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David Keyte — Universal Works, Co-Founder & Designer
Friends & Partners
July 1, 2020

David Keyte founded Universal Works with the vision to create great clothing that fits well and serves both an aesthetic and functional purpose. Inspired by the clothes of his working-class family, Keyte has shaped Universal Works into a brand that blends a structural formalism with traditional English style. We caught up with David Keyte to chat about what he’s been up to since worldwide lockdowns began, where the influence came from for the Universal Works current collection, and a little about what inspires him.

When and why did you start your label?
Universal Works was started at the end of 2008 but the first collection was in 2009; an Autumn Winter based on the Northern Hemisphere, so the other way around for most Incu shoppers!

Tell us a bit about what influences you.
I am and have been obsessed with clothing since I was 7 or 8 — its appearance and its functionality. I guess my big influences have simply been the people around me growing up in a working-class family in England, their actual working clothes as well as what they wore on a weekend. The influence of daily life and travel plays a big part (or at least it did!). Also sub-cultures have always inspired me: skate, punk, soul boys, and films.

Tell us a bit about this current collection featured on incu.com, what’s it all about?
This current collection is a continuum of our spirit. I feel we try not to change everything every season, but to move slowly and make sure each item looks good with the previous season as well as the next. 

But, surely in the SS20 collection there is a big influence from a trip we made across California, Arizona and into New Mexico last April: the colours, the open spaces, the amazing night sky, the colours and patterns of the indigenous people. 

What is your current WFH creative process? Has it changed lately?
I have a small office at home. I had the space from the beginning of Universal Works. Initially two of us, then eventually three, worked from my home for a couple of years. I have now slipped back into the same space. I normally travel a lot to spend time with makers and suppliers; my “office” is often in sewing rooms and factories as I like to be hands-on. Not travelling to visit the people we work with has been very different for me, but we have a lot of Zoom/Skype/FaceTime meetings now. It’s not the same but next best thing!

This current collection is a continuum of our spirit. I feel we try not to change everything every season, but to move slowly and make sure each item looks good with the previous season as well as the next. 

What are your go-to WFH wardrobe pieces?
I pretty much carry on dressing the same, I am a casual dresser anyway. I only ever wear what I design and make so not much has changed in that sense. Everyday I put on a pair of sneakers or Birkenstock to feel fully dressed, even though I’m sitting at home. Shoes give me a sense of difference, at 6 or 7pm I take them off and feel like work is over for the day!

What does your WFH work station look like? Is it organised chaos, or planned and tidy?
That depends on the time of day and the day of the week. Generally I like to be tidy, it helps me work. As the week goes by I tend to move from my office downstairs to the kitchen table as it has a lot more space and I need it! 

What are you currently reading or watching?I am watching Ozark and Drugs Money on Netflix and I read a lot of newspapers at the weekend. I’ve never had so many weekends at home so being able to read more physical newspapers has been a real treat. I enjoy getting a few hours of quality journalism in, it’s a real switch off from my day job (although no sport to read about is a pain!).

What’s your go-to meal right now?
I mostly go for simple and easy when having home cooked food. It's the season for some good veg in the UK right now, fennel and asparagus are both great this time of year. Me and my wife were both vegetarians for many years, so we have quite a few recipes. But if I had to choose a favourite meal I would pick a slow cooked organic meat.

What will be your first treat yourself meal after you leave self-isolation?
I mostly go for simple and easy when having home cooked food. It's the season for some good veg in the UK right now, fennel and asparagus are both great this time of year. Me and my wife were both vegetarians for many years, so we have quite a few recipes. But if I had to choose a favourite meal I would pick a slow cooked organic meat.

What have you found yourself drawn to doing during this time?
Early morning long walks around the empty streets. 

What are some local businesses that you’d love to support?
The amazing Small Food Bakery, they are incredible people providing great bread (and more!); our local Michelin restaurant Alchemilla, which has been cooking meals for the local hospital staff, they are brilliant; Honest Skincare for some great products to indulge in. And, of course Outpost Coffee roasters, which keeps me up with my caffeine addiction. 

How have you stayed in touch with loved ones?
It's been weird and yet wonderful to be in touch with so many people through my laptop.  A couple of weekly parties via Zoom — one with neighbours who literally live on the same street, and others including friends in the USA and Europe. I feel so lucky to have friends near me and across the world. I think in a way this crisis has brought us all closer. We all need to act together to go past this and remember that what protects us is not social distancing, it’s PHYSICAL distancing! We all need to be more social and connected, this is what I feel right now. 

What are you grateful for right now?
My wife and business partner, without her I would have gone crazy by now! 

Shop the Universal Works collection here

WORDS BY MARIAH HANNA
IMAGES BY DAVID KEYTE
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