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'Comfort equals confidence': Oregon professor helps Old Navy improve plus-size options for women

Body scan images of real women helped designers focus on shaping plus-sized fashions to improve fit, rather than just making them bigger.

EUGENE, Ore. — The word is "Bodequality." Old Navy hopes people understand it's more than just their latest campaign slogan.

This year, the clothing retailer did away with its plus-size section. Instead, it brought all women's sizes together: 0 to 28 in stores and up to size 30 online. And while anyone can change a store layout, Old Navy dug deeper, turning to University of Oregon professor Susan Sokolowski for help.

"Old Navy came to me and they talked about 'democratic fit' — having fit for everybody," said Sokolowski, founding director of the Sports Product Design Graduate Program at the University of Oregon. “I was trained as a designer in school and learned the engineering and the science behind it as well.”

Science is exactly what Sokolowski used to help Old Navy overhaul how their plus-sized items were made. The goal? Create something that actually fits larger women's bodies, not simply make larger clothing.

“That was our research question,” said Sokolowski. “What does this body type look like?”

For the answer, Sokolowski and her team of grad students used data from hundreds of 3D digital models created from real women. One finding stood out.

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“As the body moves from a size zero to a larger size, it really doesn't stay as an hourglass shape,” said Sokolowski. “In the apparel industry, the hourglass shape really isn't connected to real bodies.”

Armed with that information, Sokolowski's team created improved samples of plus-sized fashions and had a test group try them.

“They said things like, ‘I'm more comfortable. This feels better,’” shared Sokolowski. “I think comfort equals confidence and confidence equals success and so that is a very powerful word—the word comfort—in our work.”

In a statement to KGW, Alison Partridge Stickney, Head of Women's and Maternity Merchandising at Old Navy praised the changes.

"This launch is a milestone not only for Old Navy but for the fashion industry,” said Partridge Stickney. “We hope that it will inspire further change."

Sokolowski couldn't agree more.

“I received an email this morning from a colleague about how excited they were to be able to buy apparel that fits them,” said Sokolowski. “I think this is just the beginning.”

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