Universal Works are pleased to announce a collaboration with Blackhorse Lane Ateliers as part of Universal Works ongoing Future Friendship Project. 
To coincide with the launch, David Keyte and Han Ates sat down with design journalist Leanne Cloudsdale, to explore the roots of the UW. x BHL collaboration. 


Blackhorse Lane x Universal Works collection is available to purchase online and in store at 5 pm GMT, on the Friday 25th March 2022.


Words by design journalist Leanne Cloudsdale

There was a time when, if you told a friend you’d spent the afternoon swanning around the back of Kings Cross in search of new threads and a decent coffee, you’d have gotten some pretty funny looks. Fast forward to 2022 and the beautiful, sympathetically regenerated Coal Drops Yard is a far cry from its former self. The elders here will remember Bagley’s nightclub. Some might recall The Cross. Everyone probably remembers that it was a building site for most of the late 2010s. 

The bones of Coal Drops Yard are saturated with decades of serious grafting, a sentiment that segways me towards a chat I had with two of the U.K.’s hardest workers; co-founder of Universal Works, David Keyte and Han Ates, the founder of Blackhorse Lane Ateliers. Together, they have reimagined the beloved UW Fatigue Pant and UW Bakers Chore Jacket in an optimistically laid-back, washed 13.75 oz Indigo denim.

We got together at Blackhorse Lane Ateliers in North London to wax lyrical about the collaboration, shoot the looks for the website and thrash out some puritanical denim myths. For those raw denim enthusiasts who insist on a no-wash policy and prefer people to smell them before they see them – look away now. For everyone else, read on.  



With the dancefloor at Bagley’s long gone, Coal Drops Yard has taken pride of place in Kings Cross as a place to eat, drink, mooch and shop. Tell us the tale of how you met there

David: “It's a story that's been elongated by the pandemic. Because we first met a few years ago in Coal Drops Yard – after being persuaded to open stores on the site of a desolate old nightclub, at the back of Kings Cross. When I first met Han, I kind of fell in love with the things he was talking about, and the reasons why he was doing what he was doing. Anyone who knows me, knows I love factories; I love places that make things. He invited me to come and take a look around Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, and when I did, we decided to work on something together. And then the world went into this thing called ‘lockdown’. But finally, we're here.”

Han: “What stands out most about Coal Drops Yard is that it’s absolutely not a ‘shopping centre’. This was so important to me. Even though I live in the sprawling metropolis we call London – there is still an urge to create my own bubble. By this, I mean I wanted to be next to like-minded brands that felt right for us. It’s not just a place of work or a place to shop. It has restaurants, workplaces, homes and a university. There’s a genuine sense of real community there.”

David: “There’s also the fact that the heritage of the place hasn’t been wiped out. You still get a real sense of the history – of things being brought and delivered there to keep the capital city running. Whether it was beer, coal or food. As someone who has spent most of their working life travelling from north to south, arriving at either Kings Cross or St Pancras, it felt like having a Universal Works shop there was the right thing to do – like something we were destined to have. Meeting Han, speaking to him, and deciding to make product with someone so local was a lovely thing.” 



What was the driving force for the UX x BHL collaboration?

David: "Universal Works have a huge love of denim – there’s always a lot of it in our collections, but we’re definitely not denim experts, unlike Han. My love is purely for the fabric itself. It looks better the older it gets, and that’s not true for every fabric. We don’t do the traditional 5-pocket Western jean – we leave that for other companies, there’s no point competing." 

Han: "This is one of the reasons we chose this particular denim for the Universal Works pieces. There needed to be a clear definition: This is not jeans. These are a new take on the UW Fatigue Pants and Bakers Jacket, so there needed to be an element of drape, not the usual stiff rigidity you’d expect with new denim." 

David: "The cloth was chosen to suit the patterns – which are beefy classic workwear styles. The denim needed to suit the silhouette. Hardworking, but comfortable from the off." 



Does this approach upset the purists? 

Han: "Pure indigo denim tends to have one tonality, colour-wise. For Universal Works, we wanted something different, something less flat and more three-dimensional. We chose something with an irregular yarn, which gives you a slight slub and brings the fabric to life. The Fatigue Pant and the Bakers Jacket are both pre-washed too – which means there are no shrinkage surprises." 

David: "This was something we knew we needed for UW – the practical element. When most denim-heads buy jeans, they expect shrinkage. We all know that the shrinkage percentage isn’t an exact science, so for the BHL and UW collab we made the decision early on to wash both styles. This means the sizing stays the same (okay – it will give it a little when you wear it and tighten up a bit when it’s washed) but the size you buy is the size you actually need. Just like a normal, regular workwear garment. We were determined to take the effort out of it." 

Han: "Very often, when I speak to people who love jeans, their knowledge comes from myth. The whole ‘purists who don’t wash their denim’ thing. The reality is that every fabric needs to be washed at some point, actually. Sure, probably not as often as you think, but still – it pays to just have a little look in the laundry basket and ask yourself if something is really that dirty. When raw denim was being worn as overalls 150 years ago there wasn’t the convenience (or the culture) of just putting something in the wash. But it’s 2022. These UW pieces might have workwear DNA in the shape, but they are most definitely made to be worn and washed like a regular everyday trouser."



You’re treading on thin ice here with the old ‘to wash, or not to wash’ selvedge denim theory. What’s the rationale?

David: "Han really respects his denim. He produces fantastic jeans, which so many people love. But that’s not Universal Works. For us, there’s an honesty in saying, “Hey, we’ve already washed these denim Fatigue Pants and this Bakers Jacket because we need to know they fit you from day one.” What that also means is, we’ve got these garments that look really great! They’ve already got that character that feels like they’re 3 or 4 years and a few washes in. We’ve even taken the faffing out of pintucking on the hems by adding a nifty seam. I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to nail the perfect roll at the bottom of my baggy trousers. Now you can get that amazing leg shape and quick turn-up in seconds."

Han: (Laughing)"This is why I love working with you guys! You represent that great British manufacturing heritage because you’ve been in the game a long time. There’s a real understanding between us about what it takes to make something look better and last longer. With tweaks here and there on the UW garments, we’ve elongated the lifespan. Robust metal buttons on the side cinches. One BHL branded button on the Bakers Jacket. Clean construction on the inside with no unfinished edges. Keeping things simple – that’s where the beauty lies, in my opinion." 

David:"Very true. Simplicity is very hard to do, when you’re making something, writing something, trying to describe something. When someone says something is ‘understated’, that’s a compliment because it’s quite a tough task. We handed our patterns over to Han and let him and the experts here at BHL alter things so the selvedge could be visible on the outside seams, without overcomplicating things. With design simplicity, mistakes have nowhere to hide – which means that if someone says, ‘Wow – that’s really special,’ you know it must be pretty good."

Han: "It was a true collaboration because we listened to each other to make sure we created what we set out to achieve together. And you know what? If you work hard and be nice to people – everything always works out." 



Blackhorse Lane x Universal Works collection is available to purchase online and in store at 5 pm GMT, on the Friday 25th March 2022.