Universal Standard’s Alexandra Waldman: ‘The world doesn’t need another plus-size fashion brand’

When direct-to-consumer fashion company Universal Standard launched in 2015, it challenged the idea of traditional plus sizing. Rather than start at a size 14, like many U.S. clothing companies, Universal Standard’s eight-item line ranged from size 10 to 28. In May 2018, the company expanded its size range from 6 to 32. In October 2018, it stretched that even further for its Foundation Collection line, made up of T-shirts and camisoles. It’s available in sizes 00 to 40.

Market research firm Plunkett Research estimates that 67 percent of American women wear a size 14 or larger. Even so, Alexandra Waldman, co-founder and creative director at Universal Standard, said the brand is moving away from terms like “plus” entirely. “I don’t think the world needs another plus-size fashion brand,” she said.

Clearly, that strategy is paying off for Universal Standard: The brand is on track to triple revenue this year. It recently received a $7 million Series A funding investment from Natalie Massenet’s Imaginary Ventures, Gwyneth Paltrow, and MatchesFashion founders Tom and Ruth Chapman. On the heels of Universal Standard’s first appearance at SXSW and launching its size inclusive denim line last week, Waldman discussed with Glossy the brand’s push toward total inclusivity in 2019.

Where did you see the opportunity was for your Foundation Collection and now your denim line?
Our Foundation Collection, which went from 00 to 40, heralded where we think sizing should go, and that’s toward inclusivity. We became the first brand in the world to offer a completely size-inclusive fashion line and, though that takes a lot of planning and also a lot of inventory, we are really trying to shake things up. We want to take that arbitrary divide between plus and non-plus away, and change the conversation. Our plan, beyond Foundation and now denim, is that by May, everything we make will be available in size 00 to 40, because that’s where we stand. Even when we started — we started at a 10 and went to a size 28, and both of those sizes were outside of what traditional sizing looked like within plus-size brands before.

It’s Universal Standard’s first appearance at SXSW, why did you think it was important to be here?
The topic of our panel is “Plus-Size Fashion Has No Future,” and that name came about because if you are making something for a size 6, there should be no question that you should be making it for a size 20. If there is always going to be a divide or separation between these two camps, it doesn’t matter how good the plus-size fashion brands get, they will still be secondary to whatever else is happening in fashion.  Yes, 100 million women in the U.S. alone are a size 14, but we can’t keep subscribing to those old rules of plus if we want to change it. We see our customer as not someone who is this age or this size. We like the idea of women who seemingly have nothing in common from an archetype point of view all being able to stand on a subway platform and wearing our denim.

What’s your response to other brands introducing plus for the first time, like Anthropologie or 11 Honoré?
I can’t really speak to other brands, but what 11 Honoré is doing is taking from straight size — it’s talking to those designers, who only typically go to a size 6 or 8, and bringing their designs to a greater size range, so that in and of itself is inclusive. For a brand today to launch a separate plus-size line is a little bit like a singer launching their career with cassette tapes. We are so beyond that at this point and really need to speak broader as a fashion industry. We also have a very specific point of view on design at Universal Standard. Plus-size-only lines typically wait to see the trends from the runway or other brands, and then respond. Trends like cold-shoulder are no longer relevant two years later, so we see that divide as being a huge disservice to this customer.

Customers can now find Universal Standard clothing at Nordstrom and also at J. Crew. How has your brand’s approach to retail changed?
Nordstrom sells our own Universal Standard clothing, which you can find on our site, while our capsule collection with J. Crew was separately designed with them because they wanted to change their perception of sizing and do it with us. If I had been able to find my size at J. Crew all those years ago, I may have not started Universal Standard, so this idea of giving more people access wherever they are is tremendously important. But we are still a direct-to-consumer brand first and foremost, and that will always be our focus.

Beyond inclusive sizing within fashion, what other plans does Universal Standard have in 2019?
We are playing with the idea of having more IRL experiences across the country this year, beyond our New York store and our showroom in Seattle. We want to give more physical contact to our clothing and our brand DNA to more women. We also want to go into a lot of different categories this year. We are going into footwear and also menswear — both are in the works and on the horizon.

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