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Freedom from ill-fitting clothes: Inside India’s mega search for body size


A year ago, when Europe wanted India to side with it in the Russia-Ukraine war, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar retorted that Europe’s problems were not the world’s problems. He was pointing out that the Eurocentric world was passé. Similarly, now India is getting liberated from another Eurocentric idea — the body sizes. The country is getting ready to tell Europe, and the US, that their body sizes are not India’s body sizes.

You realise that the universalisation of Western standards is not just an academic or diplomatic issue when you try shirt after shirt in a shop but don’t get the right fit. You come away with deep guilt about your out-of-shape body, planning to hit the gym or go on a diet. It may have never occured to you that there’s a chance the problem is not with your body but the US and the UK body sizes that your clothing brand follows even in India.

Many Asian countries such as Japan, China and South Korea have broken free of western body size charts by devising their own. Now India is on the same path. India is likely to roll out in the next three months a size chart for clothing that is specific to Indian consumers’ measurements, on the lines of the standardised sizes available in the US and the UK, ET has reported.

The mega search for Indian body sizes
In 2019, India started an anthropometric study, the IndiaSize project, it had never done before. Anthropometry is the scientific study of the measurements and proportions of the human body.

The Textiles Ministry launched IndiaSize project which aimed to arrive at a standard Indian size for the ready-to-wear clothing industry, on the lines of the standardized sizes available in countries such as the US and the UK. The study would result in a size chart specific to Indian consumers’ body measurements.

The IndiaSize project aimed at helping Indian apparel manufacturers to tailor their cuts closer to the actual body measurements of consumers. This will benefit consumers, manufacturers and the industry as a whole. The ministry collaborated with the Clothing Manufacturers Association of India (CMAI) and the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) for the project.

The project set out to measure 25,000 people aged from 15 to 65 years in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Shillong. using non-contact human-safe 3D body scanning technology. The first-of-its-kind survey in India captures more than 100 anthropometric data points from each participant. The project is nearly over now, and the IndiaSize chart could be out in a few months.

How does it benefit India?
IndiaSize heralds freedom for Indians from ill-fitting clothes, but also has wider implications.

The project will provide tremendous benefit to the consumer by offering standardized sizes, better-fitting clothes, reduced hassles of purchase returns and reduction of wasteful expenditure due to incorrect purchases. It will also benefit the manufacturer by enabling minimization of wrong inventory and expenses on returned goods and improving sales. All these factors will contribute towards reduction in ultimate prices paid by the consumer. With higher sales, increased consumption and lower expenses, investments will also go up in the industry.

With increasing spread of the Indian diaspora across the world, IndiaSize will also increase exports from India as Indians abroad would prefer to buy clothes made to their size by Indian companies.

It will be useful not just for makers of clothes and shoes. IndiaSize will be a standard for other products too. The findings of the study will have applications across various other industries where the insights from this data can produce ergonomically designed products which are better suited for the Indian population.

What IndiaSize shows
When McDonald’s entered India, it was not seen as the eating place for the common people, often the poor, as it was back in America. In India, it was an elite restaurant. More than a decade later, McDonald is no longer considered elite. Increasingly, the Indian consumer is getting confident about what it wants instead of getting impressed by anything that comes straight from the west.

It is a measure of this confidence that now Indians want clothes that are made to their own native sizes. IndiaSize symbolises a confident India trying to define itself against the world.

The pitfalls
When the US developed its own standardised sizes in the early 1940s for the clothing industry, it faced many problems. To begin with, the data was flawed, says an article in The Slate. The study accounted only for white women; women of color who came in were measured, but their measurements were discarded. And since the study offered a small stipend to anyone who volunteered to be measured, there’s a decent chance that the results skewed toward the poor and malnourished.

Anthropometry has developed much since then. Yet, creating average body sizes from sampling a population with probably the world’s highest ethnic diversity is going to be more a statistical success than accurate representation of reality. India may have far more diversely-sized people than America of those times. But having IndiaSize is still better than following American and British body sizes.


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