What will it take for fashion to become a more size-inclusive industry, from runway to shop floor? ELLE UK shines a light on the designers, models and advocates reimagining the body in fashion and pushing for a more size-inclusive industry for all.
It’s a tale as old as time: you see a beautiful piece of clothing, but when you go to try it on, the fit is dismal – that is, if it comes in your size at all. An unshakeable, foul mood often ensues, coupled with anger at an industry that seems to design solely for ‘straight up and down’ bodies and shows no signs of changing. But what if the frustration could be converted into a force for good?
For Polina Veskler and Alex Waldman, co-founders of the world’s most size-inclusive brand Universal Standard, it was one such experience that would change their lives – and the industry at large – for the better.
It was 2014; Veskler worked in finance and investment, Waldman was a global fashion journalist, and the longtime friends set out on a shopping trip for an upcoming event. ‘We soon realised we couldn’t shop together due to our different sizes,’ explains Veskler. ‘In fact, there were such terrible options for double-digit sizes, that one of us could hardly shop at all. It was clear that all women weren’t given the same level of style, quality or even respect in fashion. And that’s when we had our lightbulb moment.’
Clear in the conviction that ‘everyone deserves access to exceptional clothing’, the duo set out on a mission to democratise the shopping experience and enable everyone to shop the same way. ‘The way we see it, style should be the only filter – and size be taken out of the equation entirely,’ says Veskler. ‘The shopper should only have to ask “Do I like this?”‘
The gap in the market for high-quality clothes in a range of sizes representative of the actual population was gaping – and worth around $100 billion. So why was fashion so hesitant to embrace it?
‘The fashion industry has historically refused to participate in size inclusivity, claiming that it is too expensive to explore,’ says Veskler. ‘Size-inclusive options are mostly limited to fast fashion brands, but the fit, quality and style isn’t consistent across all sizes. We soon realised that the industry was not set up to accommodate our vision. To succeed, we had to rewrite the rules entirely.’
That meant finding the right manufacturers, fabrics, mannequins and a range of fit models to ensure high quality and a consistent fit across all sizes, denim included. It also meant wear-testing every style before its release, and abandoning the conventional size chart altogether: the average US woman is a size 18, so that is the Universal Standard size ‘medium’. ‘We need more than just an industry change,’ says Veskler. ‘We need a cultural shift – and Universal Standard is paving the way.’
Given the brand’s immediate and immense popularity, it’s clear that the world agrees too. ‘The demand was huge,’ says Veskler. ‘People had obviously been waiting for high quality, timeless wardrobe staples in all sizes. To this day, people return every 45-60 days to shop – and many have started replacing their entire wardrobes with our styles.’
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Lizzo, Beanie Feldstein and Hunter McGrady are among Universal Standard’s fans, while the brand has collaborated with the likes of Rodarte, Adidas and Erdem on size-inclusive collections – that sold out almost instantly. And most recently, US launched a line of eco-friendly underwear that has already become a customer favourite.
Some five years after its launch, however, Universal Standard remains the first and only brand to offer every single style in every single size, from a UK 4 to 44. There’s still a long way to go.
‘In 2022, designers still cite high expenses as the reason for not participating, but they’ll invest millions in creating clothes for avatars in Web3,’ says Veskler. ‘It feels like fashion will try anything but be size-inclusive. For many people, shopping with Universal Standard has been the first time they felt valued by the fashion industry. We are here to promise that it won’t be the last.’
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