Polina Veksler and Alex Waldman, names that in due time will make history. Polina and Alex are co-founders of Universal Standard, a clothing company that is redefining the meaning of being “all-inclusive”. Universal Standard focuses on the 67% of women who wear sizes 10-28. Alex is a true pioneer in her perspective field and already has big names to backing up her brand. Danielle Brooks from Orange is the New Black recently collaborated with Universal Standard and created 3 statement pieces in the collection.
In our hopes of shining light on women who are doing amazing things in the business industry, we interviewed Alex to gain a better understanding of what inspired her to build a brand built with the sole purpose of making women feel empowered and beautiful in their own bodies; regardless of their shape.
Did you have an “aha” moment where you realized what it was that you were meant to do?
We’ve had a few “aha” moments throughout the past two years. When we first started Universal Standard in 2015 we did it because we felt like there wasn’t anything like it available in the space. We wanted to be different – to fill a need for women that represent a vastly underserved majority with modern, style-driven, quality-centric options. Our first eight piece collection sold out in six days. That was our first indication that we were on to something bigger than we initially expected. Shortly after that we had a 1,700 person waiting list for our jeans – that was the moment we knew that this was a real business.
Why did you decide to do this nationwide road trip of pop ups and model searches? What do you expect to gain from the tour?
We’ve been very lucky to see tremendous success in the online space within a short amount of time. But, from the full calendar of appointments at our showrooms, to the persistent requests flooding our inboxes, it was clear that there was a desire to experience Universal Standard in person. Not only do we want to give our existing customers what they want, and proactively introduce the brand to the American woman, we also want to give visibility to a majority that has often been ignored by the mainstream fashion industry. We have amazing partners in Nordstrom and The Lions Model Management, through which we’re hoping to demonstrate our commitment to change the apparel-industry and lead the plus size category.
What city are you set to go next?
Austin. The team is very excited for Texas. Especially Houston where we’ll be donating 100% of the profits from the pop-up to One America Appeal to support hurricane relief efforts.
Is there a bigger message behind Universal Standard?
We want to make modern, beautiful, quality clothes – that’s it. Clothing is important. It’s the armor we wear, the way we present ourselves to the world. For so long, not all women have had the ability to present themselves in the way they’ve wanted. We want to help change that. Every woman has the right to look modern and style-relevant regardless of size. Ultimately, we don’t see a future for plus size fashion. We just see fashion. That’s also the message behind the name.
Tell us more about Universal Fit Liberty and why you decided to start the program.
We want women to stop feeling bullied by their size, and to start buying for the person in the mirror – not an imaginary ideal they’ll be next month, or next year. Weight fluctuates whether you’re a size 6, 16, or 26, creating both an emotional rollercoaster and a financial burden. The idea behind Universal Fit Liberty was to remove any anxiety from the shopping experience. If a piece from our core collection no longer fits due to size fluctuation, we’ll replace it in their new size, within a year of purchase, for free. Any pieces we receive back get laundered and donated across charities helping women get back into the workforce.
Did you have any personal experiences in your adolescent life that left an impact? Big enough that inspired you to create a product that’s inclusive of all shapes?
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.
How was your open model casting in LA? Did you have the turnout you hoped for?
There was a varied turnout and we were pleasantly surprised. We’re really looking for new and interesting faces – not just beautiful. When you look at the “straight-size” women’s boards at all the top agencies, there’s so much diversity. We want that same type of representation on the curve boards. We are not looking for beauty queens. You don’t need a full face of make up or high heels. We want to see the modern woman.
What are your Fall fashion must haves?
To me, Fall means sweaters and outerwear. My current favorite is our Beas Coat, which is a super tailored wool coat. It really encapsulates the brand from a style, quality, and fit perspective.
Who inspires you?
There is no shortage of inspiration out there. We think of straight-size brands as our peers. It’s amazing to see the variety, diversity, and ingenuity that’s coming up in the world. That in and of itself is hugely inspirational. But also, as corny as this might sound, I’d have to say our customers are a huge inspiration. We receive so many love letters on a daily basis letting us know that people are loving what we’re doing. That’s really the ultimate goal and very inspiring.
Any advice for new business owners?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. There will be ups and downs – that’s undeniable, but it’s important to always be thinking about the big picture and always trying to make things better.