The Big Idea? Catering to Booming Petite Market

ByABC News
May 30, 2002, 1:20 PM

June 6 -- Actress Cheryl Ladd has appeared in more than 50 TV shows, series and features, and made it to the cover of multiple magazines. But when she goes shopping, she has a hard time finding clothes that fit.

"I find outfits that are just sensational," says the former Charlie's Angel. "And then I put them on and the sleeves are too long, the jacket is too long and I have to get everything almost remade for me.

That's because at 5-feet, 4-inches tall, Ladd is considered petite. And her struggle to find clothes her size is a plight she shares with the 43 percent of American women who are also petite, according to data from marketing information company NPD Group.

INTERACTIVE: Where Do You Fit on Size Scale?

Yet those 48.7 million petite women accounted for $9.5 billion of retail spending in 2001, or 11 percent of the $89 billion all women spent on clothes not far from the cash spent by teens and plus-sized women, says Marshal Cohen, co-president of NPD Fashionworld.

"With those kinds of figures, the petite market is one that's begging for more attention," Cohen argues.

A Growth Spurt?

The petite market has been showing signs of growth over the past five years, becoming the largest growing retail sector in 2001, data shows.

While the overall apparel market declined by 4 percent last year, for example, sales in the petite sector actually grew by 12 percent, heartily boosting the bottom lines of top petite brand makers Liz Claibourne Petites, Briggs, Alfred Dunner, Ralph by Ralph Lauren, NiGard and Tag Harbor.

A petite spurt could be helped further as baby boomer women with lots of discretionary income pass 50 years of age and inevitably lose some inches off their height, says fashion consultant Mary Lou Andre.

So why haven't more manufacturers jumped on the petite bandwagon?

Designers tend to get caught up in designing to the industry standard size 8, explains Cohen, and any other variations on the line either go upwards for plus-sizes or downwards for the missy-teen sizes in styles petite women aren't likely to wear.