourhood darzi is now a corporate entity, running an online portal and delivering your choice of western or Indian attire. Retail giants in India, however, are missing out on sales, as the likes of Kaushik would rather get their clothes stitched than pick up ready-to-wear attire that needs altering.

But all this could soon be a thing of the past when the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), under the aegis of the ministry of textiles, comes up with a standardised ‘India Size’ chart for the ready-to-wear garment industry. For this, a National Sizing Survey will be carried out across six Indian cities—New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Shillong and Kolkata—which will collect sample measurements of 25,000 people starting June. Interestingly, this is the biggest sample size ever undertaken for such a survey. “During the Textiles India conference held in July 2017, there was a round table on the ‘India Size’ project,” Sarada Muraleedharan, director general, NIFT, tells us. “At that time, leaders of the industry came forward and said they wanted a national size chart. This included big e-commerce and retail giants. We had a discussion with the Fashion Design Council of India as well… and designers also said they were interested in a size chart,” says Muraleedharan, adding, “Finally, it’s being executed.”

Size matters

Globally, 14 countries, including China, Spain and Germany, have their own size charts. In India, most home-grown brands adopt US/UK size charts, while international brands sell their global sizes. “Currently, we are using international sizes, but Indians aren’t anthropometrically made the same way,” says Noopur Anand, a professor at NIFT-Delhi and the principle investigator of the India Size project. “If you ask somebody their size, they will give different sizes for different brands, so what we are looking at is to have a numeric value, which I can pick up from anywhere in the world,” she adds.

NIFT has already put out a tender to acquire heavy-duty, high-tech, whole-body 3D scanners that would be used for the survey to extract hundreds of measurements from a person. After this, the NIFT will work out a weighted average to develop a comprehensive India size chart. “The numeric nomenclature will be the closest to the Indian body type. We are also taking inputs from experts who have undertaken sizing surveys internationally. Once the basic sizing is out, we will further customise the data to get archetypes for different body types, like ‘petite’, ‘pear-shaped’, etc,” says Anand. Around 120 anthropometric elements—including height, weight, waist size, hip size, bust size, wrist measurement, etc—will be included in the survey. The project, to be conducted over a period of two-three years, will incur a total cost of Rs 31 crore and the resultant size chart (expected to be out by 2021) will be available at no cost for retailers.

In the absence of a standardised size chart providing well-fitted garments, most big players have come up with their own sizes that they feel best cater to their clientele. Take, for instance, Fabindia, one of the country’s oldest retail chain stores, which started offering ready-to-wear garments in the Eighties. “As ready-to-wear was a new and relatively unexplored area at that point, we evolved our own size charts and grading logic… this was followed by others as well. Over the years, we have further evolved our sizing based on feedback, research and customer expectations,” says Charu Sharma, director, Fabindia, adding, “The feedback is an ongoing process, which helps us evolve sizing and fits. Over the last few decades, we have evolved fits and sizing that answer the needs of Indian consumers.”

Then there is aLL, a clothing brand of Future Group, which caters exclusively to plus-sized people. aLL, too, developed its sizes through market inputs, observation and customer feedback. “Our country is different-bodied and following international sizes wasn’t a great idea for us,” says Hetal Kotak, CEO, aLL, whose online portal has seen a 300-400% jump in business in the last four months. “It’s largely because we offer well-fitted and suitably-styled clothing to Indian women, keeping in mind several details like post-pregnancy shape and post-marriage weight gain,” says Kotak, adding that their exchange rate is as low as 6-7%.
Women’s branded apparel-maker TCNS Clothing, too, commissioned an anthropometric study of Indian women in the early 2000s and introduced six sizes. The company, which sells women’s clothing under the brands W, Aurelia and Wishful, utilises in-depth market research and data analysis to emphasise its fits. “In 2010-11, we revisited the study undertaken to assess apparel sizes and introduced a seventh size to offer the best fit possible to our customers,” says Anant Daga, managing director, TCNS Clothing, which filed draft papers for an initial public offer last month.

But even though big retailers have spent years researching the Indian body type, they are looking at the developments keenly. Fabindia has “welcomed the initiative” and is “looking forward” to the survey’s inputs and findings. Kotak of aLL agrees: “This survey should help everyone—brands and customers,” he says. A point reiterated by others. “Some of our sizes are altered as per the regions we cater to,” says Ajay Chablani, head of sourcing, FBB, a retail apparel brand under Future Group. “In the north-east, for instance, our medium size would be smaller than what it is in the rest of India. In the south, the medium size would be a little larger than the normal range, as it’s a different body type there,” says Chablani, adding, “Sizing is a vast subject. So if the NIFT comes up with more data than what is available today, it would definitely make sense to incorporate the changes.”

But not everyone is convinced. Fashion designer Anita Dongre, whose retail brand AND caters to the contemporary western-wear market for women, says she won’t adopt the national size. “We follow the UK sizes, but we tweak the sizing, keeping in mind the Indian woman. The lack of a national size hasn’t affected the brand in the Indian or international market,” says Dongre, adding, “So we won’t be carrying out any changes.”

Customise & cater

As per a 2016 report by management consulting firm Technopak, the Indian fashion retail market, whose size was Rs 2,97,091 crore in 2016, is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.7% to reach a market size of Rs 7,48,398 crore by 2026. Interestingly, over 10% of this market consists of online portals—a number that’s expected to go up to 30% by 2020. Also, according to a study by India Retailing, a website that keeps track of retail news, the ready-to-stitch segment in India accounted for a 20% share of the apparel market in 2015, growing at an annual rate of 5.5%. To tap this market, ready-to-wear retail giant Biba, which specialises in women’s ethnic-wear, partnered with Amazon India for a ready-to-stitch collection in January.

The demand for fitted silhouettes has also led to the opening of several customised clothing outlets. One such is Corporate Collars, a custom tailoring retail store in Mumbai, which started operations in 2013. Corporate Collars offers ‘tailoring on wheels’ where a mobile van goes to a customer’s doorstep to customise his/her clothes. “The consumer has evolved from not being bothered about the fit of his clothes to making well-fitted clothes his priority when buying either off the rack or custom-tailored clothes,” says Harssh Chheda, founder, Corporate Collars. The company, which offers customised western-wear for both men and women, is currently seeing an year-on-year client growth of 140-150%.

It was a market full of ill-fitting clothes that led Chheda to start his own venture. “When I returned to India after graduating from the US, I could not find the right fit for my clothes. A medium size was too large for me and a small was not big enough. Frustrated by the lack of options, I decided to start Corporate Collars,” he says. Then there are online portals that offer “custom-tailored” ready-to-wear options. Take, for instance, FableStreet, an online professional-wear portal for women. To tap the market that exists in the absence of well-fitted ready-to-wear clothes, FableStreet is following a middle path—it offers ready-to-wear clothes (70%) and customised clothing (30%). “NIFT’s survey is a great initiative and much needed. Being such a large industry and not have our own size chart is a big disadvantage that we face,” says Ayushi Gudwani, founder and CEO, FableStreet.

It was her own experience of not finding “proper-fitting” western-wear for women in the Indian market that made Gudwani open her online store in September 2016. To develop her brand’s size chart, she did market research for a year, taking measurements of around 1,000 women, and got a basic chart developed for the portal, which caters to clients across the country and even internationally. “We have seen a 200% growth year-on-year since our launch,” says Gudwani, adding, “Our exchange rate is less than 5% compared with the 15-30% seen by most other players.”

It’s this lacunae of people not being able to find their ‘right fit’ that the NIFT believes it would fill once the India Size is released. “We are moving into fitted silhouettes for both men and women. In India, with various ethnicities, there are different body types and these can’t be boxed into ‘small’, ‘large’, ‘medium’, ‘extra-large’, etc. The need for a proper size then becomes all the more crucial,” says Muraleedharan of NIFT. Till that happens, though, Kaushik and her ilk may have to spend a few more harrowing hours outside trial rooms of different brands or keep visiting their neighbourhood darzi.

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