Words & interview by WILL HALBERT
Photography by JAMIE MYERS
 Essential Journal | Community and Collaboration Issue


I guess it’s partly down to the fact that all you press guys talk about is collaborations.’ Never one for beating around the bush, David Keyte’s words are spoken with his customary, almost trademark (and most certainly welcomed) candidness. They follow the tail end of my introductory question about the public’s ongoing love affair with fashion collaborations which, in a roundabout way, proves David’s point perfectly. Press and public alike are transfixed by the creative possibilities and hype potentialities of their favourite brands joining forces.

David should know. As a founder of Universal Works, he has worked alongside both the biggest names in the industry and smallest mom n’ pop shops on the block. From world-renowned sportswear giants, Adidas, to the small, independent menswear stores of Seoul, Los Angeles and Texas, Universal Works has garnered a well-earned reputation for ambitious collaborative projects that never compromise on the brand’s core values of fun and honesty. If you think that fun and honesty shines through in David’s answer to my first question, you should read the seven that follow. EJ

 

Press and public pressure aside, what is the appeal of collaboration for yourself personally? Are you a fan of them in general?

I have never actually thought of myself as a big fan of collaborations. For me, it’s often the only way I feel comfortable working within an area where I have little or no expertise. Collaborations allow me to make a new product and also lean on - and learn from - another company or brand’s experts and skill-sets. So working with shoe brands, for instance, means I get to make a few suggestions on some of my favourite shoes, but I don’t think of myself as a footwear designer. Making the running kit with Adidas was great in that respect because we got to work with the technical team in Germany and I learned something new from them.

What are the challenges that come along with working alongside other brands? How do you create something with another brand that still remains distinctly Universal Works?

We have never asked anyone to collaborate with us. We have been lucky enough to have been asked to get involved with projects we have wanted to work on, and we always judge the project on whether or not we want to work on it. We always have to ask ourselves honestly if it will be fun to work on, and if it’s an honest project. When two brands really collaborate, I think the end product should be a real combination of both brand’s sets of ideals, aesthetics and values. From Novesta to Adidas, to Satta, to Millican, you’ve worked with a wide variety of brands over the years. What do you look for in a brand before you work with them? Sometimes, it’s honestly as simple as a particular brand being a friend of ours, someone we think will be fun to work with. Often, a brand may have a project in mind and we happen to fit the profile. If we think it’s perfect for us too, then we’ll go ahead with it. For instance, the Millican guys are longtime friends of ours, the Adidas team we did not know at all, but they had a running project coming up and they discovered we were runners and we got talking. These things often, and ought to, come about organically.

It’s obvious, maybe, but the recent Sacai x Nike stuff has been great. Some of the Y3 collaborations over the years have been really special, too. And a few years back, I was lucky enough to be working at Maharishi when we did some cool decks, clothing, and art with Futura. But the best of them all? The big daddy has to be Adidas and Run DMC, the one that kicked the whole thing off!
‘When two brands really collaborate, I think the end product should be a real combination of both brand’s sets of ideals, aesthetics and values’



As well as working with other brands, you’ve also helped create some amazing store exclusives. Stag Provisions of Texas, Oi Polloi of Manchester, Hip Store of Leeds: Is it important to you personally to foster these kinds of relationships with stores and stockists?

Yes, we work with some great stores around the world and it’s an honour for us to produce some special pieces for them. Time and time again, we always come back to the same questions: do we want to do it? Will it be fun? Can we express both parties well and in an honest way? With store specials in particular, we feel it is about Universal Works showing support and gratitude to them for them having believed in, and bought into, Universal Works. It’s a question of wanting to share that love back with them too.
Are there any outrageous dream collaborations you’d love to work on?
So many! It’s hard to know where to start. Mercedes G Wagon would make for an interesting collaboration or a simple Timex watch.

And lastly, can you tell us a little about the inspiration behind the upcoming SS20 collection? There are some really interesting patterns in the mix. How do you go about finding and/or designing them?

We always try to move the collection on enough each season to be new and exciting whilst maintaining a continuing direction. We are not big on seasonal themes, as we plan for our garments to be longer-lasting than a season or a year. But certainly this summer, there are a few patterns and colours we felt were inspired by a trip myself and Stephanie - my partner - did last year. We were lucky enough to carve the time out for a two-week holiday and did a road trip from Los Angeles across the South West of the US to Santa Fe. So a lot of that trip, including the colours and patterns are reflected in our SS20 collection. Tinged with a bit of good ol’ Nottingham, of course!