Universal Standard Is Breaking the Plus-Size Industry with Their Beautiful Clothes
Before an event, Universal Standard cofounder Alex Waldman lamented to her friend Polina Veksler: “I have nothing to wear.” Puzzled, Polina wasn’t convinced that such a thing could be true for someone within such close proximity to Fifth Avenue. But really, Alex had nothing to wear.
“I think that’s when the penny dropped for Polina,” Alex says of her Universal Standard cofounder. “Non-plus women don’t know how difficult it is to find decent plus-size clothing.” The two friends decided to take action by creating their own plus label, introducing elevated, quality clothing to women of every size. “We want Universal Standard to break the plus-size industry,” says Alex, who, along with her cofounder, seeks to make fashion more accountable for its representation of women. “We would really like to lead this movement in the right direction.”
We caught up with these fierce female entrepreneurs to learn more about how their brand shatters the status quo of the plus-size industry and to find out what’s in store for their fashion revolution.
When did you know that you needed to create Universal Standard?
Alex: Clothing is really important. It’s the armor you wear into the world. I wanted to be able to dress in styles that I like and that my non-plus peers can wear. I wanted to dress to reflect how I feel inside. The problem is that the options available for plus-size women are shockingly limited. When I realized there was no mainstream brand that allowed plus-women to look relevant, I knew I had to create one.
Polina: Also, a lot of plus-size clothing that’s available is at a low price point and very “fast fashion.” Certainly there is room for that, but why can’t the consumer also experience quality?
What separates Universal Standard from the plus-size industry?
Alex: We are very thoughtful about the engineering of each garment. It’s not just about making bigger clothes for a bigger body, it’s about making clothes that are flattering on plus-size women and that fit their bodies really, really well. It’s about paying more attention to those details that make something feel wonderful—slightly longer sleeves, a fuller turtleneck, the softest cashmere—and producing that for our customer in a design that celebrates her shape.
Tell me about your (completely revolutionary) Universal Fit Liberty program.
Alex: There’s a huge discrepancy between a woman’s reflection in the mirror and what she actually sees in herself. There’s a bully inside all of us, a pressure that we feel to dress for our future selves—the thinner, smaller, “better” version. We end up with a closetful of clothes with tags still on and we feel like failures. The bully just becomes more and more powerful.
Polina: We knew something had to be done to grant women peace of mind. The Universal Fit Liberty program allows our customer to dress the body she has now, knowing that if she goes up or down in size, we will replace her purchase with the size she needs for free within a year of the first purchase.
Alex: It decreases financial risk, which is a burden that everyone can relate to. And instead of ending up in a landfill, all the pieces that are returned to us are laundered and donated to charities for women who are trying to get back on their feet.
Why is sustainability important for your brand?
Alex: People don’t realize that the apparel industry is second only to the oil industry in terms of environmental damage. From the beginning, we knew that we didn’t want to contribute to the human or environmental cost of fashion, which is driven by volume. Get as much for as little money as possible. We’ve addressed the issue with our Starter Kit (eight pieces, 20 outfits total) so women could have a positive shopping experience and walk away with the clothes they need.
Polina: When clothes are made well, you can stop throwing them away after three washes or relegating items to your pajama drawer. We want our customers to have a wardrobe of beautiful, quality garments that they want to wear, not just a full closet.
Alex: Our goal is to help you simplify your wardrobe, elevate your style and feel good—not just about how fantastic you look, but about the clothes themselves because they are made in decent conditions by people who are paid normal, fair wages.
How is your brand helping create positive female representation?
Alex: We are a women’s brand. Anything that’s good for women is good for us. We pay attention to things that we have the power to correct, and we address those issues as boldly as we can.
Polina: For example, we’re doing a nationwide model search, which is open to women of any age, in the sizes we represent (10 to 28), to become the new face of our brand. We believe that female representation must continue to be more diverse and more interesting, and that is what Universal Standard aspires to demonstrate.
What does the future hold for Universal Standard?
Alex: We recently launched a plus-size jewelry line. It’s not just larger pieces, it’s scaled to look flattering on a bigger body type. Just as we do with our clothes, we design pieces to look native on a plus-size body. I can’t tell you how many times a woman has said to me, “I can’t remember the last time I put a ring on this finger!”
What’s been your favorite feedback?
Polina: When we first launched the Geneva dress—which is a jersey knit that comes in a variety of colors—we had a customer write us and say, “Please make this in white and I will get married in it.” So we made it in a white, French satin-back crepe fabric and sent it to her.
Alex: We get love letters all the time saying, “I’ve been waiting for a brand like this for my entire life!” It really keeps our fire burning.
SHOP: Universal Standard