We sat down with Jenny and her husband Matt, co-founders of Petite Studio NYC. Jenny grew up in China and moved to New York City to work in real estate, but her true love was always fashion. She explained how she used to have to shop in the kids department to find clothes that fit her. She noticed the petite customer wasn’t being served, and she wanted to create a fun and exciting brand for petite women. While still working full time, she launched Petite Studio in 2016. Matt and Jenny shared with us what they learned launching a company together, how they eventually made it their full time jobs, and their goals for Petite Studio over the next few years. Jenny and Matt have entrepreneurial spirits and find their power serving the petite community and making sure their customers feel confident and powerful in everything they wear.
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Jenny where did you grow up and where did you start your career in fashion?
Jenny: I was born and raised in China in a small town near Shanghai. I majored in finance in college in China. I moved to New York City for graduate school. I went to New York University for a real estate program. I started with my first job at an investment firm. Growing up, I always wanted to create a fashion brand, and I started working on this company in my last job.
Have you always been creative?
Jenny: I come from a family of business people. They have been running their company for years. It was 1919 when they started their company. I watched my parents running a business and working very hard for their entire lives. I watched them be creative and explore different opportunities. My parents really encouraged me to study finance and real estate, but I always had a really creative eye. I didn’t go to school for fashion, but I started reading pattern making books in my free time.
When did your interest in fashion start?
Jenny: Growing up I always loved fashion. I loved shopping. I always knew I wanted to start my own brand. I’m 5’ 2”, and I have trouble finding the pieces that really fit me. I used to have to shop in the kids section sometimes. I had this struggle, and I knew I wanted to start a fashion brand to fix it. For 6 to 8 months, Matt and I really did the research to dive into the market and the ideas became more mature. We identified a need in the market that had a lot of petite women. We felt we could make shopping for petites more fun and exciting.
How do you differentiate yourself from big brands in the market?
Matt: We always said that this line was not going to be fast fashion. We wanted to provide Petites with something special, not just something cheap that would fall apart after a season. Thats why we implemented slow fashion techniques; we’re taking our time with production, designing with elongating principles that flatter petites, and putting in the extra care in garment construction that makes the pieces last. In short we wanted to make a line of investment pieces; yes they will cost a little more, but they will be in your closet for years.
Matt, do you have a background in retail?
Matt: No, my background is in finance. I worked for 10 years in investment banking and private equity and never planned to leave. I was focusing on my main career in PE, but in 2017 we saw the business really taking off, and we realized it was really resonating with petites like Jenny who were frustrated with the choices out there. We saw demand start to really grow, and we had to really sprint to keep up with it! Jenny was basically dragging me out the door to focus on it full time, so I finally joined the team full time in 2018.
When did you first launch Petite Studio?
Jenny: It first launched in August 2016. We moved into a showroom location in Soho, November 2018. We have been here for about 8-9 months with a team of 7-8. We had a small office and just basically outgrew it. As we continued to grow we really wanted to have a proper flagship store where we could meet our customers face to face and provide a really unique shopping experience. We opened our flagship store on Howard Street in November of last year. Today we have our full design studio and marketing team in our office at the same location as our flagship store. Now the team is 15 people in New York, and we have a team in China.
Can you share your creative vision for Petite Studios?
Jenny: We normally do 4 seasonal collections and sometimes we do co-designs with influencers we love. Inspiration for our core styles is very New York with a mix of vintage and modern. Every collection is inspired by Soho, red brick buildings, and old historic Italian bakeries. It has a vintage feel, but modernized to make it new.
How did you launch the brand?
Jenny: We launched online first and we had our first showroom in 2017 and we had some pop-ups. It was always online. I like seeing people in person, and the customer is always so excited when they find pants that are cropped and fit. That’s the vision actually happening.
What is the largest challenge you faced with launching and running your business and how did you overcome it?
Jenny: Because it’s your own business sometimes, I start to work almost too hard. Since I communicate with China a lot, I also am communicating with the factories daily and there is a 12-hour time difference, so I went to bed around 2:00am. When you have your own business. All of your time is taken by your business and it’s hard to balance your family, friends or life.
Matt: We said from the beginning is that if this is going to last for years we need to focus on production, and we need to find factories we really trust. We didn’t want factories that were all about volume. We wanted one factory that we would give all of our business, and that we could really influence how things are made. For example: whenever we can we have real bindings on our seams, which makes it cost more but increases the life of the garment. We said to the factory, we are locking arms with you, but we want to have control over the process. The factory happens to be in Jenny’s home town. They give us a lot of control over how everything gets made.
Also, I think because Jenny and I are married there are certain challenges of working with your spouse! We started Petite Studio shortly after we got married in 2016. And we had to learn how to work together really well. We really had to learn to compromise with each other; some of it was me letting her take the lead on her strengths and her letting me take the lead on my strengths. But we work great together now and that’s one of the things of which I am most proud of.
What tips would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Jenny: Just do it! I’m not the kind of person that would take a ton of time to make a perfect plan, I’m just the type of person that wants to dive right in. When we started our website, it wasn’t great, the product wasn’t perfect, but we got some good positive feedback and could see there was a real need for a trendy, high quality petite brand. Often when it’s your company, you want it to be perfect, but it’s not possible. The best way is to just test it and see if your product resonates with customers.
Also find your peer. Find someone that is doing the same thing, that you can talk to, even someone that is a step forward. We are 15 people right now, but we like to have mentors and contacts have a company of 30 people. They have probably experienced what we have experienced, and have figured out how to overcome it.
Another tip, don’t quit your job till you know it’s working! Sometimes people quit their job, spend all this money, and it doesn’t work. Don’t just quit your job before you have a proven concept. Try it while you have something else to help pay the bills. Put it in front of customers, and if it works and has momentum, then at that point you can stop doing what you were doing previously.
What are your goals for Petite Studio right now?
Matt: We really like the in-store experience to be amazing, and we get a lot of great feedback on it. We get a lot of people asking when we are going to come to Los Angeles and Chicago. But our #1 priority is how we are we going to give the customer a great experience and respond to their questions and concerns quickly. And then getting to other big cities. We would also love to open in Toronto and Shanghai before long.
What’s your favorite product?
Jenny: The matching pants and the blouse. It’s one of our most signature pieces. It’s very easy and versatile. It’s not too crazy. It can be worn to a meeting or more casual. It can be worn in lots of environments. It’s a little edgy but not too edgy.
What does it mean for you to be powerful?
Jenny: Empowering others is really what makes me feel powerful. Being able to build a product that is perfect for someone who has maybe felt neglected by other brands is really rewarding. Hearing positive feedback from the petite community really lights up my day!
Matt: Our vision was never for Petite Studio to be a huge billion dollar brand. We aren’t going to build a mediocre product and just try to push huge volumes. We’re taking our time with it as an indie brand and just trying to build really special collections. For us we feel empowered when we serve our community of petite customers really well.
Shop and learn more about Petite Studio online.