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Universal Standard Doubles Down on Their Perspective of Plus Size Fashion

Universal Standard Doubles Down on Their Perspective of Plus Size Fashion

At South by Southwest last week, Alexandra Waldman, the founder of Universal Standard, held a panel on the state of plus size fashion with the title, “Plus-Size Fashion Has No Future.” Now, if you don’t know, Universal Standard is a brand that launched in 2015, as a contemporary plus size brand.

I know, I know…

Since their launch, they have been very fortunate to receive investments and funding to achieve great amounts of press and secure innovative partnerships and collaborations. But, as they’ve seen their success, they are now trying to distance themselves from the place and the space that gave them this platform.

Intentions and perception.

“The world doesn’t need another plus-size fashion brand” Alexandra Waldman, the founder of Universal Standard

Universal Standard WorkWear Collection
Universal Standard WorkWear Collection

Most recently, Waldman was interviewed in Glossy about her SXSW panel and doubled down on her stance and perspective of where plus size fashion is and where it needs to be. A stance that has ruffled many feathers throughout the community and industry.

“We want to take that arbitrary divide between plus and non-plus away and change the conversation.”

On the idea for the SXSW Panel, Waldman further breaks this thought process down:

“That name came about because if you are making something for a size 6, there should be no question that you should be making it for a size 20. If there is always going to be a divide or separation between these two camps, it doesn’t matter how good the plus-size fashion brands get, they will still be secondary to whatever else [emphasis ours] is happening in fashion. “ Alexandra Waldman

Girl. Girl. No.

See, her perspective is not new. This conversation from Universal Standard has evolved and has become more pointed from a year or so ago, when the brand posted a frustratingly tone def Instagram post, following it up with a blog post about their perspective.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BfYRCy7jpfX/

Not only did this send waves throughout the plus size community, with their interesting and head-scratching stance on how body positivity doesn’t belong in plus size fashion, their refusal to hear and listen to WHY it was dismissive, and infuriating was even more disappointing.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BfglEUAAozj/

Now, if you’re part of the community or if you’re part of the plus size industry, then you know that these two issues instinctively go hand in hand. Looking at the evolution of plus size fashion, it is because of fat politics (hello, NAAFA) and fat-acceptance that opened the doors for plus size fashion. It is because of fat politics and plus size fashion that allowed body positivity this space.

They are intrinsically linked!

If you are new here, Hey girl hey… But let me just inject a little of my background, so you know where I am coming from. Asides from being a Virgo with a Capricorn Moon, I am a marketing nerd. I hold my MBA in Marketing, have 10 years of running this blog turned digital platform.

And before that, I held various roles in retail for 12 years.  I say all this to say, I know a little bit about the business of plus size fashion.

Okay… About Social Responsibility

So, what happens when you have someone who is plus sized, who has wanted to her own space, has this amazing clothing line, the ears of mainstream media, who’s voice reverberates throughout the community, who says something like “Plus-Size Fashion Has No Future?”

It is dangerous. It smacks in the face of the work that has been done for the past 15 years. It is tone-def.

A brand, even The Curvy Fashionista, has a social responsibility to the very community it serves. While my advocacy happens behind closed doors, on the phone, or face to face, it happens. And every once in a while, it spills over here… and here we are.

While I understand this sentiment and what Waldman is trying to say, this is not it, girl. On its face, this can discourage brands from expanding into plus, give marketing departments a soundbite to run with, or remove access to the independent plus size brands who are looking to secure funding.

Universal Standard New Plus Size Essentials Collection
Universal Standard New Plus Size Essentials Collection

This comment. This platform. This mindset is very dangerous.

Words have meanings and, in this day and age, we have to be responsible with them, especially as the plus size industry is still seeing tremendous growth- which has only fueled and ushered in Big & Tall clothing!

“Plus-size-only lines typically wait to see the trends from the runway or other brands, and then respond. Trends like cold-shoulder are no longer relevant two years later, so we see that divide as being a huge disservice to this customer.” Alexandra Waldman

*Deeps sighs*

This USED to be an issue. Used to be. Over the past for or five years, production and design have gotten better. Brands delivering on time and on trend. The rise of fast fashion and contemporary plus size fashion has addressed this… so….

I mean… dude.

The inroads that the plus size fashion industry and fashion community have made over these past 10 years has been for calling out, for creating, for inclusion! While it would be ideal to go into any and every store and to have access from from 0 to 40, as a Community or as an industry, we are not there yet.

The Transformers Collection by Universal Standard- Organza Sash
The Transformers Collection by Universal Standard- Organza Sash

Girl, we are still trying to figure out our own style. We’re still learning our value. And as a whole, we’re still learning where and what brands actually cater to us. We are still pushing for mainstream brands to even understand and recognize the importance of plus size fashion.

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MVP Collection Big and Tall Velour and Denim

Hell, we’re still struggling with marketing agencies and buyers to truly understand us! We are trying to get them to understand what the plus size woman wants! So, to make an over simplified and declarative statement- unchecked, nope.

To make a statement like this and to double down on it, is ignorant and dismissive of all of the work that has been happening. It smacks in the face of the platform you used to even get to the platform you have now. It disrespects the plus size media and bloggers, the businesses, brands and operations that have been putting in THAT work, throughout the plus size community.

While Universal Standard is championing a path of inclusivity, you must be careful and responsible. Your voice,  message, and the delivery of what you’re saying has a ripple effect. While it would be great for every brand to carry zero through 40, Alexandra, we are not there yet.

Yes, we can challenge these brands to do and be better, but as a whole? The community is not there yet! The industry is not there yet! Mainstream media is not there yet!

Well then, where are we as a plus size community?  

First Look: Contemporary Plus Size Label Universal Standard Releases Next Age of Innocence collection
First Look: Contemporary Plus Size Label Universal Standard Releases Next Age of Innocence collection

We are still in the growth space. We are still launching new plus size designers. We’re still fighting for floor space in stores. We’re still challenging and breaking down those industry norms! From the buyer, marketing department or from the modeling agencies and sometimes, from within our own community!

I cannot tell you how many times we have seen a brand post a plus size women, and it is the plus size women tearing her down.

So, before you can say ‘Oh fashion, you know we need to include everyone,’ you need to look at the nuances and layers here. In the plus size fashion industry and community, there are layers and nuances that cause us to move a little differently. This is completely different from mainstream fashion. For many, this is emotional. This is an impassioned mission for many.

Danielle Brooks X Universal Standard Tria Collection
Danielle Brooks X Universal Standard Tria Collection

In addition, you find that the people who have been fighting, have been championing, have been pushing this fashion community forward, have overwhelmingly been women of color. Yet, as we start to talk about the business of plus size fashion: the microphones and the platforms are not given to the ones who have been working, grinding, and living in this industry.  

Alexandra, if you really want to know where and how to move the industry forward, talk with some of those who’ve been here. Listen to some of these brands, influencers, and thought leaders from within the community, who are here. Talk to those who can see and show you exactly what needs to happen and how it needs to happen.

I would challenge Universal Standard to listen, not defend.

Because on one hand we love what you have been doing in the community. However, your messages, your marketing, and your newer ethos is really contradicting the whole reason why you started. With these declarations, you’re doing more damage than helping.

Yes, you can fight for inclusion. Fight for more access. Hell, you are already leading the charge! But there is no reason to light a fire behind you to make a point.  

I say and share this with love… because this has larger implications and effects than you think… 

I know that I am NOT alone here… 

What do YOU think? Let me know in the comments below!

View Comments (29)
  • Honestly, I have been over Universal Standard for some time. I don’t care about fashion when your message is damaging and you are pushing our community back. Women in our community are hurting and looking for their space of peace and comfort but in the midst of that, there is bull crap like this that makes them feel as though the community that they are a member of lacks importance and will never be good enough.

    Universal Standards needs to be muted until their CEO can be a little more educated on the community and desires within. This can’t keep happening and we keep letting it go. We have to stop supporting brands like this who spread negativity like jam on bread.

    • Maui,

      Agree with your point. The community demands to have great fitting, quality clothes and rightfully so. As the founder of Lola Getts, premium activewear made exclusively for women who wear size 14 or larger, we believe she deserves to have brands that are all about her. The found of US should know better she too is plus size.

      Thank you for giving our brand a purpose….

      stacey

  • Personally, I never purchased anything or even reported on the brand. However, after hearing this I see why. I think they handled this poorly all around. If they wanted to distance themselves from Plus Size fashion (not co-signing btw) they could done it better & without insulting a core percentage of their customers.
    It is sad to me when brands do this. It shows how out of touch they really are. Also, like you mentioned it shows an example why having plus size influencers, blogs &etc. is so important. We definitely continue to let these brands know who we are. My hope is that brands like Universal Standard would at least learn from this narrow minded ideal when it comes to Plus Size Fashion. Thanks for addressing this.

    • Their work stood by itself… no need to take this stance and further alienate themselves… unless this was the plan all along, which makes it even more disappointing and frustrating. I do hope that they take note in this… and with the feedback.

  • Plus sized women have been underrepresented in the fashion industry for decades. Now we are gaining inclusivity in markets, including designer lines. I think there will always be specialty plus size markets as there are for other specific genre and clothing needs (tall, petite). For instance, I have very wide feet. Some shoes lines go from narrow to extra wide widths, some stop at medium. I realize I need to shop specific labels and (online) stores that cater to my shoe size–and that can meet my fit needs (like sturdiness, cushioned insoles, longer shoe laces, sturdy heels, etc). Universal Standard’s statement sounds like they are pushing for inclusivity so plus sized women can have access to the same styles that are available to smaller sized women (and perhaps eliminate the need for exclusive plus sized clothing stores?). I’m a size 26/28. I have sisters that are size 4, 6, and 8. I love some of the styles they wear. But if their clothing choices were available in my size, I wouldn’t buy them. My body demands different styling. I am an older woman and I understand younger plus sized women’s preferences are probably more in line with what smaller sized women are wearing. Why can’t we have both? Inclusivity in main stream markets and exclusive plus sized markets that cater to the specific needs of plus sized women.

  • I feel like I get what she was trying to say but it’s very tone deaf in how she said it, and if that was going to be their stance up front I wished the would have stood on that word from the beginning. It’s irritating to continue to see people use the plus-sized space in order to gain a foothold or following, then dash it in the name of “inclusivity” and not wanting to be pigeonholed. I honestly think new brands can come out and let their clothes, sizing, MODELS, and the people they collaborate speak for themselves without labeling themselves. If you are for plus-sized women and you do the work to reach us we will see. If you also do the work to push us away we’ll see that too.

  • To say plus size has no future in fashion, is like saying racism is over in America, and we’re all linked arm in arm singing kumbaya, drinking free hot chocolate with marshmallows from Starbucks. Reality check please! Sis, we ain’t there yet, but we shall overcome. *Sigh* The plus size community is not a trend. Those of us who live this fat/phat life are human beings who constantly come against biases in every space we occupy. We deserve to be seen, heard, and treated equally amongst the masses. I challenge Universal Standards CEO to take time to reassess her statement then correct it by addressing the real issue without blinders on. We’ve come a long way but have many miles to go.

  • Hi Marie,

    My name is Shanna Goldstone and I’m the co-founder of Pari Passu, a luxury clothing line DEDICATED to curvy women, and ONLY curvy women! What the world doesn’t need is another brand that’s using inclusivity as a talking point or marketing campaign. The world does need more plus size fashion brands that take the time to design for, and pay attention to, the 67% of American women who have been at best, neglected, and at worst, disrespected, for far too long. I’ve been knocking on doors for 17 months, trying to raise money to do this and my partner and I have done it on our own so I can honestly say that the last thing people need to hear is that the plus-size market is over. Or that it’s easy to design and produce, because it isn’t. What was easy was making the decision to put in the time and money and effort because it’s worth it—every time I see a woman put on a pair of tailored pants that fit, a shirt that actually buttons across the bust without popping and see the look of triumph on her face—I know I’m on the right path.

  • WHEW THIS GRINDS MY GEARS SO BADT!!!! SO BAD! Alexandra is doing all this talking when what she needs to do is work! She’s talking about what other brands are doing thats wrong, but she has yet to do it right. WE NEED PLUS SIZE FASHION BRANDS… APART FROM STRAIGHT SIZES! And we need people with the balls enough to do it.

    She acts like plus size fashionistas dont exist, and that the market isnt ever growing. She acts like there arent any plus size creators who watch the seasonal fashion weeks and stay ahead of the current and people with individual style who dont even follow trends. Why not use her funding to CREATE and stop worrying about everything else

  • I get what the CEO was trying to say, but…. what a terrible way to say it. And there’s nothing wrong with focusing on a target audience – tall, short, travelers, larger sizes, small sizes. By doing so, deliver things that actually work for your audience. Let’s take the statement that you shouldn’t offer something in a larger size that you wouldn’t also offer in size 6. Well, that’s fine, in a way, but a garment that looks great on a slender woman with small boobs isn’t necessarily going to look great on a large curvaceous woman. Ditto the other way around.

    Also within the larger size community, there’s different bodies to deal with. I’m very round on top, but very straight hipped, so many things designed as “curvaceous” don’t look right on me. One style fits all makes no sense.

  • So glad I read this! I have been peeved by Plus Sizes. Irritated at the way they are separated in stores. Bothered by the limited selection available. This really explains it for me. So many of your points never occurred to me! I have a newfound respect for the term Plus Sized.

  • I’m really torn on discarding this brand completely. 1. I luv the simplicity of their clothing. 2. I have been watching their new branding with all the fabulous diversity age&size??. 3. I had plans to purchase a few items. However these statements are so troubling and contradictory to the images they currently are shooting out on social media. I recently was speaking on them and was just saying they were 1 of the few brands that were truly evolving. I was impressed with their courage to use less retouching and more age and body diversity. ?

  • One more thing I don’t want to hear from brands chiming in that they are pro plus/curvy and only use size 12/14 images. Universal Standard is currently pushing the envelope with women over size 24 in their branding. So I can’t totally knock them. Not listening to any other brand using this situation as a opportunity to knock them who hasn’t done the same as far as size and age diversity.

  • Not only do us plus size girls need beautiful clothes, but we also need them to be affordable!! I have to hope and pray that Just My Size website or Walmart has something cute AND in my size (28 petite). Right now that’s my only option. I’m disabled and living on disability. I can’t afford to go into boutiques, etc.

  • As an older Black plus sized woman I’m sorry to say that I’ve heard this kind of nonsense before. First there was no more sexism, supposedly, then there was no more racism, supposedly. And every 12 to 15 years there has been a spike of interest in plus size fashion, followed by a destroyer who claims there’s no longer a need for such labels. US is cashing in on money and kudos from big women- mostly Black- and now wants to leverage that consumer base into the mainstream. Thank you for schooling us on this new trend. It MATTERS where we spend our money.

    • @Anita Franklin, My view is, I would prefer a special showroom for plus sizes, like the US showroom, with experts on what look good on what plus size body, helpful suggestions, and to be spoiled, or at least to know that it exists, if I can’t go there . . . Something luxurious and fun. Small-size women have enjoyed over decades to be catered to, and I want something special for this time in my life when I am plus size, because at one time, I got small . . . In two years, I have leveraged $25.00 off coupons and promotions so bits and pieces of US, not a full wardrobe, like the starter kit, which is ideal.

      It’s survival mode for US. The clothes are just cool, period. If US needs to expand to market to small size women to survive, more power to it, if it can continue to hang on.

      Everybody talks about the news coverage and the investment. $8.5 million is not a lot for a small company with 25 employees. What is a standard salary? Multiply times 3 for benefits, and that is what it costs to employ someone full time.

      So I have been relentlessly positive and defending, because fashion companies do not let on how close they are to folding. @Marie Denee, since you have been in womens’ apparel retail side, you know that. I have been, and I know. Even if it is a great product with some die-hard customers, doesn’t mean it will succeed.

      So, all due respect – and thanx for the nicely thought out words – I’ll keep emphasizing the positive.

      • I know I’m late to this, but for whatever reason this post is just showing up for me.

        Anyway, Louise hit the nail on the head – customers don’t know just how close many plus size retailers are to closing. Why? There are significant costs in designing quality plus size clothing, which can fit a range of body types – a cost that many customers REFUSE to accept.

        I encourage my plus size sisters to think about this the next time they demand that quality plus size retailers lower their prices or whatever they are complaining about.

        Case in point – Monif C no longer designs clothing, she is focusing solely on lingerie, which has lower overhead costs.

  • If they still feature “plus size” models and carry the inclusive larger sizes, I won’t complain. I’ve always thought that the clothes they made could be worn by lower sizes. If we don’t want the BCBG, Anthropologie and the like to exclude us, is it right to exclude the women who wear the sizes that those brands fit? (rhetorical).

  • Thanks for the thoughtful article and congrats on getting picked up by Apple News. As a consumer, I turn to Curvy Fashionista to find up and coming brands, and hear from the thought leaders in this emerging industry. US is playing a dangerous game, they have lost my business and I am sure others will follow.

  • To me this is a case of do as I do, not as I say. Is the message clunky? Yes. But is the brand pushing to make plus-size clothes that fit right alongside “regular” size clothing instead of hideous mumus or cheap fabric and styles that no one would want to wear, not “even” pluz-sizes? YES. I’d say, if the way she said it bothers people, then reach out to her and have a chat. But I certainly support the idea that plus-size women don’t deserve uglier, differentiated clothing from our skinnier counterparts.

    • Hey!! Hope you are well! I actually have tried to reach out and have a few conversations around this… as I shared in the post, but this is why I created this article… This is also why I said that they are already leading the charge and do not need to light a fire behind them… we have such a ways to go and so many key business people can take her words and use this as a reason NOT to provide plus size options- the same as our skinny counterparts.

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