Peter Manning just wanted a pair of chinos that fit and a shirt that didn’t fall to his knees.
“There was a moment when I’d just gone and spent hundreds and hundreds at the tailors, and I just had had it. I thought there’s got to be a better way,” he said.
This frustration led the 5-foot-8 Manning to found an eponymous fashion line catering to shorter men. The market for this type of clothing is enormous, with a fourth of the roughly 160 million guys in America measuring 5 feet 7.3 inches and below.
Despite the potentially huge customer base, e-commerce sites like Manning’s remain a relative rarity in retail, while clothing for other niche categories such as big-and-tall men, plus-size women and ladies’ petites are commonplace.
“Our customer — his whole life has either been shopping at the boys’ shop, which is humiliating, or he’s been having to take clothes to the tailor, which is expensive,” said Jeff Hansen, the company’s CEO and co-founder who is 5 feet 9.
For e-commerce site Peter Manning, this market has generated big sales as customers snap up its clothing, which have been proportioned to fit smaller measurements.
Manning and Hansen declined to share exact figures but said annual sales run in the “millions” for the brand, which launched in 2012 and ships to all 50 states and 21 foreign countries.
A newer entrant to the category, Ash & Anvil, is also trying to fill a need in this underserved market with $69 everyday button downs that won’t break the bank. Since launching in November, the company has attracted roughly 1,000 customers.
For its everyday shirt, the company measured more than 100 shorter guys, ranging from 5 feet to 5 feet 8, and spend half a year designing it.
“Not one guy we talked to that was shorter could find clothes off the rack that fit well,” said Steven Mazur, its CEO and co-founder who stands at 5 feet 6.
In fact, the shorter male category is so underserved that market research firm NPD Group does not even track its size.
“It’s absolutely the most ignored — absolutely the most ignored market. I’m repeating it because it’s worth repeating,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at The NPD Group.
Key problems shorter men face, such as pants with too long of an inseam and shirts with sleeves that aren’t the correct length, affect more guys than you might think.
“You don’t have to be all that short to have this issue. If you’re 5-9 or below, you can have this problem, and it’s a good portion of guys who have this problem,” Cohen said.
So why aren’t more mainstream retailers paying attention? Cohen said it’s because they are going after bigger slices of the market rather than trying to be all things to all customers.
“The only thing that’s saving the shorter guy today is the internet. Why is that? Because stores have gotten dollar-focused instead of customer-focused,” he said.