British clothing label Universal Works launched their first collection in 2009 from a kitchen table. 10 years later, they can be found everywhere from 'Los Angeles to Seoul'. With a self-described 'eclectic' mix of influences, UW were earmarked by adidas for the 'Run City Pack' alongside Wood Wood, incorporating the UltraBOOST 19 sneaker and matching apparel. Sneaker Freaker spoke to UW co-founder, David Keyte, on a decade of collaborations, and to gather an insight into how the brand operates.
10 Years of Universal Works with David Keyte
Date: December 07 2019
By: Minh Vuong
Congratulations on 10 years of Universal Works! How does it feel to hit such an important milestone?
Well, firstly I am hugely proud to have got this far and still be independent. We’re still doing what we wanted to do, from the beginning. Though, mostly it feels like we only started 10 minutes ago.
After all, it’s only been 10 years. There are great clothing companies out there with 20, 30, 100 years of history behind them – so we also try to keep it in perspective.
For Sneaker Freaker readers who may not be familiar with your brand, how would you best describe the Universal Works aesthetic?
Eclectic. It’s a mix of streetwear fashion, military, and blue-collar workwear. But it is definitely eclectically wearable – but always wearable, I hope.
Of the brand’s footwear collaborators over the years, adidas may be the biggest company you’ve worked with yet. How did that partnership come about?
I think our name had been mentioned to adidas, and we got into a conversation with the Consortium team. I actually went running in BOOST shoes, and not just wearing them as a casual shoe. So, they asked if I wanted to work with the technical running team on a project they had coming up: the Run City Pack.
Some may not have expected the modern UltraBOOST 19 to be a shoe Universal Works would collaborate on. Why did you choose this silhouette?
I did not really choose it – it chose me! It was natural and ‘real’, I really did run in the UltraBOOST 19, so adidas felt it was a nice thing to work on together. They liked our honest approach to collaboration.
The collection includes matching technical apparel. What was your approach to designing this, given UW tends to favour traditional textiles?
We know and understand traditional fabrics, and we are happy to use cloths and yarns that have been around for a long time that are still around today.
But, we are also very interested in new developments, and how to find and use innovative fabrics and techniques. We always want be modern and relevant in a contemporary way. And we are runners, so we know what kind of technical kit we wanted.
You’re quoted saying that adidas Sambas were your first ever sneakers. A Universal Works interpretation would be pretty cool – would you be keen on that?
If they ever give me the chance, I’ll be a happy man.
What do you look for in brands that you collaborate with? Similar values towards design and ethos?
Yes, exactly. We have only ever worked on projects we wanted to work on. And only choose partners to work with based on product. We do everything based on product really: do we want it, would we wear it, do we want it in our wardrobe?
To be honest, we have only ever done things where we have been asked. Maybe we should start doing the asking!
You gained invaluable experience working with the likes of Paul Smith and maharishi, but have ultimately cut your own path. What was the greatest lesson you learned from them?
To do my own thing.
For the 10th anniversary, Universal Works are rolling out some exclusive garments with some of your earliest stockists like Peggs and Son, and Oi Polloi. Is there anything else in the works?
We have been lucky to work with great stores around the world. 10 years on, we are delighted to still be working with some stores that we sold our first collection to.
As for future plans, our only plan is to not have a plan! Just to make great clothes that have style, integrity, and a decent lifespan. Let’s see where the journey takes us.
The Universal Works x adidas Running 'Run City Pack' is available now from Universal Works and selected adidas retailers globally.