Serving Those The Fashion Industry Ignores
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 New York-based clothing company that bears his name, 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 fouryear stint as a producer with the New York Stage and Film Company, eventually producing the Tony Award-winning play Side Man.
He left the theater in 1999 to focus on his family, took on consulting work and earned an architecture degree from Columbia University. Then, in 2007, he built and sold a 30,000 square-foot residential building in Manhattan, in collaboration with real estate developer Robert Siegel.
Manning refers to these sections of his past as his “previous lives,” but says his latest venture has benefited from them. “Entrepreneurship is a kind of producing,” Manning told FORBES. “…To get this off the ground required similar skills—moxy, insanity.”
But moxy and insanity cannot replace knowhow and experience. Those were supplied by Hansen, who had previously been CEO of Italian luxury brands La Perla and, later, Frette. Introduced by a mutual friend, Hansen loved the concept and, nine months into the operation, agreed to invest $300,000 and join the company as an equal partner and CEO.
The business had been losing money, Hansen says, largely due to costly third–party warehouse services Manning had set up to store product and ship orders. “I pulled that back in-house,” he said. The company still fulfills all of its orders from its own warehouse in Brooklyn.
Hansen also severed ties with the initial clothing vendors, using his own contacts to set up manufacturing with cut-andsow operations in Portugal. “It’s kind of a more affordable version of Italy,” says Hansen, “where they still make very good quality stuff but at a lower price.” Peter Manning hit