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How One 'Petite' Woman's Struggle Sparked A Big Business Idea

Business

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:

CLOTHING

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.”

CONTENT

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.

COMMUNITY

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.”
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Politics

Michael Bloomberg Can’t Handle A Woman With A Voice (aka Elizabeth Warren)

Elizabeth Warren majorly called out "arrogant billionaire" Michael Bloomberg for his history of silencing women through NDAs and closed-door settlement negotiations. Sound familiar? Probably because we already have a president like that. At this point, Bloomberg may just spend the remainder of his (hopefully) ill-fated presidential campaign roasting on a spit over a fire sparked by the righteous anger of women. A lesser punishment than he deserves, if you ask me.


At last night's Democratic debate, Michael Bloomberg could barely stammer out an answer to a question on whether or not he would release any of his former accusers from their nondisclosure agreements. His unsatisfactory response was basically a halting list of what he has done for certain nondescript women in his time at City Hall and within his own company.

But that certainly wasn't enough for Elizabeth Warren, nor should it be, who perfectly rephrased his defense as, "I've been nice to some women." Michael Bloomberg is basically that weird, problematic Uncle that claims he can't be racist, "Because I have a Black friend." In a society where power is almost always in the hands of straight, white, cisgendered, men being "nice" to a lucky few is in no way a defense for benefiting from and building upon the systematic silencing of all marginalized communities, let alone women. Stop and frisk, anybody?

Here is a brief clip of the Warren v. Bloomberg exchange, which I highly recommend. It is absolutely (and hilariously) savage.

But let's talk about the deeper issues at hand here (other than Warren being an eloquent badass).

Michael Bloomberg has been sued multiple times, yet each time he was able to snake his way out of the problem with the help of his greatest and only superpower: cold, hard cash. Each time these allegations have come up, in Warren's words, he throws "a chunk of money at the table" and "forces the woman to wear a muzzle for the rest of her life."

As reported by Claire Lampen of The Cut, here are just a few of his prior indiscretions.

  • Pregnancy discrimination—Bloomberg reportedly told a former employee of his to "kill it," in reference to her developing fetus.
  • Sexual harassment—You could literally write a book on this subject (someone did), but for the sake of brevity...
"I'd like to do that piece of meat" - Michael Bloomberg in reference to various women at his company.
  • Undermining #MeToo—Not only did he defend the accused, but he went on the disparage accusers every step of the way.
  • Defaming transgender people—Though he claims to support trans rights, he has also been qupted multiple times as referring to trans women as "some guy wearing a dress."
Yeah... That's not a winning formula for me, Mike.

Furthermore, Warren points out the simple fact that if, as Bloomberg claims, these instances were simply big misunderstandings (He was just joking around!) then why go to all the trouble to cover them up? Does Michael Bloomberg think women can't take a joke? Or can we only surmise that the truth of these events are far darker and dirtier than we could even imagine?

Certain commentators have called Elizabeth Warren's debate presence "agressive," especially in regards to this instance but also continually throughout her entire campaign. If asking poignant questions to known abusers who are seeking to further their own political power is considered "aggressive," then I am here for it. Bring on the aggressive women, please and thank you.

Calling a woman aggressive for being confidant and direct is a gendered complaint. You don't see anyone whining that Bernie is "aggressive" when he goes off on a screaming tangent. Also, have you seen our president? He's basically the poster boy for political temper tantrums. But still, it's Warren that is deemed "aggressive," for honing in on the exact issues that need to be considered in this upcoming election.

This type of derisory label is another aspect of how our society silences women—much like Bloomberg and his NDAs. Because "silencing" is more than just putting a "muzzle" on someone. It's refusing to listen to a person's cries for help. It's disregarding what a woman has to say, because she's too "aggressive." It's taking away someone's power by refusing to truly hear their side of the story. Because if you aren't listening, responding, or even just respecting someone's words, they may well have said nothing at all.

"Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard." - Renecca Solnit

Nondiscolusure agreements are a legal gag for people who have experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of those above them.

Gretchen Carlson, possibly the most famous person subject to an NDA, is one of these people. Her story is so well-known that it has even been immortalized on film, in 2019's Bombshell. Yet she is still forced to maintain her silence. She cannot tell her side of the story even when Hollywood can. She was cajoled into her current position after facing harassment in her workplace. She didn't have the power then to do more than accept her fate. And now, she doesn't have the power to tell her story.

She was, and still is being, silenced.

After her experiences, Carlson was moved to fight for all women to have the power over their truths. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times she declared: "I want my voice back. I want it back for me, and for all those silenced by forced arbitration and NDAs."

Carlson may still be tied to her NDA, but there are those who go a different route. Celeste Headlee, who wrote an op-ed on SWAAY about her experience, chose to break her nondisclosure agreement. Though doing so undoubtedly opened her up to numerous legal ramifications, she knew that she could no longer "sign away [her] right to justice."

Because that is what an NDA is all about, signing away a person's right to justice. Their story is their justice. Their NDA is a lock and key. Headlee may have broken through that lock, but she must face the consequences.

Neither Carlson nor Headlee are any less brave for how they have handled their journeys. They are both actively working to shift the cultural and political norms that led them here, and their work will, with hope and time, lead to real change. But they are just two drops in an ocean of women who are held hostage by their nondisclosure agreements, by men like Michael Bloomberg, and by a society that would rather silence them than let truth and justice be had.