BEHIND THE BRAND I UNIVERSAL STANDARD
Marie Denee, a marketer who writes the popular Curvy Fashionista blog, acknowledges that “plus-size fashion is emotionally charged. There’s a political side to it. You
have to be socially aware of what’s happening and where the customer is when you
start making these changes, or else you’re going to lose her.” She explains that members of the plus-size community were put off by the bluntness of Universal Standard’s
announcement of its extended range: “Plus-size fashion is over,” the company declared
on Instagram. Others are concerned about the investment by Paltrow, whose lifestyle
brand Goop is not known for size inclusivity. Many are watching the label’s
next moves warily. “Social media was the fuel that amplified the growth of
plus-size fashion,” Denee notes. The cohort that helped Universal Standard
grow could turn against it.
The founders are sympathetic but firm. “Whenever you take on something
big, you have to expect resistance,” Veksler says. “In some ways resistance is a
good thing because it shows that what you’re doing is revolutionary.” Waldman
notes that the brand has also pushed up into larger sizes that aren’t offered by
many plus-size brands—a testament to her company’s commitment to inclusivity. In a sign that their plan is working, J.Crew recently began selling a Universal Standard
capsule collection in sizes 0 to 32 at all of its stores and online.
Massenet, who has spent her career in luxury fashion, sees opportunity in the move
to smaller sizes, especially if other retailers begin carrying Universal Standard: “By creating a brand that can be sold alongside every other designer brand and be size inclusive,
that’s ultimately the greatest gift [the founders] can give their original customer base.”
Designer Christian Siriano, who is known for his plus-size red-carpet dresses, shares
this view. He recently opened a New York concept store, called the Curated, where he
sells Universal Standard alongside his couture gowns—with no distinction between size
categories. “In my world, there’s a rack of dresses, one is a 6 and one is a size 18,” he says.
“Whatever size you are, if you want to buy a dress, you should be able to buy a dress.”
When Universal Standard de-
buted its smaller-size garments
in May—and promptly sold out of
many of them—it demonstrated
that a plus-size brand could attract
any woman. But many loyalists
saw the move as a betrayal. “I’m
so sad at this,” one Instagram user
wrote in response to Universal
Standard’s post announcing its new
sizes. “[The brand] was something
the plus-size community had all
to ourselves, actual stylish clothes
made of actual good materials,
actually tailored for us.” Other us-
ers expressed fear that Universal
Standard would inevitably start
deprioritizing its original fan base.
“If ‘plus size’ women are not the
first women I see on your site,” one
woman wrote, “I’m over it.”
How does an outdoor-clothing
pioneer sustain the nickname
Patagucci without losing its street
cred? By never straying from
its purpose-driven marketing.
How eight brands managed (or mismanaged) their efforts to appeal to new demographics
Though its system of razors and
creams are specifically designed
for—and marketed to—African-
American men, five-year-old Bevel
has been embraced by Caucasian
men, confirming founder Tristan
Walker’s thesis that “global
culture is led by American culture,
which is led by black culture.”
Known for creating ultrafunctional
parkas for ultrapractical Northerners,
the Toronto brand became a status
symbol for people in milder climes by
dressing visiting film crews and celebs.
The personal-care brand
made its name by catering to
African-American women with
formulations for thick, curly
hair. But a 2016 campaign fea-
turing white women—an effort
to attract a wider audience—
led to threats of a boycott.
The company apologized, say-
ing it “really f—ed this one up.”
After championing diverse sitcoms
such as Black-ish and Fresh Off
the Boat, the network decided to
go after the “heartland” by reboot-
ing Roseanne earlier this year.
The strategy backfired—and the
show was canceled—when its star
and cocreator fired off a (not
entirely unexpected) racist tweet.
The network has since picked
up a Roseanne-free spin-off show.
The luxury handbag maker lowered prices
(and quality) to appeal to a wider audience
in the early 2000s. The effort boosted
revenue temporarily but diluted the brand,
which is still trying to regain status.
By dressing its power-
ful iMac in daring
in 1998, the once-
geeky brand made
a consumer product
great design into
its corporate ethos.
The budget airline for the vacationing
masses rolled out a business-class
cabin, called Mint, in 2014. Rather
than alienate no-frills fliers, it gave
them something to aspire to.
“WHENEVER YOU TAKE
ON SOMETHING BIG,
YOU HAVE TO EXPECT
CEO POLINA VEKSLER.