By Elizabeth Segran
BEHIND THE BRAND
by Ben Sklar
(left) and Polina
to bring down the
plus- and straight-size clothing.
Consider the pencil skirt, a wardrobe staple for working women. The
ideal version should sit snugly at the waist, hug the hips, and taper
down to the wearer’s knees, while still allowing her enough room to
stride (rather than waddle) across a boardroom. A good pencil skirt, in other words, requires the right fit, which is precisely what’s bedeviling Alexandra Waldman on a recent
morning at the New York headquarters of upstart fashion brand Universal Standard.
The company’s cofounder and creative director is scrutinizing a line of seven models,
sizes 6 to 32, all wearing a version of a black pencil skirt with an elegant geometric pat-
tern. “The width needs to be wider on the size 6 so she can walk comfortably,” Waldman
says, making notes for the factory, which will start producing the garment in a week.
“The pattern is bunching up on size 18. What can we do to flatten it?”
Most brands determine the fit of a piece of clothing on a single model, and then
simply increase or decrease it proportionally for other sizes. But when you specialize in
making clothes for the 67% of American women who wear a size 14 or higher, this ap-
proach doesn’t work: Sleeves that reach a woman’s wrist in a size 6, for example, would
touch the floor in a size 30. Waldman and Polina Veksler, Universal Standard’s cofounder
and CEO, decided to create a new
playbook, one that requires unique
adjustments in each size for every
new item they produce.
In the three years since the
company launched, with an eight-item line in sizes 10 to 28, Universal
Standard has rocketed to popularity within the plus-size community, which has been starved for
choice. The brand, known for its
high-end fabrics and minimalist
aesthetic, now includes more than
100 items (usually priced between
$30 and $160), and releases new
styles each week. Items are sold
Universal Standard gained
a cult following for its
plus-size clothing. It’s now
pushing into smaller sizes,
upending the industry
and testing its fan base.