Serv­ing Those The Fashion In­dus­try Ig­nores

ForbesWeekly - - NEWS - BY KARSTEN STRAUSS, FORBES STAFF Peter Man­ning’s Man­hat­tan fit­ting shop.

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

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