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Size matters: Petite clothes for men

“Thank god for Peter Manning,” started a recent e-mail to the Brooklyn based clothing shop. “He is setting the world to rights one item of clothing at a time.”

How exactly, you might ask, is a menswear shopped tucked into 600 square feet of space in DUMBO setting the whole world to right? In the words of Craig L: “Short men of the world unite.”

Roughly 30% of American men are under 5’8” and while that statistic varies slightly based on age group, there’s a key fact in here. Average height is just over 5'9" but more American men are under 5’8” than over 6’1”. Tom Cruise (5’7”) and Kevin Hart (5’4”) may be leading men, but fashion houses are still designing for the Bradley Coopers (6’1”) and Will Smiths (6’2”) of the world.

At 5'7 Tom Cruise is about 2 inches below average height.

To women, the idea of a fashion industry catering to an unrealistic physical ideal might sound familiar. But for men, there’s no “petite” section to shop at, and no “plus size” arms to well-known brands.

Related: How customers saved this plus-size retailer

Search “short men shopping” on the Internet and you’ll find sites ranging from tailors who will make you custom clothes to lists of which brands offer inseams shorter than 30” (most don’t). But now, at the top of all these searches, is Peter Manning. Not too shabby considering the 2-year-old brand has stuck to fairly minimal online advertising.

“They’re finding us, we keep growing!” said Co-Founder Peter Manning in a recent interview with Yahoo Finance.

The story of the company is intertwined with Manning’s own story - and not just because he named it after himself on the advice of a branding expert. At 5’8” Manning could never find clothes that fit. “I was bringing this load of clothes into the tailor, shortening T-shirts and polo shirts, and I said, ‘This is crazy, something’s got to happen here.’”

Manning, who was a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer before he got into clothing, tried to appeal to mainstream retailers first. “I knew a couple people in the retail world and I asked them about it. And they said, ‘Oh yea, we know you [short men] exist, and we’re not going to put you in our stores.’”

So Manning decided to do it himself. He found a business partner with retail experience and set about branding the idea of petite clothing for men. They came up with “not so tall.”

“There’s this thing about being short in this country,” he said. “I think this customer didn’t complain, and didn’t raise his voice and say, ‘You know, we need some 27” inseams,’ and nobody’s walking around naked. They were making do and suffering in silence and just paying the tailor tax.”

Peter Manning designs close for the not so tall man under 5'8

The “tailor tax” is another clever phrase Manning has devised to explain the plight of short men. Manning himself was paying hundreds to thousands per year. So he went to a tailor and started from scratch, re-patterning clothing to fit shorter men. We’re not just talking about shorter pant legs, either. He re-thought the placement of pockets, the cut of collars, even the length of ties.

For his newly designed clothes, Manning decided he needed a new sizing system. “Small, medium, large and extra-large mean something in the world and it would be confusing if we used those same terms. So we had to come up with a new system,” he explained. They created sizes 1-4 and are adding 2x and 4x soon. They will likely call that line “not so thin.” As Manning says, “That guy who’s not so tall but also broader has a really hard time.”

While a new sizing mechanism may be intimidating for some, Manning doesn’t see it as a problem. Many men come to his DUMBO-based “fit shop” to get measured and - once they know their size - order anything from sweatpants to suits based on it.

His idealism extends beyond re-outfitting the entire population of men under 5’8”. The company also manufactures a great deal of its clothes in the U.S. and is hoping to move all production here eventually.

While Peter Manning, the company, is by most measures successful – it's are already profitable and growing each quarter – it may soon have competition from other retailers.

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Analyst Brian Sozzi told Yahoo Finance that he expects mainstream clothing shops to catch on, if only because selling clothes to shorter men could boost their bottom lines. “Less material, whether it’s a pant leg or on a shirt sleeve, means more profit. And just because of that I think you’ll see more companies ultimately chase this.” He says petite menswear would make sense for companies like Ralph Lauren (RL).

Manning, though, isn’t so sure. He recounted recently overhearing a short salesman at a department store tell a shorter customer, “Oh, you know what, [the store's buyers] keep buying less and less [small sizes] and I don’t understand it because all of our customers are that size.”

For Manning, the fact that this population is ignored is both “strange” and “crazy” and a host of other adjectives. In many ways, he sees his clothing line as a sort of mission: “We’re doing something special.”

His co-Founder, Jeff Hansen, the retail veteran mentioned earlier, agrees. Hansen has worked with names like Bare Escentuals and La Perla and says, “I've never seen feedback like this across any of the brands I've worked with over the years.”

The company plans to expand to make the leap from Brooklyn to Manhattan in the near future, with the goal of opening fit shops in major cities in the years to come.

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