7 women of all different shapes and sizes, including one in a wheel chair, wearing Universal Thread, Target's new denim line.

A First Look and Review of Universal Thread at Target

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Target has rolled out another new brand called Universal Thread. It’s an ambitious attempt to tackle denim. The retailer says that it researched 1,000 women “to better understand their needs when it comes to shopping denim.” What they found is that women hate shopping for jeans. So they created a line with a wide range of sizes and cuts. There’s also sensory-friendly and adaptive clothing, according to Disability Scoop.

The line launched February 4 online and in stores. I saw it in person today.

My first impression is that it has a Madewell vibe going on. I mean, look at these logos.

The lines carries lots of basics like T-shirts.

Monterey Pocket V-Neck Stripe T-Shirt – $8.00, Plus Size $8.00

There’s button down shirts galore.

The blouses have a boho look to them.

Mannequin wearing a red top with flouncy sleeves and riped denim at at Target display

And it’s not just clothes. There are shoes, bags, and jewelry to complete your casual look.

A hand holding a pair of cutout booties that are a white-gray color.
Wenda Cut Out Booties – $32.99 (Looks just like these shoes from Free People)
Two pairs of slide sandals on the carpeted floor at Target. One is cognac color and the other is black.
Kerrigan Slide Sandal – $12.99
Canteen Crossbody Bag – $21.99

This tote bag is faux leather, but couldn’t you see a real leather version of it at Madewell? It reminds me of Madewell’s Transport Tote, down to the way the straps end in an arrow shape.

Hayden Core Tote Bag – $29.99 (Comes in 6 colors)

The language about Universal Thread on Target’s website also reminds me of another brand. “Do-good denim,” it says. Everlane, anyone? And just what’s so do-gooder about it? Target says the pockets of the jeans are made from recycled plastic bottles; that their high-rise jeggings are made using Kitotex, which reduces water usage and chemicals; and that some of the jeans are made from recycled cotton.

When I clicked on the link for recycled cotton, just four pairs of jeans appeared.

As to Kitotex, yes that appears to be a real thing. As I learned while writing my review of Everlane’s jeans, it can take 1,500 liters (that’s 396 gallons) of water just to make one pair of conventional jeans. Everlane manufactures its jeans in a closed-water system that uses just .4 liters of water per pair of jeans. With Kitotex, “this innovative process allows a water and energy savings equal to 40% with a consequent 40% reduction of CO2 emissions,” according to Canepa, the Italian textile company that developed the process. Is it as good as Everlane’s process? I don’t know, but compared to conventional methods, it does sound like there’s a significant difference. Vegans may want to avoid Kitotex, though, as it involves “recycling the exoskeleton of crustaceans, a waste by-product of the food industry.”

I’m glad that Target is sourcing fabric that is made through a process that reduces water usage, energy consumption, and chemicals, but they used this fabric only for seven styles of high-rise jeggings, not the bulk of their denim. Textiles production — and denim production in particular — is a toxic process. So good on Target for moving in the right direction. However, it’s a stretch to call this brand “do-good denim” when only 11 styles of jeans out of 102 are made with more environmentally-conscious practices.

Alright, you are probably wondering how they fit. If you’ve been reading my blog, then you know I’m all about the high-rise skinny, so that’s what I tried. But there are many different silhouettes and rises: mid-rise, boot cut, flare, wide leg. There’s also a bunch of colored denim, which I didn’t see in the store, but am very curious about. The Target I visited had three washes in the high-rise skinny. The jeans retail for $24.99 and come in three lengths: short, regular, and long.

I decided to try a dark wash. They were so dark that they almost look black.

Here I am wearing my regular size. I’m wearing the short, which was great length for 5′ 3″ me. I found it a bit tight (though I had also just eaten a big dinner). The fabric is a little rough feeling; it’s 90% cotton, 7% polyester, and 3% Lycra. The tag made a big deal of saying that the Lycra Xtra Life would help the jeans with “great stretch and recovery.” But there’s no way to really know until you’ve worn them a while.

I then tried a size up. That created a few more wrinkles in the knee area. It was still tight, but gave me more breathing room. Looking at these photos now, I don’t know that I can tell the difference between the two sizes, so I would go with a size up, at least in the dark wash. The pockets were not ridiculously shallow like Madewell’s jeans. And the fit was not bad at all! It didn’t sag in the behind, nor did it gap in the waistband or create little rolls of excess fabric across the front. So, I feel the fabric was of OK quality, not great. But the fit seemed pretty damn good. I wonder how these jeans wear over time and whether they loosen up significantly or not.

Style-wise, I think Target’s on point (even if they’re taking heavy inspiration from Madewell). I’m looking forward to seeing more of this line. And I appreciate that Target offers so many styles for all sorts of body shapes — and that they continue to create adaptive clothing for those with disabilities and include them in the visual marketing as well.

However, I wish they would use environmentally-friendly practices more frequently throughout this line (and with all their clothing brands). The bulk of denim in this line runs $25 to $30. The jeggings made with Kitotex are priced at $35. I know that $5 to $10 isn’t in everyone’s budget, but why not use Kitotex more often? I don’t mind paying an extra $10 for a more environmentally-friendly product, and I’d like to know about the labor practices too. (The jeans I tried on were made in Pakistan.) I don’t think I’m the only one. As a huge retailer, Target can make a big difference if it chooses.

UPDATE 2/12/18 – Well, I can’t stay away from Target. Went back to try on more high-rise skinny jeans and jeggings. Read my next review.

A Few Items That Caught My Eye