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How Apparel Brands Can Improve their Wear Testing

By Lukas Cartmell


For product development teams, testing products with consumers for honest feedback is a crucial step to pre-launch validation or post-launch renovation. While at-home product testing (sometimes called “in home usage testing”, or IHUT) is a well-known tactic across CPG sectors, it’s less common for apparel brands to invest in the same level of research rigor.


The irony, though, is that in-context product testing is absolutely crucial for apparel brands–if not more so than for CPG brands–because the stakes are so much higher.


  • Waste in apparel is one of the biggest contributors to landfills and carbon emissions. In fact, an audit conducted by the UK government in 2019 found that global textile production contributes more to climate change than the aviation and shipping industries combined


  • Brand loyalty is important regardless of what kind of product you’re building, but that becomes even more important–and harder to win–when it comes to apparel. It’s much easier to switch what brand of cookie a consumer buys than a brand of clothing.


  • Apparel has to pass so many more tests than your average CPG product. A cracker, for example, has to satisfy on flavor and texture measures, but a pair of shoes has to provide reliable comfort in arch support, tongue and lace snugness, heel durability for a product lifetime that’s potentially many years long–and that’s not even to mention aesthetics!


That’s just the tip of the wear testing iceberg. If you’re an apparel brand, make sure you’re making these 11 other considerations:


(Jump to the section you're looking for!)

1. Concept Testing

2. Competitive Testing

3. Panel Quality

4. Qualitative Testing

5. Longitudinal Testing

6. Alienation Testing

7. Occasion Testing

8. Inclusivity

9. Sensory Testing

10. Online Reviews

11. "Share of Closet" Research


Test your apparel with real consumers, at home



Consider: Concept Testing for Clothing, Footwear, and More

Before you’ve developed any physical product at all, start with digital concept testing. 


You don’t have to be a professional in the industry to know that aesthetics matter tremendously. Whether you have mockups of potential prototypes or need to test preferences for elements as simple (but important) as colorways, patterns, or silhouettes, digital concept testing is the place to begin.


Highlight’s recommendation: Before investing in costly physical product development, take the time to measure new innovations, line extensions, design changes, or other elements that can be evaluated digitally.


Consider: Competitive Testing for Clothing and Footwear Brands

In the apparel industry, it’s common across many big brands to maintain a community of individuals who love their brand to conduct wear tests. This curated group of product testers tends to reflect the brand’s loyal core buyers and often consists of brand ambassadors. For example, a brand that develops activewear for yogis across the country might hold regular yoga classes for their group of product testers to give feedback on a new line of leggings.


Unfortunately, this approach quickly runs into a few snags. (Fabric pun intended.)


  • While there’s a lot to be learned from the people who most actively use and love your products, only testing with a small subset of your customer base who has opted in to wear testing can create an unintended echo chamber that is ultimately not representative of your actual customer base or the market.


  • While your apparel brand wants to retain loyal customers, it’s also crucial to win new ones. That’s why wear testing must go beyond a core group of testers and constantly test with category purchasers who are not currently engaged with your brand. 


Highlight’s recommendation: Always test your products with a combination of brand loyalists and brand “newbies”. With the perspective of outsiders, you’ll learn how to win new market share.


Consider: Panel Quality

Panel quality is always pivotal, regardless of what kind of product you’re testing. From protein bars or canned cocktails to headphones or socks, the community of testers you choose must meet your demographic and psychographic requirements, complete the survey at a high rate, and provide the in-depth qualitative responses you need to understand their point of view and take away valuable insights at scale.


When it comes to apparel specifically, activewear, innerwear, and other apparel designed for hard wearing must be tested in real, organic environments. This means selecting a group of testers who already take part in these activities as part of their regular routines. Recruit testers to your study who run three times a week or hike twice a month. Asking a product tester to start a physical activity in order to test your latest prototype is not going to give you the accuracy you need.


Highlight’s recommendation: Test your apparel with groups of testers based on psychographic parameters (also known as behavioral filters) that reflect how the product is intended for wear. 


Consider: Qualitative Testing for Clothing and Footwear Brands

Apparel brands face certain budgetary and volume constraints that other consumer brands typically do not. It’s a lot less expensive to send out 250 packages of chips to testers than it is to send 250 pairs of shoes or leggings, so apparel brands are often limited to smaller sample sizes for their at-home product testing.


This is one reason why robust qualitative research (and a group of testers with the correct behavioral habits) is so important. The wear experience is particularly complex. There are so many elements to “get right” with a garment or pair of shoes, so you need product testers who will be considerate of every aspect of the wear experience and comment on it at length.


Did you know? Highlight product testers average a 20 word response rate (versus the industry standard of 3-4)


Another way that apparel brands in particular can benefit from qualitative research is via video feedback. With the Highlight product intelligence platform, product testers (we call them Highlighters) can record and upload videos of themselves unboxing a product, wearing a product, sharing their opinions on a product and more. You can even schedule in-depth interviews (IDI) to get the face-to-face feedback you need for more effective innovation.



Brands that collect video feedback via the Highlight platform also own the videos as a part of their dataset. For apparel brands this is especially useful and relevant–not just for research purposes, but for social media, ecommerce, and other marketing applications, too. Many Highlight customers give their video testimonials a second life as TikTok or Instagram ads.


Highlight’s recommendation: Invest in qualitative testing that will give you the in-depth insights you need to refine the garments, footwear, and more that your consumers will love. 


Discover what delights consumers—and what doesn't


Consider: Longitudinal Testing for Clothing and Footwear Brands

For apparel brands, product lifetime is a unique consideration that makes in-home product testing all the more important. Beyond the standard questions for more quickly consumable goods, apparel brands need to know: 


  • Does the product hold up over the normal course of regular usage?  
  • Does laundering the product multiple times impact the quality of the product?
  • Does the product wear effectively across different seasons and weather conditions?


Durability is important for any product intended to be used over and over again, but it’s especially important in light of:



  • Price point: Whether due to a desire to consume more sustainably or to “buy it for life”, many consumers are willing to make the clothes they buy a true investment–as long as the pieces pass the test of quality and durability.


  • Claims testing: Especially when it comes to performance and activewear, including footwear, consumers are looking for apparel they can depend on while running a marathon, hiking in the backcountry, or skiing in the mountains. Only longitudinal in-context testing can guarantee your products will live up to your claims.


Yet another example that illustrates the need for longitudinal testing for apparel brands is innerwear, especially for people who menstruate. Period panties, for example, should be tested over the course of several menstrual cycles to obtain a true picture of their performance.


Highlight’s recommendation: Whether you’re producing socks for everyday wear or a high-end rain jacket for rough conditions, use longitudinal testing to make sure your product stands the test of time.


Consider: Alienation Testing for Clothing and Footwear Brands

Alienation testing is important for products across categories. For apparel brands updating their supply chains or swapping fabrics, alienation testing should be part of the standard process. But alienation testing can be especially relevant to apparel brands with a diversity of loyalists.


Take, for example, brands like Dickies and Carhartt. While both are historically workwear brands, skater culture heavily adapted both brands beginning in the 1990’s. Nowadays, skater or no, Carhartt is worn by taste-makers everywhere from New York to LA–and also still the choice of shoppers who depend on the brand’s durability and utility for work.


Highlight’s recommendation: It’s key for brands like Carhartt to maintain all of their loyal consumer bases. For any brand, changing your product puts you at risk of alienating your original loyal consumers. Only alienation testing can tell you how to modify your current product(s) to keep your current fans and win new ones. 


Consider: Occasion Testing for Clothing and Footwear Brands

The funny thing about fashion brands is that once you put them out in the world, you can’t always predict what kind of following they might achieve. Fashion history is full of examples: A famous celebrity is seen wearing a brand or garment, and suddenly the product is flying off shelves. 


Perhaps the most famous example is Run DMC’s legendary appreciation for their Adidas. Run DMC wore the classic white Adidas sneakers with the distinctive three stripes on the sides, inspiring their track “My Adidas”. This naturally caught the attention of the brand and led to the first deal between a non-athletic group and an activewear brand. The rest is fashion history. 


While your brand could be loved by construction workers and celebrities, athletes and rappers alike, shoppers may also find brand new uses for your product, too. Recent fashion history is full of examples of this phenomenon:


  • Until recently, you’d only find footwear brand Salomon in the backcountry. Now you’ll find them in high-end bars and clubs everywhere.


  • Activewear brands developing leggings for yoga classes or marathon training may have been surprised to see influencers taking “Hot Girl Walks” dominating TikTok feeds instead.


@vanessafaga my HGW essentials🚶‍♀️🌳 @uniqlousa's AIRism fabric is KEY to take on the hot weather this summer! AIRism technology helps absorb all that sweat & keeps you feeling dry and comfortable🤍#UNIQLO #UNIQLOPartner #LifeWear #hotgirlwalk #essentials ♬ original sound - vanessa🎀


  • For some shoppers, slides function as house slippers or a quick and easy way to take out the garbage and get the mail. But today, wearing slides with your favorite pair of high socks is the perfect way to complete your high-fashion look.


Highlight’s recommendation: Even if you’ve already finished your product, send it out for at-home testing! See how shoppers really use your product. Listen carefully and you may discover marketing opportunities you never imagined.


Consider: Inclusivity for Clothing

It should go without saying, but unfortunately it still needs stating: apparel brands need to design products that meet the needs of the consumers who want to buy them.


The best way to understand what your apparel brand needs is to test with a demographic of product testers that reflect your target consumers. This might include exploring:


  • Extended and plus sizing: It’s one thing to expand your product line to be more inclusive, but apparel brands need to hear honest feedback from those who will buy and wear these sizes to ensure their product experience passes the bar–not just ticks the box.

  • Gender positioning: Gender neutral and gender forward fashion is moving increasingly mainstream as brands like Harris Reed, Savage X Fenty, and Telfar grow loyal followings across the country. Apparel brands developing such lines should look for product testing communities that employ inclusive questions in the self-identifying steps of their recruitment process.

  • Pockets: It’s 2024. Please ask the women testing your pants, shorts, skirt, or dress if they would like pockets!


Highlight’s recommendation: Prioritize inclusivity by designing surveys with the right questions and choosing product testers that reflect the diverse group of shoppers you intend to serve.


Consider: Sensory Testing for Clothing and Footwear Brands

Often when we talk about sensory testing, we think about it in the context of sensory tests for food. But the sensorial experience is at least as important for garments, if not more so. And it goes beyond the fundamental questions of “Is this product comfortable?” For example:


  • Does this product “feel” expensive?


  • We want to make our product more sustainable and remove synthetic fibers. Does this modified blend still feel as soft? (See above as well: alienation testing.)


  • Our boot is loved for its look, but what about the feel? Can it support heels and arches over hundreds of miles? Does the tongue feel snug enough or does it slide out of place?


The nuances and myriad details of apparel means product development teams have to consider the sensory experience in every detail and dimension of the overall product experience.


Highlight’s recommendation: If you’re an apparel brand, consider dedicated sensory testing for elements like fabrics, but make sure every test you conduct incorporates questions about the sensory experience.


Consider: Online Reviews for Clothing and Footwear Brands

Online reviews are important to products across categories, but especially for apparel, shoppers are looking for information on comfort, fit, durability, value and more. 


It helps apparel brands for shoppers to share this information, too. Returns are expensive for apparel companies to manage–and according to one study, 17% of returns are made because the item didn’t fit properly. 30% are made because the product wasn’t what the shopper expected. Product reviews can go a long way to mitigate that.


Product reviews are key for conversions in the apparel industry. One recent study found that there’s a 76.7% lift in conversion when consumers are exposed to at least one review, compared to those exposed to none. 


Highlight’s recommendation: With the Highlight product testing platform, apparel brands can turn product feedback directly into website reviews, so even if you’re launching a brand new product, you can go live with a page full of reviews.


Consider: “Share of Closet” Research

It would be nice if your target consumers were buying your brand and only your brand, but the average closet is comprised of dozens of different brands. But understanding the other brands and products within a consumer’s closet–and why they buy what they buy–can help apparel brands increase their “share of closet”.


For example, if you are a socks brand, you might ask your product testers about their entire sock drawer. What brands are in there? Why have they bought those brands? Have you purchased certain brands for specific occasions or purposes? As a product researcher, this information is gold.


Highlight’s recommendation: Explore your category through qualitative feedback or in-depth interviews to understand why your target consumers have preferences for certain products or brands. Listen for buying habits, purchase drivers, and other surprises that may uncover valuable insights.


Lukas Cartmell bio and LinkedIn


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