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Explained: How India is building its own Footwear Sizing System

CSIR-Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) will lead a pan India feet scanning survey, data from which will be used to define Indian footwear size standards – and which will be included by shoe manufacturers in their size charts.

Written by Anjali Marar , Edited by Explained Desk | Pune |
Updated: February 21, 2021 8:56:34 am
According to this UK system, the average Indian woman wears footwear sizes between 4 and 6, and the average man between 5 to 11. (File Photo)

By next year, India could have its own ‘Footwear Sizing System’, which will hopefully remove some of the confusion involved in buying shoes of ‘EU’, ‘UK’ or ‘US’ sizes, especially online.

CSIR-Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) will lead a pan India feet scanning survey, data from which will be used to define Indian footwear size standards – and which will be included by shoe manufacturers in their size charts.

What footwear sizing system does India follow?

India has never had its own footwear sizing system. The British introduced English sizes before Independence, which are followed still. Manufacturers size footwear according to the English system, with charts mentioning the equivalent European and American sizes.

According to this UK system, the average Indian woman wears footwear sizes between 4 and 6, and the average man between 5 to 11.

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The launch of the Footwear Sizing System of India by Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare.

Why is an Indian sizing system needed?

Designing footwear is complex, and requires scientific and engineering expertise. Optimal comfort and foot health can be expected only with appropriately sized footwear. Bad fits can cause injuries, more so in those above age 40, women, and diabetics.

Footwear designed on a borrowed sizing system may not always suit the requirements of the Indian wearer, whose feet characteristics are different that of Europeans or Americans.

Back in 1969, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), which lays down standards and certifies product quality, had notified the Indian Standard Specification for Sizes and Fitting of Footwear (IS 1638-1969). The characteristics of Indian feet have changed since.

Also, shoes are much more popular, and important to people now. “From owning 0.5 to 0.6 pairs/person many decades ago, Indians now own 1.5 pairs/person on average… Demand for footwear in India has increased significantly since 2015,” Dr K J Sreeram, director, CSIR-CLRI, said.

Md Sadiq, chief scientist at CSIR-CLRI, said: “The time has come to educate Indian consumers not only about footwear sizes, but also about right fits and comfort for good health.”

However, India’s vastness and regional variations makes it difficult to standardise footwear sizes. Among some general observations: people from the Northeast have comparatively smaller feet, and overall, the feet of Indians are broader near the toes, so they prefer a size bigger than actually required.

3D Footwear Scanner

What is the Footwear Sizing System project?

CLRI will lead a first-of-its-kind pan Indian anthropometric survey that will include 3D foot scans and measurement of feet. The project, which is scheduled to begin later this year and continue for 14 months, is supported by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) of the Union Ministry of Commerce.

The survey will collect data that will be used to design a footwear sizing scheme based on Indian requirements, trace ethnic differences if any, determine characteristic age and size groups with special requirements, establish a size range for the Indian population, and produce a numerical database with specific length and width groupings.

Survey teams will travel to identified schools, offices, groups of households, CSIR labs, and defence institutions. “We plan to use the network of ASHA workers to reach out to survey participants. We will visit schools to sensitise students and teachers, who can be volunteers and spread the word to enlist participants,” Dr Sreeram said.

The survey, which is estimated to cost Rs 11 crore, will cover 94 districts around Agra, Ahmedabad, Coimbatore, Chennai, Jodhpur, Jorhat, Jalandhar, Kanpur, Kolkata, Mumbai, Patna, and Shillong. Some 1,05,000 samples will be collected using the 3D feet scanner machines, 30 of which will be imported from Italy. The survey is expected to commence in June – CLRI is currently training its staff and those from collaborating institutions, including Footwear Design and Development Institute, Central Footwear Training Institute, and National Institute of Fashion Technology.

The sizing scheme is expected to be ready by early 2022. Given fast changing lifestyles, walking styles and footwear requirements similar anthropometric surveys may be needed every 7-8 years going forward, CLRI officials said.

Union Minister for Health and Science and Technology Dr Harsh Vardhan became the first subject to present his feet sample when the scheme was inaugurated in January. “Within 10 seconds, the scanner captures about 30 dimensions, including length and width measurements of various regions of the foot, and the angle of the arc,” Sadiq said.

What will happen after the sizing scheme comes into effect?

Footwear makers will have to prepare shoe lasts – which are like moulds or casts for footwear – per the Indian sizing system. They will have to provide a chart indicating the Indian equivalent of international sizing schemes. This will also mean that international manufacturers wanting to sell their products in India will have to manufacture shoes as per Indian sizing requirements.

Footwear are currently sized according to four main schemes – English (UK), French (European), American, Mondopoint (Japanese). One or the other of these schemes is used in countries around the world, and manufacturers provide charts to match sizes in other schemes.

India is the second largest footwear producing country after China, producing 2,257 million pairs annually. Some 2,021 million pairs are sold in the domestic market every year. While India manufactures all kinds of footwear, the share of men’s footwear is the largest at about 58 per cent. Women’s footwear accounts for 30 per cent, children’s for 9 per cent, and others for 3 per cent of the footwear.

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India exports footwear to the UK, followed by Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.

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