How To Decide What Sizes To Make

Choosing the right size can be a difficult guessing-game as a customer. Choosing the right sizing for your brand can be even more daunting. You want customers of all sizes to be able to buy and wear your designs, but you want to be smart with your business decisions and not over-produce inventory that won’t sell. When you are deciding what sizes to make for your new brand or product category, here are four steps to clear up the sizing confusion.

Choose the type of sizing (alpha, numeric, or one-size) based on the type of product

There are different ways you can size your products. Though most smaller brands choose one main sizing method, you can use a mix of multiple within your brand based on what is best for each product type. Just make sure you are being consistent with how and when you choose each sizing type so it doesn’t become confusing to the customer. 

Alpha sizing is where the size is a combination of letters with sometimes numbers (S, M, L, 3X, etc.) While what sizing type you use is up to you, alpha sizing is a good choice when the product is either a low-mid price point, looser-fitting or adjustable, or made from fabric with some stretch. 

Numeric sizing (2, 4, 8, 16, 22, etc.) is written as even numbers for women’s clothing or odd numbers for junior’s clothing. There is a smaller difference between sizes with numeric sizing – which means there are more sizes within the size range. Numeric sizing is a good choice for higher priced or luxury pieces, tailored or fitted styles, and styles with no stretch or give. Pants are often sized with numeric sizing so that the customer can find a waistband size that is neither too big or too small.

A third sizing method is one-size-fits-most. I usually don’t recommend this type of sizing as it really leaves out customers at the ends of the size range, but it is a good way to size very loose styles or accessories like caftans, ponchos, capes, or hats.  You can also use a hybrid sizing approach and offer a looser style in just a few sizes like S/M and L/XL or just a small and large option that don’t necessarily have to correspond with your alpha size range.

Identify the ideal size range you’d like to offer

Once you’ve decided on what method of sizing you will use for each product, then it is time to dream big (and small). In an ideal setting, what size range do you want to offer as a brand? Do you want to be size-inclusive? If so, what does that look like for your brand? 

Beyond just size, think about what size variations you might eventually want to offer. Size variations include things like petite or tall sizing, different fits (curvy, straight, athletic, etc.), or even customizable made-to-measure options. 

Get feedback from your target market or customers

The next step is to ask your customers! The more you know about your target market and perfect customers the more you’ll be able to make smart decisions for your business. This includes knowing what sizes and how many of each will sell. I’ve seen brands collect this data and get feedback from their customers by sending out surveys about sizing and fit prior to development, offering pre-sales so they know what sizes to make in each product before going into production, as well as reviewing sales data from past collections. 

See how your ideal size range compares to the actual data and feedback you receive. You may find that your particular customer niche tends to wear certain sizes over others. After gathering this information, you may decide to broaden your size range or even narrow it if, realistically, not enough people in your target market are that size. For example, I’ve worked with brands to expand their size range from XS-XL to XXS-3X while I’ve worked with others who decided to stop producing XXS because their customers and wholesale boutiques never ordered smaller than an XS. (One side note on analyzing sales of certain sizes: there are many things that go into healthy sales numbers of a size or style including marketing, product images, model size-representation, good fit of the clothes themselves in each size, etc. This is why it is so important to talk to your customers and not decide your size range solely based on your viewpoint or even past sales data.)

See what works for your inventory logistics and budget

Now that you’ve chosen a sizing method, identified your ideal size range, and collected your customer’s feedback on sizes, you’re ready to bring it all together and look at the numbers. There are costs and effort associated with producing multiple sizes, so you’ll want to find a balance between your ideal sizing scenario and what is practical for your brand at this time. 

If you are developing a style in a broad size range (more than 5 or 6 sizes), I recommend having two base or sample sizes so you can fit on multiple sizes simultaneously to make sure your full size range fits as intended regardless of who is wearing it. While the actual grading of the patterns is relatively inexpensive, the additional sample costs of fitting in multiple sizes is an investment you’d have to make.

Another logistical and financial concern to factor in is inventory management. The more sizes you have, the more inventory you need to carry in order to keep each size in stock. This is one reason why many new brands opt for alpha sizing as it means fewer sizes to make and carry in stock than with numeric sizing while still being able to offer sizes that fit a wide range of bodies.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to sizing, but when you consider the product, your brand, your customers, and your resources, you’ll find a sizing solution that fits your business.

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