Will China's Expanding Waistlines Solve Retailers' 'Vanity Sizing' Dilemma?

    China's troubling obesity rate is on the rise, which may cause clothing companies to rethink their sizing strategies.
    Gap offers XXXS sizes in China to make up for its sizing difference with other countries. Pictured: a Gap store in Hong Kong. (Gap Inc.)
    Jing DailyAuthor
      Published   in Fashion

    Gap offers XXXS sizes in China to make up for its sizing difference with other countries. Pictured: a Gap store in Hong Kong. (Gap Inc.)

    International clothing retailers have long struggled to find a balance in their global sizing policies in order to cater to both their super-size American and petite Chinese customers, but a concerning new report on China's rising obesity rate may see them making adjustments in the future to their China clothing sizes.

    The practice of "vanity sizing", or offering roomier fits in items claiming to be a smaller size on the label, is well known to retailers in the American clothing market, where brands need to deal with the fact that the average customer is both larger and more insecure about their clothing size. Until now, foreign companies have had the exact opposite problem in China, where their hamburger-friendly helpings of fabric have left thin Chinese consumers with limited fitting options.

    Finding the right fit has long been a challenge for retailers in China, whose "vanity" sizes have forced them to make major adjustments. Fast-fashion brands and mid-range American companies have especially had to make big changes when they entered Asia: Gap, for example, has to provide a size XXXS in China in order to make up for the size difference. According to a recent report on Minyanville,

    Overall, Chinese people are smaller than their Western counterparts, so size XXL won’t sell well here. In 2008, Alvanon, an expert global size and fit organization, conducted the most extensive collection of body scan research in China. The research showed that the average Chinese woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 125 pounds, while the average Chinese man is 5’8” and 145 pounds. These measurements — as compared to the average American woman who is 5’4” and 155 pounds, and the average American man who 5’9” and 191 pounds — show a significant difference between Chinese and American buyers. However, height and weight alone do not tell the whole story. Not only are Chinese people smaller on average, but their proportions are also different.

    This all may be set to change, however, as the size of China's waistlines may be growing along with the country's GDP.

    According to a troubling report this week from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of obese people in China under the age of 18 is now up to 120 million. According to People's Daily:

    In 2010, a national survey showed the obesity rate for people aged over 18 was 12 percent and the overweight rate was 30 percent.

    In the past 10 years, the average weight increase in Chinese people has been almost equivalent to the average weight gain among people in Western countries over the past 30 years, said Wang Mei, a researcher at the China Institute of Sports Science.

    Excessive eating and drinking caused obesity problem, which could increase the country's healthcare burden, said Ma Guansheng, an expert at the center.

    Fast food chains such as KFC and McDonald’s are prevalent in China, and with a middle-class population roughly the same size as that of the United States, their prices allow for regular consumption by a vast number of people. For the upper-middle and affluent classes who may not be scarfing down daily big macs, high-calorie Western staples such as wine, chocolate, and even cheese are all gaining in popularity.

    Let's all hope for China's sake that public health officials and experts can get a grip on this problem before it gets out of hand like it is in the United States. It is certainly possible for countries to develop quickly, have access to fast food restaurants, and not have massive numbers of overweight people — take Japan, for example, where retailers also have to grapple with fitting adjustments.

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