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A new design outfit looks to change the way dresses are made. 

"We set out to disrupt the globalized fashion industry."

click to enlarge Tending the frock: Megan Dietz - PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL

Local software-developer and dress-designer Megan Dietz seeks to lead a paradigm shift in the fashion industry. Dietz's company, Wear the Shift, creates custom clothing based on a computer algorithm she developed to create a flattering, perfect fit. As she put it by phone from her home studio, in Mount Oliver: democratizing fashion involves options. 

"When a woman's measurements are taken, it's always: bust, waist, hips. But there's an infinite number of measurements on the human body. We don't have to follow a format established decades ago by companies trying to sell clothes." 

Dietz, an Ohio native who moved to Pittsburgh in 1990 to attend Carnegie Mellon University, began beta-testing dresses for clients last December. Women submitted 10 unique measurements, ranging from lower-bustline circumference to height and shoulder width. After choosing from vintage fabrics -- many sourced from thrift-store drapery departments -- dresses were hand-sewn by freelance seamstresses paid living wages. 

"We set out to disrupt the globalized fashion industry," she says. It's an industry, Dietz says, that "wipes out entire textile markets." 

On her site, Dietz links to an article from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, about the ripple effect from mass consumption of clothing. Disposability, inhumane labor practices and rampant use of crude oil-based petroleum -- a key ingredient in polyester -- necessitate a new way of thinking about clothes. 

Dietz emphasizes "putting the person before the clothes."

She's getting a response. Though her site is currently limited to dresses, skirts and slips, Dietz has filled more than 200 orders since February, from as far away as Seattle and the United Kingdom. 

Prices range from $49-169, and turnaround time is usually three to four weeks. Dietz admits those prices are prohibitive for some customers. So she's rethinking her business model, searching local universities for someone to develop software to help people make their own dress patterns.

The innovation would expand Wear the Shift's selection, empowering clients to break away from participation in destructive trends. Dietz is currently gathering feedback on her latest beta-test: custom dress patterns, which she plans to sell on her site for $25, starting next month.

"There are plenty of people who would rather pay for a pattern, find fabric and sew the dress themselves. But I will continue to make dresses because I enjoy using the math to do it. I think it's cool that math makes fashion possible."

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