Universal Standard: Making Inclusive Fashion Chic


Danielle Brooks for Universal Standard

Consumers are demanding that fashion brands become more inclusive, particularly when it comes to accommodating more sizes, and chic. Cue Universal Standard, a season-agnostic, direct-to-consumer, plus-size brand launched in 2015 by U.S. fashion journalist Alex Waldman and private equity veteran Polina Veksler, which offers stylish clothing in sizes 10 to 28.

“What Alex and I set out to do is to erase that line that arbitrarily exists just because a size changes,” Veksler told the Business of Fashion. “We do that from every perspective: from the style, the quality and the fit, but also from the visual language perspective.”

Universal Standard has raised $7 million in funding led by Imaginary (the venture firm started last year by Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet and her business partner Nick Brown) with participation from Red Sea Ventures, Goop’s Gwyneth Paltrow, MatchesFashion founders Tom and Ruth Chapman, TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie, SoulCycle’s Elizabeth Cutler and Sweetgreen’s Jonathan Neman and Nicolas Jammet.

The new capital will be invested in fabric innovation and expansion of sizes to 6 to 32, as well as beef up brand marketing and building a nationwide showroom network. The brand also has expanded into size-extended jewelry, active wear, loungewear and workwear.

The plus-size consumer is under-served as existing brands often offer (let’s face it) less than aesthetically pleasing product, and their customers are loathe to invest much in clothing they hope to trade-in when they lose or gain weight.

“We kept seeing this deference to a future self,” Waldman told BoF. “Spending anything over $19.99 became a pain point because it was like making a commitment to your size. We wanted to relieve the anxiety of that purchase decision, from both an emotional standpoint and a financial standpoint.”

That’s why they created the Universal Fit Liberty policy—if a customer’s size fluctuates Universal Standard will replace purchases for one year in the new size for free , donating returned pieces to be laundered and donated to various charities supporting women in need.

“When it comes to showcasing fashion for bigger women, you have a sort of catalogue-from-the-late-’80s aesthetic. They’re just not being taken seriously, and this is what we want to change,” Veksler said.

“The scarcity we’ve had to get used to is quite invisible to those who don’t share our wardrobe problems,” wrote Waldman (who is a size 18) in an essay for the Today Show‘s website. “This is despite the fact that women larger than a size 10 make up a majority of nearly 70%, or nearly 100 million women, in the U.S. alone. The lack of clothing and style options seems inexplicable.”

Universal Standard’s first collaboration was with three plus models: Candice Huffine, Georgia Pratt and Katy Syme. Actress Danielle Brooks’ collaboration filled in gaps in her own wardrobe.

“It was a very selfish collection,” Brooks said. “I was given permission by Alex [Waldman], who said, ‘If you had the freedom to design anything that you always wanted in your closet what would it be?’ This is what I came up with. Luckily, it totally fit the brand of Universal Standard.”

“There are a lot of reasons people gave themselves in order not to participate in this change,” Waldman said. “There are a lot of reasons people gave themselves in order not to participate in this change. Like, ‘Oh it is a brand risk, I don’t want the girl that is a 24 wearing this out because the girl that is a size four won’t want to buy it maybe.’

“There is an intrinsic quality to fashion that is exclusive, but this world is changing and the way we look at things is changing, and what we consider to be beautiful is changing. There is this notion or movement to inclusivity and a much broader understanding of what’s beautiful.”