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Online Store Trying On New Model to Fit Women

MyShape.com plans to match a user's size and style with flattering clothes for sale. Experts differ on its chances.

April 26, 2006|Leslie Earnest | Times Staff Writer

Imagine walking into a store stocked only with clothes that are suited to your body shape and style sensibilities.

That's the scenario Louise Wannier describes as she prepares this summer to fling open the virtual doors on a new online store, MyShape.com.

Wannier said her venture would help women overcome the vexing problem of finding clothes they like in styles that fit and flatter.

The business model is unique, industry experts say, but there's no assurance it will work.

"Can it be done? Yes," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y. "Has it been done? No."

Many manufacturers and retailers have struggled mightily -- and generally with dismal results -- to improve the fit of women's clothing. Throughout the industry, businesses are seeking ways to make apparel sizing more realistic or more uniform, provide custom clothes for the masses and connect shoppers with brands that will fit them.

MyShape is developing its own way to take the sting out of shopping. The Altadena company has developed a formula that matches a woman's size and style preferences with clothes already on the market, which sets it apart from other industry efforts, Wannier said.

"It's not just about measurements -- it's about good fashion for that person based on their shape and their personal preferences," she said. "It's solving a major problem that so many women face."

Wannier knows something about fine-tuning choices for customers, having served as an early executive at Gemstar Development Corp., which created the VCR Plus system for taping television shows.

Her newest venture works like this: MyShape gathers information from participating brands and designers regarding the measurements and design of their clothes, including factors such as cut, fabric and patterns. The information is plugged into a computer, creating a database of prospective styles for a wide range of women.

Online shoppers are queried about their body measurements and how they like their clothes to fit, as well as their preferences in style, brands, fabrics and colors. These results also are plugged into the computer, allowing the company to play matchmaker.

"One of the things we're going to quickly discover are which are the underserved shapes and sizes," said Wannier, 49, of Pasadena.

Ultimately, a selection of pants, tops, dresses and complete outfits will be stocked in each member's "personal store," she said.

Wannier declines to explain exactly how all the variables will come together to create the right selection for each shopper. This, she said, is MyShape's "secret sauce."

"The way in which we incorporate the measurements, body shapes and preferences is novel," she said, adding that the company has a patent pending on a system it calls Shapematch.

Initially, MyShape will target busy professional women, age 30 and older, who spend more than $1,000 a year on clothes, Wannier said. Later, the company plans to broaden its customer base to include younger female customers, men and children.

In most cases, women will be matched to ready-made clothes stocked in MyShape's Altadena warehouse. In some cases, garments will be altered before they are shipped to accommodate the individual. Eventually, MyShape may offer its own private-label brand, Wannier said.

Industry insiders differ widely about whether such a company is likely to succeed.

"I think they've got a great idea going, and I think they're going to do really well," said Cricket Lee, founder and chief executive of Fit Technologies, a New York company that has developed a universal sizing system based on three body shapes.

"They're doing the work for the customer so she doesn't have to think about it."

But the business faces major challenges, others say, including how to get brands to participate and how to accommodate a seemingly endless variety of body shapes.

Then there's the issue of warehousing enough clothes to please shoppers.

"The concept is great," said Jim Lovejoy, industry programs director for Textile Clothing Technology Corp. of Cary, N.C., which developed and sells body scanners that can turn threedimensional bodies into twodimensional basic patterns and works with retailers and manufacturers seeking to better understand sizing and body shapes.

But, he said, "I'm not sure how it's going to work."

Ilse Metchek, executive director of the California Fashion Assn. in Los Angeles, said MyShape would probably appeal to a "teeny niche market."

"Do I see it as a moneymaking opportunity?" she said. "Absolutely not."

Wannier, who earned her master of business administration degree from UCLA's Anderson School, is confident.

Gemstar "went from zero to $65 million in revenue in three years," she said. "I'm going to try to repeat that or beat it with MyShape."

Wannier's career veered in a new direction when she enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles in 2003 to pursue a lifelong love of design after being sidetracked by cancer and chemotherapy.

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