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Why Universal Standard is expanding its size exchange program

Universal Standard is looking to take its mission of inclusive fashion a step further through a revamped clothing exchange program.

This week, the apparel brand is rolling out an expanded version of its size exchange program called Fit Liberty. Fit Liberty, which started as a pilot program in 2017, allows shoppers to swap out apparel like tops and tees, denim and athleisure for the same item in a different size up to a year after purchase. It’s free to participate in the program and Universal Standard covers the cost of the exchange and shipping.

In the short term, Universal Standard’s Fit Liberty program may not boost revenue given that it doesn’t encourage shoppers to buy the same item multiple times in different sizes. Instead, Universal Standard sees the program as a long play for boosting customer retention and sales. “While the primary goal is to foster a very democratic shopping experience that empowers the customers through size inclusivity, we do hope that this is viewed as a huge benefit to the customer and that their loyalty will only increase,” co-founder and CEO Polina Veksler told Modern Retail.

Founded in 2015, Universal Standard carries several categories of women’s apparel, including workwear and swim, in sizes ranging 00 to 40. Since launch, Universal Standard has sold 2.5 million items of clothing and made nearly $200 million in gross sales, Veksler said. The business, which is profitable, upped its customer repeat rate from 70% in 2022 to 80% in 2024. Universal Standard says it has more than 1 million lifetime customers.

When Universal Standard initially launched Fit Liberty, it did so with fewer than 40 styles. Now, the new iteration covers 400 styles, many of which are bestsellers on Universal Standard’s website or within its New York City store. All styles that are eligible for the Fit Liberty program include a sticker that says “Fit Liberty,” and Universal Standard is offering up to 40% off qualifying pieces for a limited time to drive interest.

Veksler told Modern Retail that Fit Liberty was created after conversations with shoppers, many of whom told Universal Standard via letters and phone calls that they were worried about investing in pieces out of anticipation that their size might change. Some were opting for fast fashion they could discard if needed, and others were preemptively buying shirts that were too big or too small.

“We want to remove the anxiety surrounding size fluctuation,” Veksler said. “We want customers to purchase premium clothing that fits them exceptionally now… The motto is, no sacrifices needed.”

Few apparel brands or retailers today offer size exchange programs similar to Universal Standard’s. Another Tomorrow, an online women’s apparel retailer with seasonal collections of dresses and jackets, allows customers to exchange sizes within one year of a transaction. Most other brands, however, give customers a much smaller window; while some clothing companies or retailers offer exchanges, the majority of apparel businesses require these to be completed in a window of 30 days or several weeks.

Universal Standard’s Fit Liberty program bucks a growing apparel trend in which brands are trying to stop offering free returns because doing so hurts their margins. Zara, Pacsun, L.L.Bean, Anthropologie and REI all deduct dollars from customers’ refunds if they make a return by mail.

Universal Standard did not disclose what effect it expects Fit Liberty’s expansion to have on its bottom line. However, earlier this month, the brand’s chief design officer Ramon Martin told Glossy that the business owes its profitability to “the key problem-solving [we’ve done] for the customer.” He added, “We are more than confident that the product is going to fit and satisfy customers, and satisfied customers are returning customers.”

Sky Canaves, senior analyst at eMarketer, described a program like Universal Standard’s as “a really strong move” — especially considering the costs associated with customer churn. “I think Universal Standard has broad appeal,” she said. “And this is a real opportunity to capitalize on what they stand for… especially at a time when shoppers are much more value-driven and brands really have to work harder to earn their loyalty and their repeat business. It’s also a way of taking a stand against the type of fast fashion that shoppers might engage in.”

Universal Standard donates or upcycles clothing returned through the Fit Liberty program, depending on their amount of wear. While the brand could continue to pursue this approach, it could also be worthwhile for Universal Standard to fold branded resale into the picture, Canaves said. “That’s one way that they might look to offset their costs in the long run if this becomes a runaway success,” she said.

As for the future, Veksler told Modern Retail, nothing is stopping Universal Standard from rolling out another iteration of its Fit Liberty program.

“We want to see what the reaction is with this… and hopefully, we have the ability to continue expanding it,” she said.