Serving Those The Fashion Industry Ignores – Forbes
A good rule of thumb for any entrepreneur is to address the needs of those who feel they have been ignored. For Peter Manning, that meant addressing his own.
Manning, founder of the eponymous New York-based clothing company, is targeting a clientele he can relate to: the 30 million men in the U.S. whose height does not exceed 5 feet, 8 inches; a demographic ill-served by most clothiers. “It’s crazy that the retail industry has ignored this customer,” he says.
For smaller men, having to settle for slightly larger clothing means walking around in baggie pants, billowy shirts and generally looking off. Hiring a tailor as a fix is an annoyance and can be costly.
Manning, who is 49, along with his co-founder and the company’s CEO, Jeff Hansen, have sought to change the shopping reality of the 5’8” and under crowd by designing pants with shorter inseams, shorter neckties, and size appropriate shirts and coats—all in classic men’s casual styles. “We’re not trying to drive trends,” says Manning, “we’re trying to get this guy clothes that fit.”
The company ships about 2,000 orders per month, for products ranging from $28 t-shirts to $600 suits—the jeans are a favorite, at $98 a pair. Established clients of note include George Stephanopoulos and Michael J. Fox, and word has spread steadily enough to bring in profit and growth. “We’ve doubled each year in our first five years of existence,” says Hansen. “It’s been a better reception from people than we ever expected.”
Though about 95% of sales are conducted online, the company operates a fitting store it set up for about $50,000 in Manhattan’s Flatiron District – a third-floor perch so rent is cheaper – where men of slightly smaller stature can visit, be fitted and purchase products that ship from the warehouse. “I see what happens in here,” says Manning, eased back into an upholstered chair in his fitting room lounge. “That guy that’s never been in a shirt that fits, has a 27-inch inseam and talks about shopping being a horrible experience and he hates to do it—I know why he hates to do it: because it’s not been fun. It’s a total drag.”
Manning launched his operation from his apartment in early 2012 on the assumption that others of his stature were feeling the same pain he had. But his experience in the apparel industry was limited. Earlier in life he was drawn to the theater and was on staff at the Manhattan Theater Club. He went on to work in the marketing department of Lincoln Center Theater, and by 1993 he had begun a four-year stint as a producer with the New York Stage and Film Company, eventually producing the Tony Award-winning play Side Man.