There's been one question that's lived with me for years. Why are not there more trousers for tall, slim men available? Finding trousers I've both liked and actually fit me has been a struggle since my teens.
The answer, of course is that tall men are a small market – and tall and thin is even smaller than the well-known association between 'big' and 'tall'. Mainstream high street retailers just are not interested in us. Their overheads are high, and they believe there just is not sufficient volume in the market for them.
Where do you find clothes that fit in retail outlets, how many times have you faced with substantially higher prices than equivalent garments for more averagely proportioned shoppers?
Things are even tougher in the UK and Europe than the US because some global fashion brands manufacture trousers for tall thin men, but do not make them available on this side of the Atlantic.
A while back, I saw all these difficulties as an opportunity.
Setting up shop online
As the Internet has evolved and more and more people are happy to shop for clothing online, I no longer had to take on the same problems faced by the volume retailers. The higher costs associated with developing and manufacturing ranges for a reliably small marketplace can be offset against the lower costs of operating online.
Setting up my new brand, Alto Clothing, online is the only way I can offer my clothes to people. I'm selling direct, so the extra costs involved in short production runs can be offset against the savings made by eliminating the high street shop. The lower costs associated with the Internet make my business viable.
The opportunity offered by the Internet for Alto Clothing is the same as for many specialist businesses, in all kinds of markets – it lowers costs and increases the potential market size.
Sourcing tall man's clothing
I have a great looking Web site designed by a central London agency, supported by some very effective Search Engine Optimization. By and large, I'm getting to grips with the online part of my business. But, even though Alto Clothing sells 100% online, the challenges are offline.
Finding suppliers equipped to make the sizes I need, and who have a long-term vision strong enough to set up production runs small enough for a start-up in a niche market, has been, shall say, interesting.
"200? Do not you mean 20,000?" became a depressing familiar response as I contacted prospective suppliers. I've had to balance the choice between using more expensive European-based suppliers, who are happier to provide smaller quantities with lower-priced far-eastern suppliers who demand larger orders.
And then there are my ethical principles to factor in. I've been checking, as much as possible, that Alto is not choosing suppliers who employ child labor, use questionable Health & Safety standards and other dubious practices.
Luckily, I've been able to use my experience both as a consumer and in a previous men's fashion business to find suppliers who can provide the specialized sizes my customers need.
Lessons for start-ups
Securing the kind of edgy or younger clothes for the vision I have for the Alto Clothing brand continues to be the biggest challenge as Alto grows in its critical first couple of years.
My advice for start-ups, now I've been through more than one? Look at all aspects of your business. Try to foresee as many pitfalls as you can, but accept that you can never expect them all. The real challenges are quite often in the most surprising places. You just have to tackle them with persistence and enthusiasm; there's almost certainly a solution there somewhere!