When it comes to the fashion industry, there’s a lot of talk about the finished product but not so much banter about the process. Universal Works has always wanted to have an open conversation with customers about how we do what we do – which is the reason behind this series that unlocks the journey of our garments, from design to delivery.
In order to get the inside intel, we picked the brains of UW founder, David Keyte and asked him to walk us through the thinking behind part three of the story: Manufacture.
“For me, design and production are totally linked. We’re not artists. We design things to sell. But in order to create the product, we have to be able to make it, deliver it and then get paid for it. It’s not art - it’s a business.
The design process is heavily intertwined with the means of production. It’s a nuanced system that involves a close working partnership between Universal Works and the makers. In terms of bringing a garment to life, it all begins when they follow my sketches (or sometimes written ideas) and make a prototype (1st sample) of the new shape. This is happening almost all the time in the background, so the collections you see in the shops were at this initial stage well over a year ago. Forward planning is a key player.
I choose fabrics based on what type of style I think it will work for. Sample lengths of this, together with the technical drawings (or CADs) are sent to the makers, to give them the starting point. This makes it all sound relatively straightforward, when in reality, it’s much more hands-on. It’s real. It’s dirty. We get totally involved - playing with the garment with their pattern cutters, altering details, re-shaping the seams, making sure the garment will ‘work’.
Of course, I’m no lone ranger. There’s a whole team of UW staff involved in helping me with sampling, as well as placing the bulk orders for production. Our Production Manager, Rachael oversees everything relating to the factories and makers. Alison works with all of the mills that we source developments and buy fabrics and yarns from. Natalie mainly takes care of the knits (as well as other areas). Logistics is Andy’s domain and last, but not least, there is my assistant designer Jessie. She is fresh from design school and very much learning her trade. She does the actual CADs and is starting to get more involved too!
The sampling and production methods are repeated with all of our makers, who are based in India, Portugal and the U.K. In Portugal, we work with six specialist factories who make our shirts, hats, jersey, trousers, jackets and some knitwear. Our relationship with most of them spans ten years. I’ve been working with the factory in India for almost twenty years. They’re regarded in the industry as one of the most expensive in the country - probably due to the technique they use, whereby single tailors make 95% of each garment. This is unusual, rare and beautiful these days. Over here in the UK, we work with a jeans maker - but for us we commission more trousers and jackets. We tend to leave ‘proper’ jeans to the experts and make denim pants instead.
For most of these makers, the Universal Works production orders are small in comparison to other brands. We rarely even meet the minimum quantity, so I have to use my begging skills a lot. Our connection is more about shared passion than anything else really, and a shared love of good coffee - although I’ll take a bad coffee if they can sew really well!”