Vanessa Youshaei is a fierce entrepreneur who is the CEO and Founder of Petite Ave, and she uses her experiences to determine how she runs her company.
Youshaei is a first-generation American, and as the daughter of immigrant parents, she watched them struggle with learning the language, making connections and understanding how things in the United States really worked. All the while, Youshaei was facing her own challenges at school with an overlooked learning disability. It wasn’t until she was a junior in high school that it was diagnosed. “It went undiagnosed because I just worked so hard and people didn’t notice,” she recalled. “Or maybe it was because I went to a private school and they just didn’t have the resources for that, and so at the time it was really, really tough…” Years later, she left her job at Google and became an entrepreneur yearning to start her own business.
Vanessa Youshaei, photographed by Matt Garamy.
Youshaei is a hard worker. Other than the struggle of finding clothing that fit, it was her father who also inspired her. “My dad has his own business so that was definitely a big inspiration for me since I was young,” she said. “I’m five feet tall and I’ve always had trouble finding clothing that fit.” The petite community is underserved in a lot of stores, and Youshaei recounted always seeing a limited selection or unstylish choices.
After spending money on one too many alterations and hunting for the perfect outfit, she began doing research on other brands carrying petite sizes. “I started discovering a lot more brands whether it was in the United Kingdom or a smaller boutique and I thought… Why not have one destination where women under 5’5 can come, shop and find all of the options,” she explained. The online store has partnerships with larger brands like Express, Ann Taylor, Bloomingdale’s and Dorothy Perkins. Customers can shop from all of these stores on one site.
Though Youshaei is proud of her accomplishments, she also admits struggling when it came to leaving her job and building the right team to turn her dream into a reality. “At first it was definitely challenging because I was so used to the Google lifestyle,” she answered.“They usually call it the ‘golden handcuffs’ because you have these top amenities, very structured days, a very cushy lifestyle and [it’s] hard to leave.” The move to entrepreneurship was a new experience, but a harder transition. “I left and all of a sudden I had to figure out my health insurance and how to structure my own days.” When she was testing the idea of having an online store targeting petite women, Youshaei felt motivated by the flood of messages coming in. Women were excited about her business. “I received so many messages from women saying: ‘oh my God; Thank God petite women are getting attention! Why hasn’t this happened before?’” she recalled. “Or people would say I had this idea and I’m so glad someone is doing it.” Already, women were reaching out and explaining how much this was needed in their lives.In the process of doing what she enjoyed– building a company –Youshaei also battled and overcame an illness. Both the illness and disability impacted how she ran Petite Ave. Referring to herself as an “empathetic” manager, she leads by listening and encouraging her team. “I always want [them] to feel like they’re part of the conversation and [that] what they have to say is important,” she said. Because of her past experiences, she included a feature page on Petite Ave’s website to make it a more inclusive community. The website has a diverse range of women who are selected and showcased with a photo and bio. “To me, it’s so important to have this inclusive community [because] I didn’t have that.” Youshaei paused for a moment. “Speaking more broadly to the petite community, I think petite women [are] excluded from the fashion industry,” she observed. “I want Petite Ave to be this champion for women under 5’5 regardless of their background, body shape or anything like that…that’s my ultimate vision”. Yes, the industry is getting better, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
Youshaei offers advice to first-generation Americans who may have gone through similar experiences. “You have entrepreneurship kind of in your blood and all around you as a first-generation American,” she advised. “That should definitely give you the inspiration and grit to start your own business.” Unlike her parents when they first moved to the U.S. years ago, she speaks English, has connections and understands how things work. Youshaei believes, like immigrants, founders also have to figure everything out as they go.She admits to making mistakes on the road to success. Youshaei also advises new founders to pick the right team. “You can’t do everything yourself [and] I definitely had a few missteps where I hired the wrong people and it just slowed things down or, we weren’t getting things done,” she said. “Once you have the right people onboard it makes your days so much easier and more enjoyable, but you’re also able to build a company that much more quickly.”
Since the founding of Petite Ave, there are a lot of features that they are looking to create or improve, including the following:
Youshaei hopes to incorporate clothing from the regular section as well, not just from the petite section.
Why? “We want to find those things for you so we can make things so much easier,” she explained. “We’ll find things that may have shorter inseams or shorter waists and pull those onto our site.”
The site is more than just an online shopping hub. The company hopes to offer tools that guide their customers when they purchase items. Located on their page is a body shape filter, designed to filter items. “I think a lot of people question how [it] works or why [a] certain piece of clothing looks best on [them], so we really want to give a lot of guidance around that, and other things like how to accessorize your clothing,” she exclaimed.
In part with the features, they are looking to create an empowering community of petite women who support each other and ultimately create a movement to influence manufacturers, brands and the fashion industry. Youshaei is amazed by the revolution of acceptance with the plus size community. “If you look at what happened to the plus size community, not too long ago, it’s just amazing,” she expressed. “There’s really been a breakthrough in that space and I’m hoping that we can do the same thing with petite women.”This is just the beginning for Youshaei. If not for Petite Ave, what else would she do? She would democratize healthy living or make an impact with organizations that help students with learning disabilities. “One of the great things about entrepreneurship, [is] if you build a really successful company and you are somebody of influence, then you can actually make an impact at a much larger level,” she said. “Whether that means you invest, influence politics, or do other things because you know so many people and have already made a mark with your company.”
There is a lot in store for Youshaei, whether she is doing research to minimize the number of food deserts in the U.S. or giving motivational speeches and donating money to organizations focusing on kids with learning disabilities.
“I would love to use my influence to make an impact with that community once I’ve been successful with Petite Ave.”
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."