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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!