ITSYBITS: SELLING SHORT
Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio
NEW YORK — Melissa London and Allison Winn — both 5 feet, 2 inches tall — know the endless problems faced by short people. Big bills on tailoring, complications with dating six-foot men, and few clothing options, except perhaps what they describe as the “frumpy petite departments.”
Not to mention the frustrations of not being taken seriously.
Now, with their Web site called Itsybits.com, launched on May 3, the 26-year-old executives are aiming to make short people feel a little taller, by selling contemporary fashions suited to their needs as well as dishing out style tips and dating advice.
“I was feeling left out,” said London, Itsybits’ founder and chief executive officer. “The fashions I saw look great on 5- foot, 11-inch models. The petite departments are very limited and they [clothes] are too boxy.”
“We are kind of like shrinks to short people,” said Winn, vice president of business development. “Our vision is half content and half commerce. You don’t have to just buy something. We can help you out. We are small women, too.”
While the plus-size category has been a highly sought-after target online, the duo believes they are the first to zero in on the petite market.
London hatched the idea last fall while on her honeymoon and decided that the solution to her fit problems could be found on the Internet, where she envisioned she could make petite fashions available for everyone.
Shortly after, London, whose husband is 6 foot 3 inches, took an open-ended leave of absence from her job as a litigator at blue-chip law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore, and began casually researching the market. In November, she teamed up with her friend, Winn, who quit her job in Los Angeles as a marketing consultant and moved to New York, where Itsybits is based.
Itsybits.com currently offers about 100 clothing and accessories styles, mostly from contemporary resources like Bisou-Bisou, Juicy Couture, and Esprit, and has seven content channels. Topics range from style and beauty tips to a Voyeur page, which dishes up gossipy items about celebrities. There’s also Corner Office, which addresses workplace issues, and Heart, which deals with dating. Winn has even written a column about how she has become a “short-convert.”
Plans for the site include developing a chat room over the next six months, and expanding the assortment to include shoes, additional clothing styles, and accessories. The partners are also in the midst of hiring editors to write copy for the site, and London is aiming to expand into plus-size petites.
Items currently merchandised range from basics, like bras and T-shirts, to dresses, all of which are either petite size or offer the correct cut for petite women. For example, the site promotes styles such as shirts with three-quarter sleeves, which give an illusion of long arms, and empire dresses, which also are lengthening. Current looks go from sexy numbers like Bisou-Bisou’s animal print cropped halter to casual basics, such as J. Crew’s flat-front gabardine pants.
London and Winn said they spent months in stores and showrooms, just trying on clothes.
Rather than carrying the burden of inventory and grappling with knotty logistical shipping issues, the partners instead have formed partnerships with their suppliers. They are taking an undisclosed percentage of sales.
Itsybits.com is expected to break even within three years, London said. London and Winn have raised an undisclosed amount of money from angel investors, and are now looking to raise between $3 million and $5 million in venture capital.
Since the launch, the site has received an average of 50,000 hits per day. That surprised London, noting that they did not do any advertising. What might have helped was a promotion in the June issue of Marie Claire, and a mention on Oxygen.com.
London admits that it is hard to get a lot of sympathy from people about being short.
“It’s not as easy to complain about being short as it is about being plus-size. I don’t have the same problems as Star Jones,” she said.