Archived News

November 17, 2005 - North Carolina State University

AlvaProducts, North Carolina State University Reveals How Industry Can Tackle Problems of Poor Fit by Addressing More Than an Hourglass Figure

LONDON (November 17, 2005), An analysis of landmark research into the body shape of women today reveals why so many have trouble finding apparel that fits and how the larger you are the more difficult it becomes.

The problem is due to an industry misconception that women in 2005 have an hourglass figure. It may have been correct half a century ago but the new research shows that women's body shape has changed over the years and yet the apparel industry has in the main failed to take this into account.

Poor fit is the chief reason women return apparel to stores and costs the UK clothing industry millions of pounds. The new research suggests that this problem area is due to the industry using the hourglass as its standard shape to design clothes from. The misconception arose because the only previous data into body shape was collected during the Second World War when uniforms were being made for women and in those days the hourglass was the predominant shape.

In fact the new research shows that only 8.4 per cent of the 6,318 women, who were scanned had this body shape and over size 12 the hourglass figure made up such a tiny percentage it became irrelevant. Therefore the bigger a woman is the more underserved she becomes.

Four main body shapes were identified in the study and the hourglass was the least predominant. Most women today have what is described as a rectangle shape and this makes up almost 50 per cent of the market. A rectangle shape is where there is little definition between waist, hips and shoulders.

AlvaProducts, an industry leader in creating a standard of fit for the apparel industry with the use of customized mannequins, partnered with North Carolina State University to analyze the research to assist the industry in identifying the true body shapes of its target market.

Although the research was carried out in the United States Janice Wang, the CEO of AlvaProducts said: "This study is extremely relevant to the UK. The body shapes of women in the two societies mirror each other because of similar eating habits and lifestyle. Women in America tend to be slightly larger than those in the UK but you just have to look down any high street in the country to see that most women do not have an hourglass figure. Women have got larger over the years and this means that the hourglass is becoming more and more irrelevant."

The findings come from the U.S. national size study, SizeUSA, conducted by TC, a non-profit provider for the apparel and related soft-goods industries. It is the largest and one of the most important studies into the shape of women ever undertaken.

Based on the customized fit mannequins AlvaProducts produces for major retailers, brands, cataloguers, sourcing offices and apparel manufacturers throughout the world it is clear that the industry predominantly uses an hourglass shape to represent women from a size 12 to size 24.

"Most women today are a rectangular shape," said Janice. “The research shows they make up almost 50 percent of the market. However, the majority of retailers are designing clothes for people with an hourglass figure. All grading rules are currently based on the hourglass and that needs to change if the industry wants to serve the markets they currently aren’t reaching."

Based on the results from the SizeUSA study, AlvaProducts has produced fit mannequins to represent the four main body types to help the industry utilize the research. A small segment of the industry has recognized the importance of body shape research and is taking shape into account when producing apparel. For designers, manufacturers and retailers the goal is to make shopping an easier and more pleasant experience for women, while strengthening brand loyalty and increasing revenue.

"We are very pleased that AlvaProducts, who we have been working with over the past four years to streamline our supply chain process, is using its expertise to bring this type of insight to the industry," said David Baron, Vice President of Quality Assurance and Tech Services for Liz Claiborne. "With AlvaProducts' knowledge and assistance, we look forward to making the gradual changes that will ultimately provide better fitting clothing for our customers."

AlvaProducts and Dr. Cynthia Istook, an associate professor at the College of Textiles at the North California State University, have worked together for several months to reach their conclusions from the two-year SizeUSA study.

"A large proportion of the industry can benefit from redefining their target market by re- examining the body shape of its customer base and then implementing operational changes gradually, as well as educating its customers on the new shapes and sizes," said Wang. "By combining our industry expertise with the comprehensive analysis of the data, by Dr. Istook, we can add real value to our clients, not only by assisting in streamlining their supply chain, but also by helping them reach their underserved markets."

AlvaProducts and North Carolina State University have analyzed the research in a way that provides real use to the apparel industry in order to meet the needs of its customers. It is of particular significance to the mass market retailers.

"Because the hourglass figure represents such a small percentage of American women, the larger the market share a retailer targets, the more likely it is to provide clothes based on the wrong body shape," said Wang. "In order to define the true shapes of its customers, many retailers and manufacturers should consider doing their own surveys in order to get a complete and accurate picture of their target market."

Dr. Istook defined nine body shapes from the research, which were then cut down to four dominant, basic types. With the measurements and samples of body scans, AlvaProducts has produced mannequins to represent these four main body shapes. They are described below in order of representation among U.S. women today.

1. Rectangle Shape – the bust and hips are basically the same circumference – though the hips can be .85" larger than the bust. The waist is less than 9" smaller than the bust. This shape made up 46.12 percent of the sample. Spoon Shape – the hips are 2" or more larger than the bust. The waist is less than 9.25" smaller than the bust. This shape made up 20.92 percent of the sample Inverted Triangle – the bust is 3.6" or larger than the hips and the waist is less than 9" smaller than the bust. This made up 13.83 percent of the sample Hourglass – the bust and hips are basically the same circumference – though the bust can be up to 1" larger than the hips. The waist is then 9" or more smaller than the bust. This made up 8.40 percent of the sample. (Other shapes made up 10.72 percent of the sample)

Dr. Istook has conducted extensive research in the areas of 3D body scanning, sizing systems, fit, mass customization and rapid prototyping in an effort to assist the industry in meeting the clothing needs of its customers. With her expertise, Dr. Istook defined the categories and developed the framework in order to analyze the research to make it applicable for the industry.

"By working with AlvaProducts and its cutting edge approach to creating models for each shape, our team has taken a huge step forward in helping the industry translate women's body shapes into meaningful terms," said Dr. Istook. "With AlvaProducts’ assistance, the industry now has the knowledge and the tools to begin the paradigm shift away from the hourglass figure."

Companies have manufactured body forms for over a hundred years; however the forms have always been created on perceptions of a body, not the actual body itself. AlvaProducts builds its body forms based on actual fit models using its team of 3D developers and professionals with years of experience in apparel manufacturing and supply chain management. By incorporating body scanning, AlvaProducts can create a body form representative of its client's customer base, bringing standardization throughout the brand's supply chain so all parties communicate using the same body.

About AlvaProducts

AlvaProducts' unique technology and customized mannequins are used by major retailers, brands, cataloguers, sourcing offices and apparel manufacturers throughout the world. The company holds several key patents using research in human morphology, 3D garment engineering, as well as information technology. AlvaProducts has collected information from numerous studies about the populations from different geographies, age groups and customer segments to create a generic database on body shape. The company's aim is to bring fit standardization to the apparel industry. AlvaProducts fully integrated fit platform enables customers to optimise the product development process, reduce sample marketing budgets, shorten time to market and improve quality control. For more information please visit

About North Carolina State University College of Textiles

North Carolina State University's College of Textiles aims to be recognized as the world leader in all areas of textile education, research and industry support. The mission of the college is to be the premier international institution for textile education by providing an education of the highest possible quality to degree and non-degree students through innovative teaching techniques. The College of Textiles also seeks to offer a vision of the future for industry, the citizens of North Carolina and the nation through excellence in research and outreach. There are approximately 600 undergraduate students and 123 graduate students enrolled at the college, with approximately 50 faculty, many of whom are nationally recognized.