Understanding the Petite (Frame) Consumer
Emily Lau started The Little Bra Company to offer petite consumers bras built for their frames. It turns out, Lau tapped into a large, growing consumer segment.
Petite (Frame) Consumer Extra
Understanding the Petite (Frame) Consumer
Brandon: Emily Lau started The Little Bra Company to offer petite consumers bras built for a smaller frame. Turns out she tapped into a large, growing consumer segment. In today’s episode, you’ll learn the biggest challenges the petite consumer faces when buying clothing. Emily will share a really smart way to test out market demand, and we’ll discuss what the petite market really really wants and how serving them on this point can turn them into a lifetime customer.
Brandon: Emily, could you start by giving us a quick overview of who the petite client is?
Emily: Sure. The petite client for us in intimate apparel is someone who is smaller framed and petite more around the rib cage. So in most apparel, the rest of the apparel world, it’s usually somebody who’s five-four and under. So we do have those customers who purchase our bras, but we also have taller customers who are perhaps taller than five-four but are actually smaller in the rib cage.
Brandon: What is the biggest challenge that this particular segment has when it comes to finding proper fitting garments?
Emily: So I think that most bra manufacturers kind of scale from an average to larger size scale. And so with The Little Bra Company, we actually scale from a petite proportion. So everything is scaled down proportionately. Kind of like petite apparel makes seams narrower and smaller and the length shorter, we do the same thing with bras. So everything is a proportionately smaller to fit that body frame better.
Brandon: Okay. So a couple of weeks ago I actually had an interview with a lady named Holly Jackson, and she specializes in the curvy market. And she was mentioning that sometimes there were designers where they would take a size six and then they would extrapolate that to say a size 30 and not understanding that the fundamental proportions of the curvy woman are different. You can’t just scale it up, you have to redesign the garment. Is that similar in this particular segment that there has to be a fair amount of adjustments made to fit this particular body type?
Emily: Yes, absolutely. It’s just the same but in the other direction. So we also consider, we start at a different body type. Our standard is that petite body type, and we scale from there. So everything is just going to proportionally fit better.
Brandon: Now, obviously you started this particular company. What prompted you to get into this business in the first place?
Emily: So I am petite and I couldn’t find anything for myself. The things that I could find were either in the teen section that kind of fit me a little bit better, but anything that was prettier, that had some fashion sense to it or was attractive, was too big, and also didn’t give me any shape. So even though they were padded bras and things like that, I tried it on and all the padding was in all the wrong places. And I realized it had a lot to do with the fit and proportion of the bras. And so I started it because I couldn’t find anything for myself. I made some samples and tested them out on my friends who are also petite and started from there. I kind of made everything that I wanted in a bra – that was my very first bra – and decided, like, okay, this I wanted to have a little bit more shape too.
So it wasn’t just a bra that fit, but something that, if I was going to have padding in it, I wanted it to give me some natural shape. A lot of the padded bras that were out there with a lot of padding gave me a lot of volume going forward, but weren’t giving me any cleavage so they weren’t actually shaping my breast to make it look natural. So I was kind of on a search for that as well when I started The Little Bra Company.
Brandon: So you did this whole series of development. How did the market initially receive it? so you’d talked to your friends, but beyond your friends, how did you get going from there?
Emily: At the time when I started the company, I was actually a TV writer and producer. I used to travel a lot, and I basically had made these samples and put them in my suitcase. And there was one time I went to the [San Francisco] Bay Area, and in the Bay Area I knew that there was a one woman who was selling petite lingerie, but she was just sourcing from other brands, petite lingerie, whatever she thought was in the smaller size range. So there wasn’t really petite lingerie out there, but anything that was in the smaller size as she was putting that all together in her retail shop. So I figured that would be the first place for me to go and test it out. So I brought my samples to her when I was traveling.
I gave her the samples and two weeks later she sent me an order and that was my first order. And I was like, okay, so this is it, I figured she would know, as she had been dealing with a lot of these customers firsthand. So she was my first customer and then a few months later, I went to my first trade show and I had no idea what to expect. But the response was very good right from the start. I mean, I had people coming in who were like, oh my gosh, where have you been, this is exactly what I need. This is the hole that I need to fill in my store. And so a lot of the boutique owners, bra fitting shops and things like that, just responded so well. And so then I kind of knew I had something.
Brandon: Right, right. And how long ago was this by the way? This whole…
Emily: Yeah, so this was in 2007, was probably when I started the company, and when I went to show my samples off at my first trade show. And then by 2008, we were shipping.
Brandon: Okay. So it’s been about 11 years, give or take. And do you still primarily distribute through stores or is it more online direct-to-consumer or what are your channels?
Emily: We still ship to retail stores, especially lingerie boutiques mostly. But we also have our own online store, which has kind of surpassed our wholesale business. So I think we’ve kind of been at the right place at the right time and also having the inventory to do it. I think when I first started the company 11 years ago, the Internet shopping, online shopping, wasn’t as robust as it is now. But I already had a web store, a very basic web store, just knowing that if I was going to have a web presence, I want it. And I had a product, I had to make sure that people could buy it from anywhere. But it really took off about 18 months later. I was in the New York Times; they had done an article about us. And another influencer who I just sent bras too, she did a Youtube. At this time influencers were very different; they didn’t have the kind of industry that they have now. But she tried on our bras and did a very honest review and that kind of changed my online business. So those two things, being in the press and then her video, they kind of launched my e-commerce business.
Brandon: Oh, very good. Obviously having 11 years of experience now of moving product, what are the keys to successfully serving this particular market segment?
Emily: Well I feel like, oftentimes people ask me, “who inspires you?”or “where do you get your designs from?” And I say it’s the customers themselves. I listen very carefully to the feedback. I always say my first collection is probably a collection of bras that I wanted to do. Everything that I needed and I wanted. And ever since then, it’s been everything that my customers have wanted and have told me they needed. I mean, from the beginning even, I used to only have sizes 32 to 36 A and B. And then one of my retailers, actually, he told me, “you know what, you should really do a 28 and 30 band size.” And I was like, “you know what? You’re right! I should.” So I did a 28 and 30 and then a lot of customers were saying “you should really do C cup. And I was like, “you know what? I can add a C-cup.” So I added a C-cup. And then in terms of design, too, we got so much feedback. Like they said, “I really love your bras, but I really need a sports bra.” And so then I designed a sports bra. So my collection is really developed through just listening to my customers.
Brandon: Well, it’s hard to go wrong when you listen to the people giving you the money.
Emily: Yeah, exactly.
Brandon: So, have there ever been any odd requests or strange requests so you’re like, “ah, that’s a little bit out there”?
Emily: Well, I don’t know if it’s odd, but now I have, the number one question is, or the number one request is a D-cup. It’s been something that I have only been considering, because so many people have asked for it. They want the smaller band size, but just a D-cup. And they keep telling me like, D cups is not that big. But when I’ve been working so much in this kind of like smaller cups, smaller band world, a D cup is definitely on the larger side. But when you think about, it’s kind of complicated in the bra measuring world, but a D in the smaller band sizes is actually not that big. So, it’s actually like the same as a C cup. But it’s kind of complicated, so people really want like a 28, 30 and 32 D. So it’s something that I’m considering doing, but we’ll see. And then the other request is swimwear. So that’s kind of something that I’ve also been looking at.
Brandon: So, other than the physical characteristics that we’ve already discussed, is there anything unique or different about this market as compared to the mainstream and how they think, how they act?
Emily: Yeah, I think that the petite market is, I say that they’re the best “songbirds.” I mean, I found that they shop a lot because they’ve been on the search for a long time for something that fits them better and maybe they’ve been altering their clothes and everything like that before, but now they are online and on Instagram showing off things that actually fit them better. So I always say they’re really good songbirds, and once they find something that they like and something that fits them, it’s like they want to share it with everybody else because they haven’t been able to find anything for so long.
Brandon: Does social media play a big part, other than the Youtube example you mentioned? Does social media generally play a big part in the way you’re marketing then?
Emily: Yeah, absolutely. I mean it’s definitely changed. It’s developed in the last 11 years, and we’ve been kind of going with the wave of social. But when I look up #petitefashion or #petiteblogger, there are tens of thousands of hashtags just on those two things. So I know it’s really active and there’s like 87,000 people who consider themselves a petite blogger. You know, we want to be able to reach all those people and let them know that there is something made for them that will actually fit them better.
Brandon: Related to that, actually, is there a fairly standardized definition of petite or does it kind of move a little bit depending on who is explaining it?
Emily: Well, I think the standard in the apparel world is, like I said, it’s the five-four and under. So it could be shorter. It’s more about height then. Even now, there’s petite plus so, it’s not about your weight necessarily. It’s more based on height. Of course, people who are shorter could also tend to be smaller proportionately in their frame as well. However, we now categorize our bras to have narrow or wide set. Even within the petite size range, we know that there are different body types. People who have more breast tissue on the sides, we recommend our wider set styles. Now, we also carry a 38A, so that’s also somebody who has a wider back but a smaller cup. We’re definitely considering all of these people, but in my world of intimate apparel, we’re really thinking about the frame, not the height.
Brandon: I mean on Instagram, let’s say with the different hashtags, you have your definition of petite, which is based around frame structure. And then on the other hand, the apparel businesses with the traditional definition of petite – which is more height – is there ever any overlap where it gets confusing? Or if somebody were to type in #petite and then the second statement to narrow it down, are they going to get a specific definition of petite or is it going to be kind of a mish-mash of the two definitions?
Emily: Yeah, I think it’s a little mishmash. When you put in petite blogger I think you’re definitely going to get the people who are five-four and under. And we’re happy, definitely, to serve them as well. It can get to be a little bit more gray, but you’re trying to narrowing it down to one niche. And then within that niche, there are more niches. So even if I could get to the bigger niche, I think we’re at a good start.
Brandon: And is this overall? Do you have any statistics you’ve read that the market is continuing to grow? Or is it shifting? Or is it well served now? Or is there room for opportunity?
Emily: There’s over 70 million US women who fall into the special size category and 50% of that number is actually five-four or considered petite. Yet, they’re still one of the most underserved demographics. In 2013, these petite customers spent more than $6.94 billion. The petite customer is still shopping, even though she may not be served that much. But when she finds something she likes… And, I mean, I’m excited when I go shopping now and there’s an actual petite section in some of the stores. That goes to show that people are dedicating actual real estate to this demographic. I think it’s definitely changing now, but it’s traditionally been underserved. I think that people are starting to get it now; there is a definite trend of inclusivity, and people tend to think of being inclusive.
It means real women, real sizes. It tends to go towards the plus size. And I’m all for that because I think that they have been underserved for so long. I think as they get more popularity in terms of fashion –brands are paying attention to them – it’s only natural that brands will also start paying attention to the other side of the size spectrum, which is the petite. I’m excited and I’m hopefully a part of that push forward in that size range.
Brandon: It actually reminds me of a company, I believe it’s Parfait, just released a campaign where they’re showing women of different colors, different sizes, as well as petite, in the apparel industry version of it. So I can see what you’re saying with the inclusivity that is spreading in a positive way.
Emily: Absolutely. We’re actually launching a campaign to explain to our customers that even within the petite size range, there’s a lot of different heights. We have somebody represented who’s 4’9, somebody who’s 5’10, somebody who’s 23 and somebody who’s 50… We want to show that the petite body actually looks different as well. There’s many different versions of petite. We’re giving petite more variations.
Brandon: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. This is one of my favorite questions here. Now, let’s say you’re sitting in front of a veteran of the intimates business, someone who has been in it forever, and she asked you, ”tell me something about the petite customer that I don’t yet know.” How would you answer that?
Emily: I would say that she’s actually pretty savvy in terms of what she’s buying, and she really wants and deserves something that fits her better. For a long time people have been settling with whatever is out there, and sometimes it can sort of work in terms of getting coverage and some support. But once you find a bra that is actually made for your particular body type and frame, it’s totally a game changer. I always say that once a bra fits better, everything else looks better over it. It can really change your entire wardrobe.