PSFK sits down with Universal Standard's co-founder, whose beloved brand is the most size-inclusive brand on the market, about building community and rethinking ecommerce

In Brief:

  • Universal Standard is history's most inclusive clothing brand, with size runs that go from 00 to 40. While founded as a DTC company, the brand recently launched 1:1, brick-and-mortar concept stores in three cities, with more on the way.
  • Despite a growing consumer base that increasingly values inclusivity, the fashion industry is notoriously unwilling to embrace size diversity. The label has connected with its audience through acceptance, attention to detail and weekly drops.
  • PSFK spoke with Alexandra Waldman, Universal Standard's co-founder and chief creative officer, about how her brand is changing the industry from the inside.

What led you to found Universal Standard?

Access was incredibly limited, especially for the 67% of women in the U.S. who wear a size 14 or above. As friends, my business partner Polina and I couldn’t shop together. In fact, I felt as if I could hardly shop at all—my options were always in a small corner of the store with the worst polyester you could imagine. It felt unfair and it made no sense to us that access to great style, quality and respect was somehow still not allotted to all of us. So we decided to create Universal Standard and find a way to create that access.

Were there any challenges in terms of producing such a broad range of sizes?

Many! A big part of creating Universal Standard has been finding a way to say yes where the industry has previously said no way. Traditional fashion brands tend to use one fit model and base all sizing off that one set of measurements. We found out quickly that this approach wasn’t going to work for us. It was like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. So we came up with our own, new way: micro-grading. The design intention is maintained across all sizes, as is the excellence of the fit.

How is Universal Standard improving the ecommerce experience?

We tried to create a shopping experience that women will actually love. Earlier this year, we launched “See It In Your Size” across our website, which lets shoppers click a button and transform the entire website into their particular size. We thought about how nice it would be for our customer to know, with confidence, what a product might look like on her body. Again, it’s about representation and making everyone feel considered.

How is your brand addressing sustainability and transparency in the supply chain?

We are not a fast fashion brand. And we believe in choosing well, and buying less. A lot of people don’t realize, but the apparel industry is second only to the oil industry in terms of pollution. Landfills are heaping with discarded or unsold fast fashion. The environmental impact we make as a brand is very important to us, and we are in a constant state of searching for innovation and factories that are aligned with best practices.

We’ve also been doing an annual denim drive where we invite our customers to send us any two pairs of old jeans they have, in exchange for a brand new Universal Standard pair. All the denim collected goes to Jeans Go Green, where they are converted into housing insulation.

How do your stores serve as a physical embodiment of your brand ethos? How do you ensure that people who may be very different sizes have the same great, high-touch experience?

We think shopping should extend beyond the screen—it should be an experience, not just a transaction. Having built Universal Standard out of frustration that we, as friends, we could not shop together, the 1:1 apartment retail spaces are in many ways the antidote to that. It’s a space for all of us, as we are, to share as a community. Each physical store has an assortment of styles available in sizes 00-40, so shoppers can have the unique Universal Standard experience.

Universal Standard 1:1 is designed to serve not only individual shoppers, but also the community at large, with the space available for individuals to use to explore their own interests, host meetups and mixers, and really make the space their own.

What are some of the broader trends that you're seeing affect retail today?

Today, people are looking for more than a simple commercial transaction from the brands they love. A sense of community, the feeling that a brand actually cares about its customers and not just their purchasing power is speaking to the need for authenticity and earnestness. This is one of the reasons we have begun to establish our 1:1 spaces across the country. People want an experience, they want to know that you as a brand are on their side, and that you stand for something.

Alexandra Waldman, co-founder of Universal Standard

Universal Standard

Lead image: Universal Standard