Katie Wilhoit, Co-founder of Unsize. Photo courtesy of Unsize.
It is rare when an idea comes along that has the potential to revolutionize an industry, but perhaps Unsize, an app that helps consumers find the correct size when shopping online, will do just that. It was created by Northeastern student Katie Wilhoit, an International Affairs major with a CAMD minor in Interaction Design, and Harvard University alumna Shuya Gong, who met at IDEO, a design consultancy firm. Their product, Unsize, takes the guess work out of online shopping, and provides a simple and easy way to find the right size for you, regardless of clothing type or style.
While online shopping can be a more comfortable experience for some, the inability to try things on makes it difficult. With that, Katie explained that the idea for Unsize grew out of how she has always liked to wear men’s style shirts (read more about her experience here).
“It’s my style; it’s where I feel the most comfortable and confident. I grew up always feeling uncomfortable going shopping and my parents would buy me things and say I looked great in it. Then I would try it on and feel uncomfortable!” Katie said. “It’s difficult to shop for my unique style in department stores with men telling me I am in the wrong section.”
So Katie asked herself, why isn’t it easier to know what’s going to fit when shopping online? She believed it could be, and the idea for Unsize was born.
It works with two tools, a webapp and Tailor, a Bluetooth enabled measuring device. Together they confidentially vet your size options on retailer’s sites to find the best match for you based on your actual measurements, regardless of gender. To begin her creation of the business, Katie entered the Husky Startup Challenge through the entrepreneurial club as a way of learning how to start a business and seeing if this was a problem other people had. Through that process she came up with the idea of needing body measurements and the measurements of clothing to find the best fit of clothes.
Consumers are always having to search through “small, medium, large” and what those things mean, which change based on brand, production country, and more. Online shopping is continuing to grow, and with that has come another growing trend of personalization, so that online shoppers do not need to continuously return clothes when they do not fit. With the cost of returns and refunds, retailers are ready for a change, and Unsize is now here to bridge the convenience and accuracy of being able to try things on with a physical device and a new online shopping experience.
The device is called Tailor, named with a wink to the job that will always create perfect clothes and a hope that it will achieve the same. Tailor unlocks the moment of getting something that fits.
“When we talked to people, we realized sizing language was a barrier for finding the right size,” explained Katie. “So what Tailor does is it walks you through measuring exercises and you don’t ever see the numbers or the sizes.”
Unsize does not reveal its measurements to its customers, which was a very specific choice they made.
“It’s absolutely a design choice because of the vanity of sizing and numbers, for accuracy’s sake and people trusting the experience,” she described. “By taking out the numbers people end up feeling more confident and it makes it easier for them to go through the UI and trust the outcome.”
It is easy to get overwhelmed with the sizing of everything and to just give up, but Tailor hopes to solve that problem. As far as the flexibility of the measurements, Tailor can take any, but right now it is designed to take five specific measurements. Now, if you are wondering how Tailor measures, there is a headphone wire-like string that is wound inside of it. Right now it can measure up to 6.5 feet, and it then sends these measurements with an accuracy within a 1/8th inch to the Chrome app. It is in a format now that is going to change, based on what they continue to hear from both retailers and consumers.
Of course, in order to engage the feedback and attention of these retailers and shoppers, brand awareness and recognition surrounding Unsize is important. So, to build their brand, Katie reached out to her peers at Scout, Northeastern’s student-led design firm. In the past, she was a Scout Labs director and was later the Engagement Teams director, and was excited to collaborate with them again, now as a client.
“Working with Scout, which you can read about in our article on Medium, was amazing. We had a brand that was established but what we really needed help on was communicating this huge idea and product that we were testing,” said Katie. “How were we going to communicate this to retailers and potential customers? Well they took the brand we had and created illustrations and other components so people could really see themselves in our space. And from a retailer perspective, making our website approachable helps for establishing trust and giving them information.”
Katie was thrilled to work with her talented peers and how they worked hard to create pieces for the Unsize brand that would work. The diversity of the people and sizes represented in the brand illustrations was a huge step in propelling Unsize forward; they wanted everyone to fit and see themselves in the company.
“It’s an incredible opportunity with many talented people. I’ve learned and grown so much. Students, especially Scout students, are there because they are ambitious and want to learn. Working with them to create something we were all proud of was incredible.”
In addition to working with the students in Scout, she had the opportunity to work with Scout advisor and Art + Design Professor, Margarita Barrios Ponce, as her independent study advisor.
“Meeting with her every other week and emailing back and forth has been a grounding of why Unsize is important,” said Katie. “It solidifies our authenticity and what we stand for as a company. We want everyone to fit and we want to make fashion more inclusive. Are we doing that in our experience? Are we doing that through who we are working with on the business side? In our tools and in our brand?”
Asking these questions is what Katie believes will help solidify them as a team and a brand, and she trusts Margarita to help her find the answers.
They also worked with Generate, Northeastern’s student-led product development studio, to create Tailor. They connected directly after the Husky Startup Challenge to start looking at what device would meet Unsize’s needs. Generate provided various parts of a prototype they tried that could work, and Shuya and their lead engineer Ashland took the ideas and made them real.
Working with other students has been a highlight of the Unsize project for Katie.
“I think Northeastern attracts students who are ambitious and want to make a differences and then creates an environment for these students to flourish. I think Scout looks for people who also have those skills and want to grow.” says Katie. “Northeastern is a very special place because students are able to actually pursue what they want to do. I am so grateful for Northeastern and Scout for giving me confidence to start this project. I have such a supportive community in Scout, between the students and teachers. Some of the students even freelance for us now! Even if Unsize doesn’t work, I will come away with so much learning and experience.”
CAMD, Katie explained, made all the difference in how she approached creating Unsize.
“I came in as an Entrepreneurship major and quickly realized that I wanted to have more flexibility with what I could study and for me, what I love to do, is use human-centered design and creative processes to solve problems,” she said. “So I worked with Scout Labs and worked with their engagement team.”
To support her work with Scout, she took all of her electives in CAMD, which she now considers a home for her. She is grateful to feel supported in this endeavor, and is excited to see what will come.
Check out their website at unsize.me.