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Technology

Size matters when it comes to clothing

People hesitate to buy clothes online because they can’t try them on. But technology could change that. Online shoppers might not have to leave home or order clothing to get the right fit.

Philip Delamore likes to shop online. He believes that recommendations on what could fit shoppers best is what is missing from the vast majority of online clothing retailers.

And Delamore knows clothes – he is the Director of the Fashion Digital Studio at the London College of Fashion.

"What we're looking for is a move toward mass customization and personalization in clothing," he said.

This is something that retailers and digital developers are not far off creating, he added.

Scan yourself at home

More than a year ago, Delamore was brainstorming with colleagues when they thought that a great way to help designers, manufacturers and online or catalog retailers would be to create a cheap, simple and easy solution to allow shoppers to measure themselves at home.

"Fit is subjective and very personal. Your idea of what is a good fit on you versus good on me might be very, very different," he told DW.

Allowing customers to try clothes without the hassle of shipping costs first is something that online tailors have dreamed of for years.

"Around 50 percent of [online clothing purchases] sent out are returned because the sizes aren't correct," said Adrian Hilton, professor of computer vision and graphic at the University of Surrey.

And today, it's much more technologically feasible now than ever before, he added.

Hilton is working with visual effects, media and gaming companies to develop big screen possibilities. Together with his team, he is also trying to create a smartphone application that could change shopping habits forever.

According to Hilton, online shoppers can obtain their size by taking an image of themselves in tight clothing, such as leggings or a fitted top, with arms and legs apart and manually entering in their exact height measurements.

"From that we extract the information and create a silhouette. It's sent off to a server for categorization of body shape," he said.

Not for everyone

The idea of measuring someone digitally isn’t new. In the last ten years, online retailers in Europe and the US have asked Hilton to develop a body scanner. But it has been difficult until now, he said.

An image showing shoes on a Zalando box ( Photo: Wolfram Steinberg)

Zalando is one of Germany's biggest online retailers. Around 50 percent of online clothing items are returned.

And the technology wouldn’t just be used for sizing clothes, the application would be useful for medicine too, Hilton noted.

In the future, an early diagnosis for obesity could simply come from a picture taken on your smartphone.

But many online shoppers refuse to go to the lengths required for measuring themselves when making an online clothing purchase.

"[So] the key is user experience and the need to provide a simple solution," Delamore said.

But this application will work for buyers who prefer the tangible bricks and mortar shopping experience, he added.

And these are clearly hurdles to cross with people shopping on the high streets, main streets, markets and malls around the world.

But, already innovators from the University of Surrey, a company called Body Metrics and the London College of Fashion have their sights set on even bigger possibilities, Delamore said.

"In the future we'll be carrying our personal data with us, so, having gone through the process should ease cross site shopping as well," he added.

For online shop-a-holics, the tailored app is more than a year away.   

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