Women’s bodies are extremely variable - beautiful and variable. Often we don’t stop and realize how incredibly normal this variation is because we’ve absorbed so much cultural crap about the way we should look that we are constantly thinking about our own bodies in comparison to an “ideal” body type.
But that’s an illusion. We’ve got our boobs, big, small, wide, long, bigger on this side then that. Some of us have big butts, small butts, big hips, narrow hips, narrow hips and big butts. And our waist measurements can be quite a contrast in either direction – bigger or smaller. If we let go of the cultural crap that tells us we should look a certain way we can see that there is nothing stopping any particular set of shapes and sizes from being beautiful and that the variation actually contributes, not takes away from this beauty. We are beautiful just the way we are.
So how does this variation work with our current sizing system? Not so well. Our clothing today is made for maximum efficiency in the traditional manufacturing model. A clothing brand chooses a sizing model: S, M, L or 0-16 or 24-36… Each size is cut for a particular set of measurements that the brand chooses. E.i. a 6 is a 28” waist, 34” breast, and 36” hips or whatever. Then the customers find a size that fits us the least badly. Sometimes, rarely, we find a brand with a size that fits us well. And then they may decide to change their sizing and we have a melt down. Sometimes we decide that it isn’t possible to find something that fits, so we buy something that doesn’t fit and we track down a tailor to make it work for us. Or we have a pile of things that are going to go to the tailor soon…as soon as we get a free moment when we’re not working, doing chores, raising children, caring for loved ones, grocery shopping, or finding time for a bit of exercise. Sound familiar?
So let me set out a definition here. What is made to measure? This is when a garment is cut and sewn to an individual’s measurements. There are no sizes. Jane’s jacket or trousers are made specific to her measurements. They fit her and only her, because we were all born with unique bodies. It is not made to be a certain size and then taken in. The pattern pieces that make up the garment are literally adapted for an individual woman: smaller shoulders, bigger breasts, giant backside, big arms, short torso, you name it.
This is how it used to be. Your mom or sister takes your measurements, you buy the fabric and make the clothing based on these measurements. If you are rich, somebody else does it for you, but they still work from your measurements.
Why did we switch from a system where everyone had great fitting clothing to one where people struggle with an imperfect sizing system? Because it is much more costly to make clothing when you have to make them one at a time. Taking the measurements, making one pattern for those measurements, one set of cut pieces to make that jacket, then sewing them up.
But a lot has happened since we first started making bulk orders of sizes. As you might imagine, there is quite a bit of technology to makes custom made clothing more efficient. If you’ve been following along for a while you’ve heard me talk about digital pattern making – digitizing a pattern so that you can adapt a pattern in real time to an individual woman’s measurements.
The other big development is computerized cutting – laying the fabric on a giant cutter, organizing the pattern pieces like a puzzle and cutting the pieces in minutes, versus the hours it could take to cut a complex piece like a tailored blazer by hand. Instead of needing to cut giant stacks of fabric in the same sizes, you can cut Jane’s fabric pieces next to Susan’s, next to Sarah’s. And these are just a few big innovations in technology. There are a whole bunch more innovations when it comes to taking measurements.
So why aren’t women benefiting from all this given the variation in their bodies? OK so here’s where I bring you into my furnace of frustration at the level of neglect in womenswear that fuels my work. If businesses are designed to solve problems we might imagine that this big problem for women would lead to lots of businesses solving it given all the new technology available.
Take a minute to compare the above measurement issues with a dude’s. Generally they have no breasts and no hips. So their variation is in height, length, waist size, shoulder size. And yes our variation includes these as well. So wouldn’t it be pretty straightforward to assume that women have a greater need for custom sizing?
Take a look around on the internet, or in your town and try to find them. They are very very scarce. Occasionally there is a company that allows you to tailor your sleeve length. Or maybe you find a boutique operation doing a whole garment to measure but they do it much the way you grandma did, not utilizing the latest technology as the menswear companies do. Or maybe you’ll find a company that will do womenswear, but it is an afterthought next to their menswear offerings. Alternatively, search for “made to measure” menswear and the options will exhaust you before you exhaust them. You may get mad like I do at the disparity. And you may wonder WHY it exists.
The Fast Company article about menswear companies using an innovation to take measurements for custom tailoring made the following comment about the women’s market in an attempt to explain why it wasn’t being used for womenswear: “The demand for a closet staple like a two-piece suit just isn't the same.” A two piece suit, maybe. How about a great fitting pair of pants, a blazer or a blouse? I find this response completely inadequate.
The only way to counter this assumption is to create something and see if they are wrong. It is the women, not the men who know that this is a big problem that deserves solutions that think big. But only 6% of women get investment dollars. Help us change this on iFundWomen.
2 weeks and counting until our launch on Tuesday, September 26th. No more neglect. We are testing a solution and won’t stop until we’ve made this better.