Among shorter men, it’s called the “tailor tax”: the extra $15 – $25 or more required to get alterations on a new item of clothing. Why? Because for the estimated one in three American men who stand 5’8” or under, clothing typically doesn’t fit properly off the rack.
If this is news to average and taller Americans, consider this: big and tall shops exist for men, but you never see a short and small shop. On the websites of major clothing retailers, short men are invisible. On J. Crew’s online store (which has a petites department for women), “special sizes” for men mean the Slim Shop and the Tall Shop. On the Banana Republic site (which also offers a petites section for women), the only special size category for men is Big & Tall.
Options for short men remain so limited that some men even turn to the children’s department. There’s a stigma felt by men who are short, and as Malcolm Gladwell found, tall men are disproportionately rewarded over their average and short counterparts. Perhaps the big fashion brands don’t want to be associated with that. One fashion blogger went so far as claiming the clothing industry hates short men.
And that’s where Ash and Erie comes in. The new Detroit-based clothing startup, launched today by Eric Huang (5’8″”) and Steven Mazur (5’6″), is selling clothes made specifically for short men.
Huang and Mazur were recent participants in the Venture for America program, a nonprofit that connects graduates with startups in emerging cities. The pair had spent two years in Detroit in the fellowship program, when an advisor challenged Mazur to come up with an idea for his own business. He suggested Mazur start with his everyday problems for inspiration.
“I texted my girlfriend, ‘What do I complain about the most?” Almost immediately, she responded, “I hate going shopping with you,” adding that he gets bummed out he can never find anything that fits. The additional step of tailoring a clothing item purchase adds a delay, cost, and is generally inconvenient.
Mazur consulted Huang about a line of clothing designed for short men. He agreed they were onto something, and they launched an indiegogo campaign in February offering “everyday shirts for the shorter guy.” They had $27,000 worth of preorders by the end of the campaign. That amount plus a $30,000 grant from winning a startup pitch competition is funding the launch of Ash and Erie.
The company is located in Detroit—Mazur is a native, Huang is not—and Mazur says a reason they chose to keep working there after their initial fellowship was “the community is so extremely supportive. People are truly holding each other up and not competing against each other.”
The Ash and Erie website is currently selling the first product, the Everyday Shirt ($69), a preshrunk cotton button-down in sizes to fit men from 5’2″ to 5’8″, which racked up about 100 pre-launch orders without any marketing. In 2016 with some more fundraising, they’ll begin expanding to offer a full line of clothing, including pants (“a huge issue if you’re a shorter guy,” Mazur says), chinos, and knitwear. “We’re pretty committed to growing this thing into something large like a Lane Bryant.”
This story has been corrected to reflect Ash & Anvil’s new name, Ash & Erie.