I'm so excited to introduce you to Elizabeth of The Petite Shop! I met Elizabeth a while ago when I'd Rather Be Short was getting published.
Elizabeth Bates is the Five-Foot Founder of The Petite Shop, the first online boutique dedicated exclusively to petite clothing for women 5’ 4” and shorter. The Petite Shop hand selects the petite clothing that women would actually want to wear – versus the traditional petite options (you know what I’m talking about)! The growing selection is sourced from well-known premium lines, to exclusive pieces from indie designers, currently ranging in size from 000 through 16.
I'll start with the obvious. Why did you start the Petite Shop? I started The Petite Shop for both a personal and professional reason – I saw a need. I probably sound like a broken record, but nearly half of American women are petite. HALF. The average American woman is 5’ 3.8”. People are still so shocked when I tell them that, which always surprises me because so often I’m telling a petite woman. We still think that we’re such a niche, that somehow it makes sense that the fashion industry is largely ignoring us – but we’re not a niche. We’re a huge market that deserves clothing that fits. It’s about so much more than fashion – it’s about feeling like you’re okay just the way you are. That our clothes should fit us, not that we need to fit our clothes. There’s a big educational and behavioral modification component there. We just buy our disproportionate clothing, say thank you, hang our heads, and drive to the tailor where we spend additional money to force our clothes into petite submission. No more!
Have you always liked being small, or was there a time when you decided to embrace it? In retrospect, I’ve always been teased about it a bit. Especially in grade school through high school – even by short guys! I don’t remember when I stopped caring about being teased, but it happened. Now I love it – I believe I’m right where I should be in life, and I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t 5’ tall! I’m a pretty sarcastic person, so now if someone decides to tease me for my height they’re going to get toyed with.
What do you wish you could tell your high school self? I would (too) often forego my social life in high school to work on this school project or that school project. I was a study bug. I always told myself that 1) my friends would understand and still be my friends (they did, we’re still friends!) and 2) if I worked hard then, everything else would be easier in my future. So, I think I would tell myself I was crazy - striving to achieve goals and fighting to live your dreams will always require hard work. If you’re not working hard, you’re probably not pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. I’d rather work hard at something I love than live an uninspired life.
How has your self-image been affected by doing work that directly impacts empowering other petite gals? This is a great question! I’m interested in empowering women in general – if I can serve as some sort of role model that’s awesome. Last Fall, I was accepted into a startup accelerator program – I was one of only two women-owned businesses out of 17. When I met one of my classmates for the first time, he asked if I was another entrepreneur’s girlfriend or wife who I happened to be standing next to. I wish that wasn’t the assumption, but at the very least it was another opportunity for me to challenge the stereotype and claim some more space in the business world – in hopes that we can all change things little by little.
What have you learned since opening the shop? SO VERY MUCH. I think one of the most important things I’ve learned is that the market is still underserved and improperly served. I handpick each item I sell in the shop, and when I go to apparel shows I’m consistently underwhelmed by the petite options available. A line will have amazing things coming out for the next season, and then the rep will whittle it down to what’s being cut in petite – one or two options, in the worst color possible.
I prefer to view this as a challenge versus an insurmountable hurdle – I’ve just had to figure out how to work around the status quo for the fashion industry. This is why I’ve worked with designers on custom pieces exclusive to The Petite Shop, why we launched the Collective (which I talk about in the next question), and why we have even MORE incredibly exciting things coming up in the next few months.
What are your dreams for the Petite Shop or petite shopping in general? One of my dreams just came true! We literally just launched our Collective, which is the first comprehensive showcase of indie petite designers from around the United States and even the United Kingdom! You can read about each designer and her inspiration and shop her collection.
It’s hard to put yourself out there as a designer, and even harder to focus on a specialty size niche – these eight women have all done that, and they are who will generate momentum for the petite movement that is truly reaching a tipping point. They deserve a forum and a community to support them, and I wanted to do what I could to help provide that.
As I mentioned above, we have another really exciting addition to The Petite Shop coming up in early Fall – I would love to shout it from the rooftops, but for the time being I can only say to follow #timeforachange for updates!
So cool! Thanks for filling us in, Elizabeth. Your site and collections are beautiful. Can't wait to see what's around the corner this Fall.
*Photos courtesy of Elizabeth and the Petite Shop's Instagram.