On Tuesday, Universal Standard, a direct-to-consumer plus-size brand of modern essentials, will unfurl “Set the Standard,” the company’s first ad campaign.
The campaign, which will appear on its web site, universalstandard.net, was inspired by some of the most recognizable fashion photography (think Kate Moss, Brooke Shields and Claudia Schiffer), images that have shaped cultural understanding of style and beauty. The “Set the Standard” campaign features plus-size model Marley Parker striking similar poses. The campaign was conceived in collaboration with Narrative, a creative agency, and was shot by photographer Heather Hazzan. Looks from the campaign will be available for purchase on Tuesday.
Universal Standard, which launched in September 2015, is a direct-to-consumer brand for women sizes 10 to 28. Starting with the premise that clothes should look and feel good, the partners design their own fabrics. “Everything is different. From the way we source our fabrics and the engineering in our garments, to the care we put into our packaging and our attention to customer service,” said Polina Veksler, cofounder and chief executive officer.
“I’m the end-user of the product,” added Alexandra Waldman, cofounder and chief creative officer, who herself is a plus-size customer. “You get used to ‘look, but don’t touch.’ It’s always been a pain point,” she said about shopping for fashionable clothing. “I was always in a constant state of choosing the best of the worst. I was constantly settling,” she said. She said some department stores hide the plus-size fashion near the furniture departments. “Once you start to look, what you see is quite shocking,” she said.
To that end, Waldman and Veksler set out to make shopping for plus-size fashion a much better experience. Today, 67 percent of all women in the U.S. are size 14 and over, Veksler pointed out.
Admiring such brands as Theory, Vince and Rag & Bone, Waldman wanted to design a line that had high quality, but a minimalist aesthetic. “I wanted to do something similar. This customer is not used to these contemporary price points, so we thought, ‘why not do it direct to consumer?’ That’s the future.”
The brand started with eight pieces that were posted on the web site on Sept. 21, 2015, and eight days later, everything sold out. Business has been growing between 200 and 300 percent a month. The company, which started with just Veksler and Waldman, now has 10 employees.
Waldman said when she designs, she takes into account certain requirements, such as having stretch in the garments, using fabrics that won’t pill, and designing so that buttons don’t pop open when a woman sits down.
The collection retails from $40 to $120, with some cashmere sweaters and baby alpaca wool coats going from $160 to $390. The web site adds one new style a week, and there are about 38 styles on the site. “It keeps the customer coming back,” said Waldman.
One of their bestsellers is called the Geneva dress ($120), which is ruched on one side and straight on the other. It comes in five colors and is made of Peruvian cotton with built-in stretch.
The line includes dresses, sweaters, tank tops, vegan leather skirts, jersey pencil skirts, T-shirts, turtleneck capes, tunic dresses, puffer jackets and outerwear. “These are things I want to wear,” said Waldman. She said she would eventually like to become a full-service lifestyle brand for the bigger body.
The collection’s sizing runs from XS to XL, and 10 to 28. The company has also designed jeans that retail for $90, and there are 1,700 people on the waitlist.
In addition to its collection, Universal Standard is also doing a special capsule called Tria for Universal Standard, where three well-known plus-size models, Candice Huffine, Katy Syme and Georgia Pratt were asked, “What would you make, if you could make anything?” Pratt, for example, designed a shirtdress; Syme designed a short kimono dress, while Huffine designed a red carpet T-shirt. The looks will be released in February. The models were photographed together in their looks by Lilly Cummings.
Waldman believes she’s hit a nerve with this line. “People are beginning to notice and pay attention. People can break down in tears. When you can participate [in fashion], it’s very emotional,” said Waldman, who has received lots of letters and e-mails from plus-size customers thanking them for understanding their needs.
In addition to an online business, Universal Standard offers a showroom where customers can book an appointment, come to the New York showroom at 256 West 36th Street, work with one of their stylists, and items will be delivered to their home, with free shipping and free returns.