If The Suit Fits
By Samantha Thompson Smith, Staff Writer
Re-printed with permission from the Raleigh News & Observer
CARY -- Glorina Stallworth is like most women. Finding the right size is a grueling
process. A suit jacket might fit perfectly on top. But the skirt? Forget it. "It's too
snug," she said. And just try finding something from the big-name designers in the
same size. "They all fit different." Stallworth, an African-American who lives in
North Raleigh, thinks some of it has to do with her race. "Being black, one of the
things that people run into is that they have a hard time making clothes fit
appropriately. We tend to have heavier bottoms."Last month, she decided to take
matters into her own hands. At the encouragement of a co-worker, she drove to the
offices of the Textile/Clothing Technology Corp., or [TC]², a nonprofit research
company in Cary. That's where she took it all off -- jewelry, clothes, shoes -- in a
dressing room and suited up in some workout clothes. She stepped into an adjoining
private room, where strobing white lights and four cameras took her all in, scanning
Melvin Leynes stands still while his body is
her body measurements in less than a minute to create a 3-D image of her form.
scanned at TC2 in Cary. TC2 is using scanners
to precisely measure people's dimensions. The
For her time, she was given $20. But to Stallworth, the reward was more than just
cash. She is one of 4,000 people who have gone through what is called the Size USA data collected will be sold to clothing
body scanning process. The effort could end up changing how clothing manufacturers manufacturers and others.
approach clothes, making sizes more uniform and better fitting. [TC]²'s goal is to scan people of all races, ages and
sizes, although so far they are coming up short in attracting some minority groups as subjects. Having the variety is
Because the study will be so detailed, it's possible that clothing manufacturers could use the data to start making
clothes that better fit different races and age groups, helping retailers zero in on target customers.
For instance, people of Asian descent typically have smaller body frames, with smaller hips. Retailers tuned into the
data would be able to buy clothes made for Asian body types and stock specific stores to reach that group.
"I was very interested in being a part of this, because I know it will make our lives easier," Stallworth said. "They need
to be making suits for different ethnic groups."
[TC]²'s project is attracting plenty of types like Stallworth these days. Karen Davis, a [TC]² spokeswoman, said she
routinely gets e-mail messages from people who want to participate because they are tired of clothes not fitting
Studies conducted by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and separately by Kurt Salmon Associates, a
textile-apparel consultant, show that about half of consumers are dissatisfied with the fit of off-the-rack clothes. "I
think this study is one of the most important things that's been done in the industry in a long time," said Cindy Istook,
associate professor in apparel technology at N.C. State University.
The last study that was done in the United States on sizing was in 1941, when the government funded a project to
measure women. Only those from age 18 to 30 were measured, and all the subjects were white and lived in the South.
"If retailers want to try to boost apparel sales, then they need to make their customers happy. And this can help them
do that," Davis said.
This past summer, [TC]² embarked on a national tour to gather sizing data, hitting major metropolitan areas including
Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York.
In all, the company is looking for 12,000 volunteers to get sized for the project,
which is funded by the U.S. Commerce Department as well as more than a dozen
companies, including Sara Lee, VF Corp., Jockey, Target and Dillards.
So far, the bulk of the participants have been white. Davis said the company,
which has been recruiting participants mostly through word of mouth, needs older
African-Americas as well as Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans. "Anyone
who doesn't call themselves Caucasian," she said.
Everyone who participates is given the choice of taking $20 cash or a $25 gift
certificate, either from Target or Dillards, whichever is available at the time.
People interested can register at http://www.sizeusa.com/
After cameras record images of the person from
The last sizing measurements are expected to be taken in May. And the results different sides, computers map the data points
should be out by July, with corporate sponsors getting first crack at the registered to produce a 3-D image .
information. [TC]² will sell the information as raw data or, if the customer wants,
[TC]² will analyze it, taking certain measurements or sizes of various ethnic groups or age ranges. In about five years,
the data will be available to the public.
But clothing manufacturers won't be the only ones interested in what [TC]² finds. Automakers want the data to
understand how Americans' bottoms have changed -- probably for the larger -- over the decades, so they can make
seats more comfortable. Same with airplane designers and furniture makers. One furniture designer has expressed
interest in the results so it can create a recliner just for women, Davis said. The medical community also will be able to
use the data to better understand human body sizes and shapes.
The technology to take the measurements has been around about a decade, tweaked over time for more accurate
measurements. It was originally designed to help textile companies and retailers create custom-made clothes. "That's
always been the intent, but over time we just fell into these other applications," Davis said.
The 3-D Body Measurement System in Cary is similar to one in Brooks Brothers' New York City store. It's a big,
boxy structure, with two dressing rooms and one scanning room, paneled in dark wood. For people who squirm at the
idea of a tape measure spanning their middle girth, the process is painless, because the technology allows participants
to be measured in private.
It starts when the subjects step inside the dressing room. There, they slip off their clothes and into a form-fitting outfit
specifically designed for the body-scanning process. For women, it's a pair of gray running shorts and a bra made by
Sara Lee. For men, it's a tight pair of workout shorts.
From there, participants move into an adjoining room. They step onto foot outlines on the floor, hold two handles and
click a button. A light meter takes a reading of the person's skin to adjust light levels for the scan. The lights begin
flashing, and in less than a minute, the cameras, hooked up to a computer outside of the scanning room, take more than
200,000 data points on the body: the bust, the waist, the hips, the shoulders. The data is sent to the computer outside
the scanning room. There, an image is printed out detailing the participant's measurements, showing a front and side
"They way they have it set up, it's not intrusive at all to you," Stallworth said. "They really respect your privacy. It's
really comfortable." Davis has been surprised by the response so far. College students have waited two hours or more
to get sized. And locally, at least one church group decided to participate as a way to earn money for a charity project.
Some are in it simply for the money. But for others, such as Melvin Leynes of Cary, who works at Nordstrom's in The
Streets at Southpoint mall, it was important to be involved in the process. Having an athletic build, he, too, has trouble
buying off the rack. By the time he buys a suit and has all the alterations made, it can end up costing as much as
having a suit custom-made, he said.
"Not to be stereotypical, but there are different types of body sizes for different ethnic races," he said. "Just getting a
general medium for each culture would help."
Reprinted with permission of the News & Observer of Raleigh, NC. Reproduction does not imply endorsement.