Long Tall Sally aims to mea­sure up to the sar­to­rial needs of fe­male shop­pers 5'8" and over

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - CONTENTS - BY CLAIRE SUDDATH

LONG TALL SALLY WANTS TO RES­CUE WOMEN 5 FEET 8 AND OVER FROM THE NIGHT­MARE OF CLOTHES SHOPPING

Ste­fanie Drew wants a pair of leather pants. “I saw some at Zara a while ago and was like, ‘Oh, my God, these are beau­ti­ful,' ” she says. “But I can't wear them.” That's not some­thing you'd ex­pect to hear from Drew, who's 27, a size 6, and dresses like some­one who can tell you a lot of sto­ries about go­ing to Coachella. In other words, she's Zara's ideal cus­tomer. Ex­cept for one thing: Drew is 6 feet 2. That sizes her out of pretty much ev­ery­thing in the store, as it does at other re­tail­ers she wants to shop at, such as H&M, For­ever 21, Amer­i­can Ap­parel, and even the small bou­tique where she works in Toronto. “If I bought pants there, I'd just look like I was walk­ing around wait­ing for it to flood,” she says.

Most dis­cus­sions about fash­ion's re­fusal to ac­knowl­edge di­verse body types fo­cus on plus-size women, who strug­gle to find brands will­ing to cater to their frames. But tall women may be even more un­der­served. “You wouldn't think so, be­cause mod­els are all so tall,” says Clary Hil­liard Gray (6'1"), who runs a fit­ness stu­dio in Char­lotte. “But most stores don't sell that many clothes to su­per­mod­els.” Or to tall women who don't walk run­ways: Women who are 5'8" and taller make up only 5 per­cent of the U.S. fe­male pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Cen­ter for Health Sta­tis­tics. And mak­ing clothes to fit them takes more than just adding a few ex­tra inches to ex­ist­ing pat­terns. But­tons need to be moved. Jean pock­ets may need re­siz­ing. “A cute flair may look good on a petite blouse, whereas on me it'll look like I'm wear­ing a dust ruf­fle,” Hil­liard Gray says. For most brands, chang­ing de­signs for such a small pool of po­ten­tial shop­pers isn't worth the ef­fort. “When ev­ery­thing got tough dur­ing the re­ces­sion, re­tail­ers took a step back from ‘tall.' Now you al­most never see it in stores,” says Mar­shal Co­hen, chief retail an­a­lyst for NPD Group.

A few months ago, frus­trated by her lack of op­tions, Drew searched on­line for what she calls “tall-girl shops.” Up popped the name of U.K. re­tailer Long Tall Sally, which has one of its few North Amer­i­can stores in Toronto. Drew vis­ited and tried on a few pieces—the kind of sim­ple shopping trip that's usu­ally im­pos­si­ble for her. “I was like, ‘What? Clothes that ac­tu­ally fit? This is fan­tas­tic!' ” Now she owns her first pair of over­alls.

“Clothes that ac­tu­ally fit” tow­er­ing women are Long Tall Sally's spe­cialty. The com­pany, which is named af­ter the 1956 Lit­tle Richard hit, sells a lot of T-shirts, long skirts, and cot­ton blouses—stripes and polka dots are pop­u­lar, as are flower pat­terns—at prices higher than the Gap's, but not as costly as Ba­nana Repub­lic's, to those 5'8" and taller, though 75 per­cent of sales are to women above 5'11". The cloth­ier has long re­lied on brick-and-mor­tar sales in Bri­tain, but now it's mak­ing a push on­line and in the U.S., mostly in the Mid­west. This ex­pan­sion has helped sales rise about 30 per­cent in the past 12 months, and Sally ex­pects to bring in about $80 mil­lion in rev­enue this year. “We're serv­ing a sur­pris­ingly small cus­tomer niche,” says Andrew Shapin, Sally's chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. “But if you can reach peo­ple all over the world, sud­denly that niche doesn't seem so small any­more.”

Judy Rich, an Amer­i­can ex­pat liv­ing in Lon­don, founded Long Tall Sally in 1976, when she couldn't find pants long enough to fit her 5'11" frame. “I used to have to go to men's cloth­ing shops,” Rich says. “Who wants to do that?” She ran the com­pany for al­most three decades, un­til the early 2000s, when Sally, un­able to stay com­pet­i­tive in the dig­i­tal age, went into ad­min­is­tra­tion (the Bri­tish ver­sion of bank­ruptcy). It was pur­chased in 2005 by Amery Cap­i­tal, a retail in­vest­ment firm backed by broth­ers Mau­rice and Michael Ben­nett, who'd made a for­tune decades ear­lier sell­ing flo­ral­print dresses and frilly tops to the Bri­tish masses through Ware­house, Oa­sis, Phase Eight, and Coast stores, which they've since sold.

Shapin be­came Sally's CEO in 2007. He knew how to sell on­line—he'd co-founded the Cotswold Co., an on­line fur­ni­ture re­tailer, in 1997—but he had a cou­ple of short­com­ings: He wasn't a woman, he wasn't tall, and he didn't know fash­ion. “I had zero aware­ness,” says Shapin, who's about 5'8". “There is no lower level of aware­ness that I could've had about this in­dus­try be­fore I started.” He spent six months sit­ting in on “at least 30” fo­cus groups, he says, lis­ten­ing to hun­dreds of women talk about how hard it was to find clothes. They told him about be­ing gan­gly, awk­ward teenagers, and about slouch­ing so they wouldn't be taller than men. “One thing that sur­prised me was how many tall women said they don't like shopping,” he says. “It be­comes a very emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause they can't find any­thing that fits.” In­stead, they buy cloth­ing that's too small and MacGyver

“WHEN EV­ERY­THING GOT TOUGH DUR­ING THE RE­CES­SION, RE­TAIL­ERS TOOK A STEP BACK FROM ‘TALL.’ NOW YOU AL­MOST NEVER SEE IT IN STORES”

it so it ap­pears to fit. Jeans too short? Hide them with tall boots!

The strug­gle is real. Diana Run­kle, 5'11", Syd­ney: “I typ­i­cally wear a long tank top un­der all my tops to keep my stom­ach from show­ing.” Jes­sica Brom­mel­hoff, 6', Los An­ge­les: “I pretty much do not own any tops with full-length sleeves that ac­tu­ally go the full length of my arm.” Claire Burns, 6'1", New York: “I ac­tu­ally used to own two petite-sized, floor-length skirts that hit the base of my kneecap.” Tasha Watt, 6'1", Southaven, Miss.: “I can't wear cock­tail dresses be­cause the waist hits me in my stom­ach area.” Says Shapin: “When I talked to women, I re­al­ized this was some­thing that had the po­ten­tial to go way be­yond the U.K. mar­ket.” In­stead of just mov­ing Sally on­line, he thought, why not move it over­seas?

How to tap into such a fash­ion-starved niche seems like it would be a case study taught in Mar­ket­ing 101. (“Too tall for other stores? Go see Sally!”) But the com­pany's cus­tomers are more di­verse than a typ­i­cal re­tailer's. They range in age from teenagers to grand­moth­ers, have all sorts of jobs, live in all sorts of places, and have noth­ing in com­mon with one an­other aside from their height. “We'll hear from women who say, ‘I'm 6 foot 2, what do I need high heels for?' Then women who say, ‘Why don't you make more high heels? Just be­cause I'm 6 foot 2 doesn't mean I want to wear flats,' ” Shapin says. Older women com­plain that Sally's styles skew too young; young women write to ask for spe­cific trends. “It's a real chal­lenge,” he says. “We try to fo­cus on that sweet spot: women be­tween 25 and 55. Mid­dle class.” Some of the more pop­u­lar of­fer­ings are su­per­soft leg­ging jeans ($79), the crin­kle tiered maxi skirt ($89), high su­per­skinny jeans ($109), and the re­laxed-fit pocket tee ($27). It's not ground­break­ing fash­ion, but at least the sleeves are long enough.

When Drew first vis­ited Long Tall Sally in Toronto, she says she may have been more ex­cited by the prospect of clothes that fit than by the ac­tual clothes. She saw mainly work-ap­pro­pri­ate skirts for women who com­mute to desk jobs in sneak­ers. “I like them now, but I was kind of dis­cour­aged when I first found them,” Drew says. On­line, though, she says things are sleeker and more con­tem­po­rary. The work skirts are still there—but so are skinny jeans, floppy hats, and gray tees that she's more likely to buy. The com­pany has teamed up with Bri­tish de­signer Irene Ag­bon­taen's TTYA (Taller Than Your Av­er­age) la­bel; last year the brands col­lab­o­rated on a line of silk maxi dresses and, yes, leather pants, which sold out be­fore Drew could snag a pair. “Long Tall Sally ... hasn't al­ways been the most fash­ion-for­ward name,” Glam­our's U.K. edi­tion wrote about the col­lec­tion. “But that's all changed now!” Shapin is more re­served in praise of his ac­com­plish­ments. “We're try­ing,” he says.

In 2009, Sally started ac­quir­ing North Amer­i­can com­peti­tors, such as Tall Girl, Long El­e­gant Legs, Long Fash­ion, and lar­ge­size shoe seller Bare­foot Tess, which had all some­how man­aged to sell clothes to women de­spite names that seem straight out of a 1992 Sears cat­a­log. Sally also opened seven stores in Canada and four in the U.S., in Chicago, Den­ver, Detroit, and at the Mall of America in Bloom­ing­ton, Minn. (There are 26 in to­tal, in­clud­ing in Europe.) But it's still not a well-known name here. To drum up aware­ness, the com­pany has hosted pop-ups in 40 cities, from Bos­ton to San Francisco. On­line, it ad­ver­tises mainly through spon­sored ads on Google and so­cial me­dia. About 7 per­cent of peo­ple who see its posts on Face­book click on them, which Shapin says is a higher en­gage­ment rate than those of J.Crew, Nord­strom, or most other re­tail­ers, who av­er­age any­where from 0.2 per­cent to 4 per­cent. So far, Shapin's tac­tics have worked; al­most 65 per­cent of the com­pany's sales are from peo­ple out­side the U.K. who are shopping on­line, of­ten in places where Sally doesn't have a phys­i­cal store.

Long Tall Sally has an­other ma­jor mar­ket­ing hur­dle: its name. On the one hand, hav­ing “long” and “tall” built into its brand makes it eas­ily search­able on­line; it's the fourth-highest Google re­sult for tall women's cloth­ing, af­ter the much larger re­tail­ers Ba­nana Repub­lic, Ann Tay­lor, and New York & Co., which of­fer lim­ited se­lec­tions. But women don't al­ways want to broad­cast that they shop at a spe­cialty store. “Men can go to big-and-tall stores, and it's like, ‘Oh, I'm big! I'm vir­ile!' But I don't want to carry around a Long Tall Sally shopping bag,” Hil­liard Gray says. Shapin says he's aware of this prob­lem, but so far he finds the Google-able pros out­weigh the cons and has no plans to change it.

Long Tall Sally in­tends to open more stores in the U.S. and is also mak­ing a push into Ger­many, where the av­er­age height of a woman is 5'6"—2 inches taller than in the U.S. Af­ter that comes the Nether­lands, whose av­er­age height of 5'7" makes it the tallest coun­try in the world. Cur­rently there are no plans to ex­pand into plus sizes for women, or into clothes for tall men. Al­though who's to say Long Tall Stan's leather pants wouldn't be a hit? <BW>

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