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The Minimalist, Modern Label Plus-Size Fashion's Been Lacking

Photo: Courtesy of Xavier Muñiz/Universal Standard.
Imagine a plus-size line that's sleekly minimalist and crafted in just as high quality as the straight-sized contemporary ones that fashion girls love. That once was mere fantasy, but no more. Introducing: Universal Standard, the just-launched direct-to-consumer collection for sizes 10 to 28. Former fashion journalist turned finance marketer Alexandra Waldman launched the line together with Polina Veksler, who also worked in finance. “Especially as somebody who used to write about fashion, I’ve always felt like I was allowed to look but not touch. I thought it was time to start changing that up a bit,” Waldman says of being plus and into fashion.

As for the line's aesthetic? Think “modern, clean, interesting lines, in the vein of Theory, Vince, and Helmut Lang," Waldman explains. But the pricing is certainly gentler than any of those labels — most items run from $100 to $160, with some pieces in the $70 range; the biggest ticket purchase is a $390 Peruvian alpaca wool coat.

Initially, Universal Standard wasn’t intended to be a direct-to-consumer business model: “We wanted to have the same type of quality as [retail] brands,” Waldman says. “Once we started sourcing fabrics and working with factories, we realized that the traditional wholesale-retail model would not allow us to price these garments in line with what we thought our customers would be willing to pay.” Veksler compares the pricing to Club Monaco or J.Crew, “or maybe a little lower, even.” Though they’re currently solely selling through their own site, Waldman and Veksler are looking into partnering with other brands or e-comm outlets eventually.
Photo: Courtesy of Xavier Muñiz/Universal Standard.
“What’s out there is lacking a modern sensibility. There are more and more players coming into the field, but they all pander to either curvy girls’ uber-sexy boobaliciousness, or a quite conservative ‘aunt who dresses nicely in slacks’ sensibility,” Waldman says.

But Universal Standard isn't just offering an alternative to the revealing-or-conservative duality of plus-size clothing. Waldman and Veksler saw some serious room for improvement in terms of quality. “The plus-size market has had a captive audience for so many decades; they really make the cheapest, most disposable clothing you can possibly make, and there’s zero thought into the stuff that’s out there,” Waldman says. “Regular-sized clothes almost always have some form of stretch, because it’s just more comfortable. But plus-sized clothing often does not; it’s an extra expense brands don’t need to incur, because people will buy anyway."

The duo began working on the line last October, and decided early that every single piece would contain elastane. They also engineered their own fabric so it wouldn’t pill as easily as most cotton-based textiles do: “We wanted to create fabrics that don’t look like they stretch, but they actually do,” Waldman explains. Beyond a healthy dose of flexibility, Universal Standard's pieces are micro-graded from size to size "in a thoughtful way," Waldman says, whereas other brands simply add a set number of inches of fabric as sizes go up.

The debut collection is made up of eight core pieces, available for pre-order now, and shipments begin in mid-October. Expect 15 additional styles to be released later this fall. "There’s desperate need in the market for a line like this, Veksler says. "There is such huge demand and lack of supply, and we want to offer something new and different." Better quality and cooler styles? That's change we can get behind.