The fashion industry isn’t exactly known for being inclusive in terms of race, size, age, and beyond. And while there have been strides made recently by certain designers and stores, there is still plenty of room for improvement. That’s where Universal Standard comes in. Started by friends Alexandra Waldman and Polina Veksler, the line is a direct-to-consumer brand for women sizes 10-28 that makes fashion stylish at any size. Their first collection sold out in only six days and they just finished a series of nationwide pop-ups in Nordstrom to bring their chic, accessible clothing to women all over! We need more women like them in our lies and on our runways!
What initially led you to the fashion world?
Alex: I’ve been ‘plus’ for my entire adult life, so I have an intimate understanding of the lack and the needs in this space. I was never able to dress the way I wanted – always settling for what “worked” instead. One of my turning point moments came later in life while I was working as a fashion editor for The Japan Times, which was ironic because I was writing about fashion that I couldn’t participate in.
I was given an assignment to interview Karl Lagerfeld. My excitement to meet him quickly turned to dread once I realized I had nothing to wear – finding plus in Japan is impossible. In a panic I went to the Gap where I purchased an XL men’s button-down. That’s what I wore to interview one of the most highly respected and influential fashion designers of all time. It was embarrassing to say the least, and definitely highlighted the imperative need for change in this industry.
And how do you two connect to form this business?
Alex: In 2015, Polina and I were discussing going to an event over the weekend and she didn’t believe me when I told her that there is not a single store on all of 5th Avenue where I can go and buy clothes. So, I told her that I’d show her the world I live in as a size 18 woman, and we walked to a nearby department store, where I led her to the furniture floor.
There, nestled among the non-stick pans and throw pillows, was the plus-size department. It clicked – there was a huge problem, and I wasn’t alone. Not long after that, we left our jobs (me in marketing and Polina in finance) and made my New York City apartment Universal Standard HQ. We created our first eight-piece collection of modern essentials, with a chic, downtown but classic aesthetic and it sold out in six days. The rest is history!
What is a typical day like for you?
Polina: No day is the same for us! One day we’ll be working on a new piece or line and the next day we are planning our next collaboration or pop-up event. It’s full speed ahead in all directions!
How do you balance your personal and professional lives?
Polina: It’s tough to balance the two. The truth is, you have to be willing, and able, to sacrifice a lot of family time – especially in the first few years. It’s very important that you have the right level of support from your spouse or significant other. If I didn’t have the total support of my family I’m pretty sure I would not be doing this.
What is the best part of your job?
Alex: Definitely the reaction we get from our customers. It really motivates us when we receive heart-felt letters from our customers about how we’ve changed their lives in our own little way.
And the toughest?
What does “body positivity” mean to you?
Alex: Body positivity is an important personal journey. Having access to great clothes is something very different altogether.
We feel it’s important to think of fashion and body positivity as complimentary but separate things. I shouldn’t have to talk about how I feel about my body every time I want to buy a dress. Muddying the waters between these two important, but separate, issues is another way of keeping plus-size separate from the mainstream.
What advice would you give your 16 year old self?
Polina: You can do anything.
Alex: Find a way to do what you love and feel passionate about. That’s the thing you’ll be better at than anything else you might try.
What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Polina: Bite off more than you can chew – and chew it.
Alex: Every once in a while, you have to give yourself no other option but to win!
What is next for the brand and you both?
Alex: In short – everything! We have some amazing new initiatives coming up across many different categories – so definitely watch this space for the sort of things you’ve never seen available to women in double-digit sizes!
Polina: There are so a lot of new and exciting things on the horizon. We’re launching a new Tria Collection with Danielle Brooks in November, which we’re very excited about. More into the future, we’re planning to introduce new categories, and more collaborations and projects. It’s just the beginning for US.