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Alexandra Waldman is the co-founder of Universal Standard, a company that will exchange and replace clothing for free for up to one year if the original size no longer fits — for whatever reason. On Tuesday, the brand announced it will start offering a line of basics for the widest range of sizes, from 00-40. The company's philosophy of "Universal Fit Liberty" is intended to ease the anxiety women feel when their weight fluctuates. For this saving grace, we named Waldman a TODAY Style Hero in 2017.
There's a long and a short story to why we started Universal Standard. The long story is one that will sound familiar to a lot of larger women who've spent their adulthood searching for a style to call their own. It's about making do with very little. As I recently heard someone put it, it's not unlike trying to make a meal with only three ingredients while others have an entire grocery store from which to choose.
The short story is that women who are outside the store-size average live behind a veil. The scarcity we've had to get used to is quite invisible to those who don't share our wardrobe problems. This is despite the fact that women larger than a size 10 make up a majority of nearly 70 percent, or nearly 100 million women, in the U.S. alone. The lack of clothing and style options seems inexplicable.
But the long story starts with a friendship. Before it all began, my friend Polina Veksler, Universal Standard's eventual co-founder and CEO, asked me a simple question: Why was I willing to miss an interesting event because I supposedly "had nothing to wear?"
"You live minutes from Fifth Avenue (in New York City) ... just go buy something!" she said. We stared at each other in disbelief — she, because she genuinely didn't understand what the problem was and me, because I couldn't believe that she genuinely didn't understand what the problem was. That's when I realized how invisible my issues were on the other side of the size divide.
"There is not a single store on all of Fifth Avenue where I can go and buy clothes," I answered. "Let me show you my world."
I took Polina to a popular department store and we got on the escalator. Meandering upward, we passed beautiful floor after beautiful floor. There was ambient lighting, music to match the energy of the brands on display and smartly dressed sales people folding sweaters perfectly. Up and up we went. When we got to the furniture floor, I walked Polina to the corner allocated for people my size and I could immediately see the light go on. She finally got it. And it was time for us to get to work.
As a size 18 woman, design enthusiast and former fashion journalist, I had dreamed about designing a size-inclusive line of apparel for years. Now, with Polina's business experience, the two of us had the building blocks of a new idea. We opened our virtual doors to Universal Standard some six months later. The rest, as they say, is ... a story in progress.
We all know that weight fluctuates (whether you're a size 6, 16 or 26). Sometimes you go up, sometimes you go down. Not only can this be an emotional roller coaster, it also comes with the financial burden of replacing your clothes, which can have real consequences on your life.
Universal Fit Liberty, or UFL for short, is a concept we've designed to transform the shopping experience. Put simply, if the clothes you bought from our core collection no longer fits due to size fluctuation, you will be able to replace them for another size within a year of your purchase for free. The returned clothing will be laundered and donated across a number of charities supporting women in need.
We've created this concept because women deserve to live their lives without feeling bullied by their size. They shouldn't feel like they've shackled their self-esteem to a future self that may or may not come into being. People should feel free to get the clothes that fit them and their lives in real time.
This story was originally published on April 17, 2017.