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Seat-of-the-pants scan sizes shoppers up

Intellifit contraption uses technology to take guesswork out of finding jeans that fit. Photo: Sizing up shoppers

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.--Ack! Melodramatic comic strip character Cathy may have to find something besides trying on swimsuits to complain about.

Clothing start-up Intellifit is poised to take the misery out of that spring ritual with a new system that provides a dead-accurate reading of your measurements and discretely matches it to a size database for hundreds of clothing manufacturers.

The Philadelphia-based company quickly became the toast of the Demo conference here with demonstrations of the system, which begins with a kiosk about the size of a compact car. Step inside, and an orbiting scanner bombards your body with radio waves that ping back more than 200 measurements in 10 seconds.

The results are processed by the kiosk's computer, uploaded to a secure central database, and ready for retrieval the next time you go shopping with a participating manufacturer. Punch in your ID number and Intellifit will tell you what will look good on you.

Intellifit President Edward Gribbin, a veteran of the fashion industry, said the system was developed to address one of the most common causes of customer frustration and lost sales in the business. "No two brands size things the same," he said. "You can be one size at Tommy Hilfinger, another size at Ralph Lauren, another at Levis. It drives people nuts."

The average woman has to try on 15 pairs of jeans before she finds one that fits, Gribbin said, and most give up before that. "Swimsuits, jeans and shoes are the biggest frustration items," he said.

Intellifit members can also decide to share their sizing information with selected parties, such as a clueless spouse, potentially eliminating those "you think I'm a size what?!" gift-giving moments.

Gribbin acknowledged there have been numerous other efforts to apply technology to finding the right pair of jeans. But predecessors either relied on customers making judgments about their body type--an evaluation subject to ego-based errors--or going through several stages of discomfort.

"For some of the previous systems, you had to get naked, put on a Lycra bodysuit, get into all kinds of odd positions," Gribbin said. "We let you keep your clothes on, and you're done in a few seconds."

Intellifit CEO Albert Charpentier, father of the Commodore 64 computer, acknowledged that the system isn't perfect yet. The software still has a little trouble accounting for varying tastes in waistband management in men's slacks, for example.

"Some guys go for the real-world look; some go for the Urkel look," he said. "We're adjusting the algorithms for that."

Getting measured and entered into the Intellifit system is free for customers. The company makes money by charging clothing manufacturers a subscription to be included in the sizing database.

The company currently has kiosks in a handful of locations, including a Macy's store, and has signed up more than a dozen manufacturers. Gribbin expects the base to grow rapidly, because most folks aren't getting smaller or more honest.

"Anecdotal efforts just don't work," he said. "People either don't know what size they are, or they're in denial about it."