|SIZING UP THAILAND|
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STORY BY DON SAMBANDARAKSA
The National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec) is on a mission to revolutionise Thai fashion - it aims make clothes better fit the majority of Thai men and woman as well as standardise sizes and give a meaning to S/M/L rather than today's almost random size gradings.
The fourth Thailand sizing survey will be conducted by Nectec and Kasetsart University's Department of Textile Technology and build up a database on the ergonomic (physical) details of the average Thai man, woman and child. This data will be used by the fashion industry to make better fitting clothes as well as help in logistics and manufacturing.
Similar databases have proven invaluable for Japanese car manufacturers in designing cars that better fit drivers for each individual market segment.
The issue of sizing in general has been a happy marriage of industry, art, fashion, science and health as everyone from all walks of life is interested in having good looking clothes, while today's diet and lifestyles have caused sizes to change compared to the past.
It is the clothing manufacturers who stand to benefit most and in the previous "Size UK" and "Size USA" surveys, the work has been supported heavily by industry and universities.
Not only can they offer better fitting clothes, but they can optimise their production across sizes, extend sizes where necessary and, when combined with geographic data, allocate appropriate stocks depending on regional variances.
The use of automated scanners has not just increased accuracy and reduced variance from operator subjectivity, but has also greatly increased the number of subjects one researcher can measure in one day.
In the long term, Nectec hopes to introduce an ergonomic card with detailed measurements of a person encoded on the card. It can then take the card to a tailor participating in the system who can use that information to create a perfect fitting dress or suit without having to take any further measurements.
The card could be issued at body-scanning stations located in key shopping centres.
The information stored on the card could also be used to create a custom-made race-car seat or anything from gloves to hats. The same information could be used to order custom-fitting clothes from online retailers without having to visit them for a measurement session.
It would be like a smart card, but we can securely store all relevant information using a 2D barcode at a fraction of the cost of a smart card, said Dr Chularat Tanprasert, Nectec's head of Datawarehouse Technology.
Dr Chularat explained how the imported scanners would create a particle cloud of the user, but that the Nectec-developed software would analyse this lump and identify individual measurements and where to put the virtual tape measure and take measurements.
For instance, during the systems development, she found out that a tailor's definition of a waist was quite different between Asians and Westerners.
Dr Chularat said the technology was being adopted within the healthcare circles in many countries, providing a body scan as part of a routine check-up. Additional intelligent algorithms could help identify many tumours and cancers which manifest themselves in rapid weight loss and deformities.
Nectec researcher and lead programmer, Dr Supiya Ujjin, explained how this year's survey was the first Thai sizing survey to use high-tech body scanners and how the previous ones, run by the Thai Industrial Standards Institute (TISI), had been conducted traditionally with tape measures, which meant a high level of subjectivity and error due to different measuring techniques.
The project will scan 10,000 subjects nationwide through the use of two body scanners, one belonging to Nectec and the other at Kasetsart Universitys Department of Textile Technology.
In all, 140 individual measurements would be taken and stored within the database, along with anonymous demographic data.
Funding for the project was from Nectec and the database would remain the property of Nectec and would be made available to key sponsors and to users for a fee.
TISI's Mali Rak-iam noted how body sizing was not just about fashion and design, but that ergonomics had much to do with designing for workplace safety and ergonomic engineering. In other words, having this information would help in designing better products and safer, more productive work environments.
For instance, simply having better fitting gloves would help increase the productivity of factory workers in Thailand's huge food industry.
Mali also noted that the four previous size surveys showed that Thai women were roughly the same height as their forebears, but were larger and bigger than before. This contrasted with US and UK findings, which showed their women to be taller as well as larger.
Previously, the TISI had introduced a standard, TISI 784, that attempted to cover standard sizes for Thai people. However, this was not well accepted by the fashion and clothing industry as they claimed that fashion trends dictated whether to wear tight-fitting blouses or loose-fitting ones a few sizes too big.
Another panellist, Panitarn Pawarolawittaya of Botique New City, a fashion manufacturer, picked up on this point and said that standards were necessary if the Thai garment industry is to move up the value chain and expand into new markets.
Thailand is currently only second to China in terms of OEM brands and we need to be able to manufacture to standards if we want to go regional or global and survive, he said.
Panitarn noted that the lack of ergonomic data was also keeping mass-produced Thai fashion from accentuating the curves of the female body. Getting the curves wrong would mean the dress would not sell well, so everyone was producing for the straight, almost cylindrical woman as a low-risk strategy.
He said that he awaits the information from the Size Thailand survey so he can make clothes which fit the curves of the 95 percentile Thai woman.
One of the final panellists, Kasetsart University's Dr Anothai Chonlachartpinyo, noted that in the past, size surveys tended to be confined only to women and the female fashion sector. Only lately have they extended to encompass men.
However, he said that one market segment that has not been represented is that of the "tomboy." This rapidly-growing and affluent market segment had its unique challenges and many masculine-inclined women had no choice but to turn to mens fashion. It is also one of the research topics his department is currently engaged in.
Full details of the project and how you can volunteer to be sized-up as a typical Thai specimen are available online at http://www.sizethailand.org.