MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- How often do women whip out a tape measure, wrap it around their hips, and honestly face the dreaded inch count?
Not very often, that's for sure.
Which might explain why Internet apparel sales, especially among women, have lagged behind commodity items such as books and CDs.
Fit has long been a difficult issue for women, with sizing varying widely among designers and retailers. What woman's top is perfectly proportioned to her bottom? And finding the right fit online usually involves wielding the decidedly low-tech tape measure to determine one's size.
But a tiny Minneapolis company called Clarity Fit Technologies is trying to take the guesswork out of ordering clothing online through a new technology involving three-dimensional body scanning.
The brainchild of founder Edith Gazzuolo, who has more than 30 years of experience in the apparel industry, Clarity Fit has created a virtual fitting room based on real-life data.
There are two parts to the company's strategy. First, by scanning thousands of women, the company is developing a database for its online fit analysis.
Longer term, it plans to set up booths in public places where women can have their bodies scanned, with each person's information stored by identification number. Then, when a woman shops on an apparel Web site that has contracted with Clarity Fit, she could plug in her number and get a personalized view of how the garments would fit.
As a designer, researcher, academic and consultant, the mysteries associated with sizing, body form variations and garment design have enthralled Gazzuolo since she was a child. Her thesis at the University of Minnesota -- as thick as a phone book -- was titled: A Theoretical Framework for Describing Body Form Variation Relative to Pattern Shape.
Gazzuolo has taught college courses based on her research, most recently at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where she was a full-time faculty member for 10 years. She's also designed costumes for the Children's Theatre and waterproof surgical gowns for 3M Co.
"Basically, the technology (of the Internet) caught up to Edith," said Steve Dinnerstein, Clarity Fit's vice president for business development.
Clarity Fit is talking to several companies that might use its technology on their Web sites. Clarity Fit's technology allows shoppers to try clothing after choosing a 3-D model that most closely represents their body type. The shopper will be told whether the garment fits the model, or whether she needs to try a different size. Shoppers also may try items in different colors.
"It's just like you're in a regular fitting room, trying different combinations on," Gazzuolo said.
Market research firm Forrester Research Inc. predicts that as consumer demand grows, apparel retailers will adopt technologies like virtual models to guide shoppers through each stage of the purchase process.
Clarity Fit officials envision a day in a couple of years when Web shoppers (men as well as women) can be scanned at booths in public places, such as shopping malls and fitness clubs. After the scan, the shopper would be given an identification number that could be plugged into various e-commerce Web sites selling apparel, pretty much guaranteeing that a garment the shopper orders will fit.
The company's scanning process is private, painless and takes minutes. A woman strips to her underwear and stands perfectly still in a darkened booth, feet slightly spread and arms gripping padded posts.
For a minute or so, lights flicker and the scanner clicks rapidly. A 3-D image, which consists of 600,000 data points, is subsequently created -- a remarkable copy of one's body.
Lands' End Inc. was the first apparel company to fiddle with an online 3-D model. More than two years ago, the Dodgeville, Wis.-based company introduced Your Personal Model, a program that enables women to build and save a 3-D model of themselves.
That model is created following a series of prompts. Shoppers are asked about their measurements for height, shoulders, bust, waist and hips, down to an eighth of an inch, and for their hair color and style, skin tone and face shape.
The model then recommends outfits that flatter their body profiles and suggests sizes based on the customer's measurements. Company officials say the model has been wildly popular and has helped boost visits to the site (http://www.landsend.com). In fiscal 1999, 38 million people visited the site, more than twice the number the previous year.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.