Store of the Future   //   December 28, 2023

More clothing brands are vying to win the petite customer

Clothing brands are increasingly working to help petite customers find the right fit in their assortments.

LA-based premium denim brand Mother Denim launched its first petite collection in October, which includes its best-selling basics re-sized to fit the proportions of petite customers. Shapewear and apparel brand Spanx developed a line of shapewear made to fit petite bodies in July. Luxury womenswear label Kjinsen, on the other hand, relaunched in March to focus solely on selling clothes for petite women.

More clothing brands are beginning to offer petite sizing as an extension of the inclusivity movement in apparel. In the past couple of years, there had been a big push for brands to begin offering more inclusive and plus-size clothing, now they are starting to pay attention to the “other end of the spectrum,” said Gabriella Santaniello, founder of A Line Partners. But in doing so, brands also expose themselves to potential production and inventory issues.

“There’s obviously a market for it and it’s a new revenue stream,” Santaniello said. “There’s more petite customers and more demand for it, especially in the United States as we become more diverse.”

Sizing can vary for every brand but brands like Mother Denim and Kjinsen say that petite clothing complement women with frames 5 ‘4” and under. Monther Denim’s petite collection is available in waist sizes 23-34.

For a category that many fashion brands haven’t tapped into, the petite category is relatively big. Scientific online publication Our World Data indicates that the average height of women born in 1996 globally is 5 ‘3”.

Indeed there is demand for petite sizing. Spanx told Women’s Wear Daily that petite customers had been buying their products even before the launch of its petite styles, but many were frustrated with the fit. Plus-size fashion brand Live Unlimited London even launched its own petite collection after listening to customer feedback. 

For petite customers, shopping in stores or online can be disheartening when clothes don’t fit their specifications. This issue alongside the feedback she got on social media is what drove Kjinsen Founder Liza Belmonte to adjust the brand’s focus to petite customers, according to her interview with Harper’s Bazaar. Kjinsen was initially launched in 2021 as a “straight sized” brand, which is the standard sizing. “Petite women are a widely disregarded cohort despite half of the world’s female population measuring under 5 ft 3,” Belmonte told Harper’s Bazaar

Melissa Minkow, director of retail strategy at digital consultancy firm CI&T, said that the apparel retail landscape has generally been focused around helping customers find the right fit, whether it be through size finder tools like short quizzes or by offering extended size. In Mother Denim’s case, the company offers a fit guide to help shoppers find the right size. Minkow added that this new wave of clothing brands offering petite sizing is an extension of this trend.

“You would be alleviating a significant amount of returns when sizing is more accurate,” Minkow said. “The reality is sizing has been really misaligned for a long time.”

Adding additional clothing sizes — whether it be petite or plus size — could introduce operational challenges for apparel brands, said Lauren Beitelspacher, associate professor in marketing at Babson College. Brands have to alter their production for every size they offer. They also have to manage their inventory more closely to ensure they distribute the appropriate number of product sizes for every store.

Some brands had already pulled back their attempts to offer extended sizes in the past after encountering operational problems. Last year, Gap Inc. received backlash from shoppers after scaling back its inclusive sizing in stores just under a year after launch. Supply chain challenges like shipment delays and price inflation impacted the company’s ability to manage its inventory. Other brands like Loft had also scrapped its plus-size offering in 2021.

“It’s much easier for a brand to make 100 units of a size eight than it is to make five units of [different sizes],” Beitelspacher said. “If you are a company that has stores all around the country, figuring out what the size ranges that should be in this store versus the size ranges in another store is going to be a huge learning curve.”