Introduction

The current industry methods for testing fabric tactility are not fully objective, the Leeds University Fabric Handle Evaluation System (LUFHES) developed in the School of Design (see Figure 1) provides a solution to this problem by defining the tactility in a different way.

There are many studies which have undertaken qualitative analysis to determine what hand-feel properties are important to customers, but there are few studies which have looked at the links between fabric tactility and product sales, this project does just that with partner Burberry Group PLC.

 

Figure 1: Photograph of the LUFHES

Data and methods

The Leeds University Fabric Handle Evaluation System (LUFHES) defines a selection of indices using equations based on the energy consumed to deform the fabric. The indices measured include:

  • crispiness
  • softness
  • sponginess
  • formability
  • stiffness
  • flexibility
  • smoothness

The LUFHES quantifies the energy to come up with a ‘score’ for each of the indices.

A number of fabrics from Burberry were tested in the LUFHES. The indices from the fabrics were standardised and matched with corresponding average monthly sales data from Burberry. Initial visualisation and analysis suggested a link between average sales and softness, formability and smoothness. Regression techniques were then used to link measures of average sales with the indices, as well as a number of control variables from the sales data.

Key findings

The first stage of analysis compared the 3 identified LUFHES indices (softness, smoothness and formability) and average in-store sales. The variables which had the biggest effect on average sales were the

  • type and gender of the product
  • the length of time it was on sale
  • product price

These were closely followed by the LUFHES indices of formability, softness and smoothness. All three had a statistically significant and positive effect on sales. Fabrics which were softer, smoother and had a higher formability sold better on average than ones with lower values.

Products that were bought online with a lower value for softness, smoothness and formability were returned more. This was predicted as consumers cannot use hand-feel to determine whether to buy a product online. As an extension to this, the analysis also compared the returns of products sold instore; there was no significant link with any of the indices and sales. This was expected since customers can feel the products instore before purchase.

Both of the analyses suggest that customers do take into account the hand feel properties of fabrics when making decisions about whether to purchase garments.

Value of research

This is one of the first studies that confirm that the tactile properties of fabrics have a direct impact on sales. This proof of concept study could be extended to include a bigger range of products and confirm the link between fabric handle and sales. Fashion brands could then look to determine the optimum value for all the LUFHES indices based on the corresponding sales. The optimum specification for individual fabrics could then be determined to aid manufacturing processes.

Researchers

David Marshall, Leeds Institute of Data Analytics  & Leeds School of Design – The University of Leeds

Ningtao Mao – Leeds Institute of Data Analytics  & Leeds School of Design – The University of Leeds

Laura Finnigan – Burberry PLC

Partners

Burberry PLC