Epic proportions: managing garment sizes across global supply chains

What if solving the industry-wide garment fit problem were as simple as applying uniform sizing across product development disciplines?


Consumer dissatisfaction with garment fit is often attributable to inconsistent sizing. With variation observable among brands and even within individual retailers’ product offerings, a fair amount of confusion exists with respect to apparel sizing methods. Size discrepancy is so pervasive, however, that it can even make sizing inconsistent from lot to lot, for identical items manufactured in different countries or even by different contract manufacturers. To satisfy consumer expectations and control the rate of returned merchandise, apparel retailers must ensure the highest standard of garment quality possible, which crucially entails manufacturing consistently sized garments for all end markets.

The lack of standardized sizing

At the core of widespread size discrepancy lies a basic fact. Today, there is no universally recognized method of sizing for the global apparel market. Garment sizes are not based on standardized dimensional measurements and instead conform to numbered (8-10-12) or simplified (S-M-L) size categories.

Although body shape is equally as important as body measurements and accurate garment fit, many sizing systems use linear grading. A fitting model representative of the brand’s target market serves to define measurement specifications that are graded up to establish a range of sizes.

Variance from country to country

Sizing systems vary considerably from one country to another. Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany and the Scandinavian countries all use sizing based on waist measurements. Italy’s sizing differs from that of France despite being based on the same measurement metric.

While British sizing typically ranges from size 8 to size 32, the American sizing system initially based on the same National Bureau of Standards survey has been abandoned by most US-based brands in favor of “vanity sizing”. The smallest American size available has retreated from size “8” to size “00”.

The offshore manufacturing model

Driven by the labor-cost advantage of foreign operations, the vast majority of mass-market apparel brands offshore their garment manufacturing. To build global value chains, many apparel makers outsource to contract manufacturers in multiple countries or regions. This enables them to supply a worldwide network of retail outlets using a global logistics network and secure supply chain sourcing.

Sizing challenges at a global scale

China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Turkey are the largest low-cost apparel producers in the world. In the same way that the aforementioned European countries and the United States have all developed their own sizing systems, each of these apparel-producing countries follows its own sizing conventions. Perhaps more important, patternmakers in the various regions of the world are trained using wide-ranging methods, with different perceptions of the human body and clothing proportions.

Japan, South Korea, Hungary, South Africa and Kenya are currently in the process of adopting ISO standards in the areas of size designation, size measurement methods and digital fitting. The garment industry as a whole is slow to apply these standards to manufacturing, however. In many cases, countries have insufficient survey data on body shapes and sizes to arrive at a standardized system that accurately reflects the measurements of the local population. For mass-market apparel brands, standardized sizing is further complicated by population demographics, which can vary considerably between and within countries.

The solution: a common size and fit language

Because garment size forms part of a brand differentiation strategy for retailers, it is likely that current, non-standardized manufacturing practices will continue.

To stand out from an increasingly competitive market and foster consumer loyalty, brands must offer excellent fit. To arrive at that goal, they must identify their core customer demographic, segment their customer profile and define target customer measurements. Once that part of the garment sizing equation has been worked out, the key is getting consistently sized clothing into stores.

So what is the solution to delivering great fit? Instead of entrusting garment-sizing measurements to offshore firms, apparel makers can apply uniform sizing across product development disciplines. Basing apparel sourcing on a single, shared size and fit standard enables design and technical professionals to speak the same language as their key suppliers, streamlining the complete globalized garment manufacturing process.

By speaking the same language as all involved stakeholders, retailers can take control over garment manufacturing quality, ensuring better fit and customer satisfaction in the process.

Read our e-guide on the crucial link between garment quality, size and fit.

If you want to find out more, read our e-guide.



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