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universal standard co-founder alexandra waldman

Universal Standard Is Making It Easier for Women to Shop

It’s time to start breaking down size barriers.

By: Nandi Howard
Photography: Weston Wells
Interviewer: Stephanie Mark

When you’re a size six or below, you rarely have a problem finding your size. But what about those who arent? Universal Standard founders Alexandra Waldman and Polina Veksler have made it their mission to create a brand for women who feel size anxiety every time they walk into a department store. Friends before they were business partners—Waldman with a fashion background and Veksler having worked in finance—the two collaborated to create the size-inclusive brand of your dreams. After launching in 2015, Universal Standard has become an ally for women of all shapes and sizes, with an online shop and a boutique in downtown Manhattan.

Coveteur got a chance to speak with Alexandra Waldman about the brands growth, how it all got started, and what it means to delve into a lane that hasn’t been mastered.

 

On how the two came up with the idea to start Universal Standard:

“I wear larger sizes, so I’d been thinking about this for many, many years. Polina is tiny, so it’s effectively completely off her radar. My whole world kind of lives behind a veil, and it so happened that we were invited to go to an event, and she was really excited to go and meet new people. I said I’m not going; she asked why, and I said, I have nothing to wear.’ She looked at me like I was insane. She said, What are you talking about? You live two blocks from Fifth Avenue. Let’s go get you something.’ And I said, There’s not a single store on all of Fifth Avenue, arguably, like the most prestigious shopping street in the world, outside of the Champs-Élysées, that I could walk into and buy something in my size.’

“Polina’s a finance professional. She was in private equity, and she worked in commodities and real estate development across Africa. I mean, this is a person who really understands finance. And I really understood, not only fashion, but the specificity of the kind of fashion that we wanted to start with, because even when it was just an idea, we wanted to build something that didn’t exist, which was a brand for women that didn’t segregate anyone off into the furniture floor or some back corner somewhere.”

On what it means to create a size-inclusive brand:

“We knew we wanted to do that, but we couldn’t start off competing with every straight-size brand that’s out there. So we knew we need to learn our trade on the harder end of that scale, which was definitely plus-size, because we felt that no one did plus-size properly. So we planted our flag in a size 10 to size 28, which was within the straight size and outside the traditional plus, to sort of say, we are going to go in both directions, but we are going to cut our teeth on this. And we learned a lot.”

 

On what the initial design and creative process were like:

“We looked at t-shirts that we loved, and every t-shirt we loved seemed to be made in Peru. So we were like, OK, cotton, Peru. That’s where you go. So we called the chamber of commerce and we said, Hi, we’re starting a business, would really love to do this.’ And they said, Well, good luck to you. Bye.’ And we waited a couple of weeks, and we called back and we said, Hi, we’re an American manufacturer, and it’s getting a little expensive for us to manufacture in the United States, and we’re thinking of switching all of our production to Peru; do you think you could help us find factories?’ They flew us to Peru, and we went to Peru Moda.

“They allowed us very, very low minimums, which is huge. It’s everything because when you’re working with factories abroad, the minimums are massive. We didn’t even know if it would work. We couldn’t start off with that. So I was designing, and Polina was moving everything she had to move in order for us to actually be able to manufacture this stuff.”

 

On how they funded the company:

“We bootstrapped our company ourselves. Polina and I put our savings into it, which was a commitment, in the purest sense of commitment. We worked very, very hard. Because this is an inventory business, you need to make stuff and pay for it, so that you can sell stuff and get money. So we got to the point where we had proof of concept, but we needed a lot more money, and very surprisingly, friends actually came out of nowhere and just put a check on the table. By the time it came to our series A, we had some incredible people interested in helping us, including the founder of Net-A-Porter and the founder of Matches Fashion.”

On what we can expect from the brand next:

“We’re going to diversify into various categories. We’re going to continue experimenting with our idea of Tria, which was originally started with three of the top models in the space. We decided that we would give them each one piece to design that they’ve always wanted to have in their wardrobe but could never find, and so we established this Tria, which turned into kind of a series.”

 

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