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Universal Standard on leveling the playing field for ‘plus-size’ fashion

“We really and truly believe that the plus size woman will never be serviced as well as she will be when there’s no such thing as plus size,” say Alexandra Waldman and Polina Veksler, co-founders of size-inclusive label, Universal Standard, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.

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Fashion tends to segregate women who are on the larger end of the spectrum, they say, and so they’re on a mission to level the playing field and make clothes for everyone. To that end, the brand, which had already gained a cult-like following for its size-inclusive clothing since launching in 2015, introduced an even larger range in 2018, from 00 to 40 – an industry first.

Understanding how women of all sizes shop has been key to the brand’s success, which last year also raised its first round of investment from the likes of GOOP’s Gwyneth Paltrow, TOMS’ Blake Mycoskie and Imaginary Ventures’ Natalie Massenet. They’ve also introduced collaborations with brands including J.Crew and as of just this week, Rodarte.

Much like many direct-to-consumer counterparts, the e-commerce experience is playing a major part in its popularity: all of its SKUs can be viewed at every size available within the range, making it easier for women to compare and make confident decisions; and its Universal Fit Liberty Program allows shoppers to replace their purchase, free of charge, within a year of completing it, should they go up or down in size.

During this conversation, recorded at the Current Global’s Innovation Mansion at SXSW this year, Waldman and Veksler break down the many product development challenges that come with the industry’s traditional fit formula; tell co-host Rachel Arthur what they’re putting in place to reduce hostility to women of larger size ranges, and share why their bold moves are shifting the way the whole industry approaches this market.

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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How Heist looks at inclusivity to keep innovating its tights

Heist's Toby Darbyshire and Rachel Arthur
Heist’s Toby Darbyshire and Rachel Arthur

Inclusivity for women of all shapes, sizes and skintones is at the core of the strategy behind direct-to-consumer underwear brand Heist, according to its CEO Toby Darbyshire, who features on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

Speaking to Rachel Arthur, he explains how the underwear industry is one that’s ripe for innovation as a category that is underperforming against societal needs. As it stands, it is designed to drive revenue, rather than to serve its customers, he notes.

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“It struck us that in the age of Harvey Weinstein, the fact that my wife, who is a pretty modern woman, walks into Selfridges’ underwear section and it says ‘listen love, put this on – one of sort of four or five societal normalized views of sexy – and then you can fulfil your purpose’. That seems like an industry at its fundamental that is both broken from a brand point of view but also totally out of kilter with the cultural discourse,” he comments.

The first product Heist decided to tackle was tights. Widely regarded as uncomfortable, Heist’s innovative design includes no seams, a flexible waistband and a reduction in snagging and laddering. The brand worked with real women to ensure their concerns were met.

Since then, that has also meant exploring color and shape, and it’s this approach to inclusivity that keeps the brand, which recently received investment from Natalie Massenet’s new Imaginary Ventures fund, driving forward.

Last summer, it launched ‘The Nude Project’, crowdsourcing a full color palette index of different skintones based on over 100,000 customers. What’s more, the team opted to make this an open source model, explains Darbyshire, meaning they are sharing the results with the wider industry in the hope it will encourage others to diversify their product offerings.

Heist also launched tights to cater up to size 24 in 2017, again working with real body shapes to create the best fit. The line debuted with a successful and innovative campaign, featuring different shapes and sizes of fruits and vegetables inside Heist tights to promote a body positive and inclusive message.

On that decision, Darbyshire says: “How do you talk about plus size in a way that is inclusive and isn’t Dove. Not because Dove didn’t do it brilliantly, because they actually did it brilliantly, but then kept on doing it for 20 years, so now no one else can do it because it’s lame. It’s really clever. So how not to be Dove is the challenge.”

Also on the podcast, he talks about innovation in the product itself as inspired by the likes of Nike and Speedo, how to successfully cut out the middleman and why they might introduce their own store next year.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.