Broadening appeal: How outdoor clothing brands are responding to changing measurements
Friedrichshafen - The human body has changed in the course of the last few decades, a fact which has been proven by SizeGermany, the latest German serial measurement project, jointly organised by the Hohenstein Institute and the ergonomics firm Human Solutions GmbH. To calculate current average measurements of the general population that can be used as a basis for clothing sizes, in 2009 modern 3-D scanner technology was used to determine the hip, chest, arm and leg measurements of 13,362 men, women and children between the ages of 6 and 87. The OutDoor trade show, taking place in Friedrichshafen from 12 to 15 July 2012, will show trade visitors how the industry is responding to this new data.
The results of the project are clear: since the last serial measurement was conducted in 1994, women have definitely said goodbye to Marilyn Monroe’s hourglass figure, the 1960s standard of beauty. Average waist measures have grown by 4.1 cm (1.6 inches), hips by 1.8 cm (0.7 inches) and chests by 2.3 cm (0.9 inches). The last such measurement of men took place thirty years ago. Men’s waists have grown on average 4.4 cm (1.7 inches), their hips by 3.6 cm (1.4 inches) and their chests by 7.3 cm (2.9 inches). Average heights have changed as well: Women have become about 1 cm (0.4 inches) taller and men have grown by 3.2 cm (1.25 inches).
Even though adjusting clothing sizes takes a lot of effort, the big names in the outdoor industry have taken note of these changes, especially in their women’s collections. We all know that women are quite demanding when it comes to fit. Odlo, the manufacturer of sports underwear that produces and inspects all its products at its own facility in Hünenberg, Switzerland, has responded to the new needs of its female customers. Most cuts have been expanded by 1-2 cm (0.4 – 0.8 inches) and, in the case of the XL and XXL sizes, by 3-4 cm (1.2 to 1.6 inches), almost an entire size.
Jack Wolfskin also incorporates the data acquired in such serial measurements in its clothing. “The women’s cuts that we use in our collections have to fit just so”, according to Thomas Zimmerling, Senior Manager Communication at Jack Wolfskin, “otherwise the customers get upset.” But in addition to the official data that are available on the market, the brand also continually takes its own measurements and conducts internal fit testing, to eliminate any large variations in size.
Companies that serve the broader European or even world market must adjust their sizes internationally. Does this mean that outdoor clothing producers use different sizes for each country? No, that would be too complicated. Even though some domestic producers of men’s and women’s clothing in France or Italy work with other measurements, Jack Wolfskin has developed a European solution. “We have one basic cut for all Europe and don’t distinguish among the individual countries. Instead, we tend to take the average of the Italians, French and Germans.”
The outdoor equipment and clothing specialist is especially well-respected by women when it comes to their pants. The excellent fit of Schöffel’s pants is a result of their wide range of sizes which are based upon the classic off-the-rack clothing sizes, including long and short sizes. These apply around the world. All of the cuts are developed in the company’s headquarters in Schwabmünchen. “Even when current measurements reveal that people have generally become larger and stronger, it is important to make size changes carefully, so as not to frighten away customers who suddenly have to buy a larger size”, says Peter Schöffel.
Turning from clothing to footwear, a similar question arises in regard to shoe sizes. How they have changed across Europe in the past few years and how do we take this into account in shoe collections – for men as well as women? In the 1980s Lowa was one of the first brands to develop women’s shoe lasts specifically for outdoor shoes. To do this, they very carefully researched the differences in the feet of women compared to men, making a number of discoveries. The contour of the sole of a woman’s shoe is more slender and narrow, the instep is slightly higher, the toe is longer and the heel and the bottom of the sole are somewhat narrower.
However, fewer data are available for shoes than for clothing. The last serial measurement took place in 2009, with 5,200 German men and women taking part. The result: While feet have not gotten any longer in the past few decades, they have gotten wider. The previous measurement had been taken in East Germany in 1966.
When shoe sizes change, developing new shoe lasts is much more expensive. A new last costs about 50 euros, with a brand requiring hundreds of new shoe lasts. This represents a considerable cost and is perhaps one of the reasons why some brands have waited so long to develop shoe lasts specifically for women.
According to Heinz Feuerecker, head designer at Lowa, “Women’s feet have changed dramatically over the last twenty to thirty years - but so have men’s”, a trend he traces back to the use of trainers and sport shoes. He knows that people’s forefeet have become broader and flatter and the heel generally somewhat narrower. “We adjust our lasts to meet the changes in people’s feet, but not constantly”, says Feuerecker. “Whenever we develop a new shoe model, we take our existing lasts as a basis and modify them. But this tends to be every five years rather than every two years.”
Lowa offers uniform lasts for everyone. Thirty years ago, says Feuerecker, that would not have been possible, as there were large differences between the European countries and even the USA. But the trainers generation has helped equalise feet around the world. When Lowa developed its US distribution network in 1997, they knew that American feet were fundamentally smaller with longer forefeet and toes, and thus developed their own lasts for US feet. But these were obsolete after a few years and American women began preferring closer-fitting European outdoor shoes.