When we opened the latest edition of Like The Wind we were greeted by that wholesome scent of freshly printed paper – a nostalgic experience that reminds us of the beauty of printed media, something that can feel like too much of a rarity in today’s digital world.
Like the Wind is not your typical running magazine; it delves deep into the "why" behind the love for running rather than the mechanics of how we do it; a captivating collection of international running stories, personal anecdotes, inspirational tales, reportage, beautiful illustrations, and photography.
In the latest issue of Like the Wind magazine (issue 36), Universal Works co-founder David Keyte sat down with editor Simon Freeman for a chat about David’s personal running experiences, Universal Works’ history, and the parallels between the job of a fashion designer and the life of a runner.
After a decade-long hiatus, the return of the Manchester Marathon in 2012 was supposed to be a celebration: a way to acknowledge the great English city that has given so much to the world, not least in the creative realms. Music, art and fashion have poured forth from Manchester, the city whose emblem is the hardworking – yet at the same time, humble – bee.
Unfortunately on 29 April 2012, another famous aspect of Mancunian life decided to show up: grim weather. It was freezing and pouring with rain. There were supposed to be 8,000 runners, but in the end less than 5,000 arrived for the start. Among them was David Keyte – a menswear designer and self-confessed mid-pack runner.
“I was determined to finish in under four hours,” explains David. “Although in the end the time didn’t matter. Of course, it did matter. But there was something bigger and more important on the day…”
David Keyte is one of the founders of British menswear brand Universal Works (alongside his life partner, Stephanie Porritt). The brand describes itself as “an independent contemporary clothing brand based out of Nottingham, England that champions skilled, small-scale production”. But that description seems only to go part of the way. What Universal Works (or UW, as its fans often call it) exudes is a passion for doing things well and keeping it simple. This goes a long way towards explaining why UW has had such an impact and attracted devotees from all walks of life.
Meeting David in person, he seems to have a personality based on simplicity, creativity and craft... which transfers into the clothing. But what about running?
“When I was a kid, my father was a big sports lover – a big football fan,” David explains. “He took us to football matches from an early age. And we’d play cricket in the summer. We did lots of team sports. And the thing that I really didn’t like was running.”
Like so many youngsters, certainly of his generation in England, David’s experience of running was around a waterlogged field, often as a form of punishment. But by the time David had left school and started work, running became a somewhat intriguing activity.
“In my early twenties, I was going through a pretty rough time,” he recalls. “I was unhappy. I didn’t like the job I was in. And for some reason, I kidded myself that I needed to get fit to play better football. So I went out for a run for, like, 15 minutes, and just thought: ‘There’s something in this. I can switch my hectic brain off.’”
Once David had realised the benefits of running, physical and mental, he wove it into his life. As David says, he was never trying to be a fast runner. But that didn’t mean he was not interested in pushing his limits. David trained for and competed in various half-marathons and then moved up to the full marathon distance – although he admits that even when he was fit enough to run marathons, he’d find the training something of a slog. But perhaps the job of a fashion designer and the life of a runner have some parallels – not least the requirement to put in the hard work before the delayed gratification of the finish line (or collection release).
“I always thought about the cliché of a healthy body and a healthy mind. All of that,” explains David. “I think it’s clichéd, because it’s true. And I believe it’s much easier to have clear thoughts and be more creative if your body’s working pretty well.”
Being the head honcho at a clothing brand means David is much more involved than just designing the clothes; he is also in charge of the company. And he explains that running was a way to remain calm about the business side of Universal Works.
“Even if [running] was painful or it was just boring,” says David, “it meant I wasn’t trying to think about something. It was surprising how often I got a good idea. Surprising how often I thought: ‘I must remember that, I must remember that.’ It sort of cleared [my] mind of other things to allow good things to come to the fore.”
David talks about both running and running his business with similar themes of economy and efficiency. He explains that he will order just enough fabric to make the garments he knows he will sell or has sold to boutiques around the world. The aim is to minimise waste. The same seems to be the case for running. David’s approach was efficient: regular runs – often five or six days per week – for half an hour or 45 minutes. Naturally during the build-up to a marathon, longer runs were required. But most of the time, David ran enough to get the benefits but not so much that it would take away from the other elements of his life.
Nowadays David is based in Nottingham. It’s something of a return home – he began his career in fashion in the city, working in (and later managing) the shop of Nottingham-born designer Paul Smith. When David made the move into clothing design, he lived in the hustle and bustle of London, working at streetwear brand Maharishi. But over time – and after realising that London was unaffordable – he returned to Nottingham. The move back to the East Midlands also meant David had the space and financial means to set up Universal Works.
As a runner, David did enjoy London.
“London for me was always a great city to run in,” David explains. “I was lucky enough to rent a flat that was fairly central. So I could go on the South Bank [of the Thames] and pass Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, go around the corner of Hyde Park and then back up to Regent’s Park. You can run along canals for miles and miles. And there’s so many great green spaces to run in London. Plus it’s very flat.” David is not unique in being a fashion professional with a love of running.
“I think there are people that use running within my world,” says David. “They don’t necessarily shout about it. But I’m always surprised how many people in fashion do go running. Especially those of us who have been lucky enough to travel. You know, the best way to see those incredible cities – New York or Tokyo or Berlin – is to just go out for 20 minutes and run.”
However, in running terms it was in Manchester in 2012 that David really discovered himself, in the rain and cold and wind of the marathon. Despite his protestations that he was not that much of a competitive runner, David had signed up for Manchester because in his first marathon, in Nottingham, he had finished just a handful of minutes past the four-hour mark. The idea that he could run a sub-four-hour race frustrated him. So, in those horrible conditions, David crossed the line in a time that started with the number three.
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