Q&A with Universal Works

For our latest interview we sat down with David, founder of one of my favourite brands over the past few years, Universal Works. Discussing current climates, COVID, football and a host of other topics, it was a pleasure to interview one of my favourite designers. Enjoy…

Hi David, cheers for taking time to have a chat, how are you today?

Stressed. Too much to do, but hey I’m lucky, I have a job and I mostly get to choose what I do, so I’m luckier than most.

For those who may not know, please can you give us a brief backstory into Universal Works, from past to present day?

BIG question, how long do we have?

OK- we started 11 years ago, just me and my wife helping me after her day job finished. The focus and concentration is on making wearable, quality clothing with an edge with feeling and with soul. Finding the right stockists by traveling and convincing people and delivering that same quality product on time.

We have been lucky to get the right stockists and build the business, taking the opportunity to open a couple of small stores in London, build a website, get some great people on board, but importantly not losing track of the stockist’s needs. We have always had he ethos that the customer is king and product is everything else.

We have been obviously really stressed due to the pandemic and we’ve tried to do the right thing. Fail a lot, but fail better tomorrow, that’s our view. Say yes to lots of relevant collaborations, but sometimes learn to say no, and get lots of plates spinning and work hard. Here we are 11 years later…

What’s your background, did you always want to own your own clothing label?

I always wanted to work in clothing, as my chances to play right back for England seemed to be limited. However, I never thought about having my own collection, I tried a couple of times with my own business, but my own brand where I was the designer as well as the owner…no.

I did not think that would happen, then it did!

You’ve worked for some huge menswear brands in the past, how did this help shape Universal Works?

Experience is vital in knowing what to do and what not to do, I have no qualifications, so experience is my qualification, it is what shaped me.

How has the brand progressed over the years?

We went from 9 stockists in the first season to 259 today, and we don’t have to beg everyday for a factory to make our product, some days but not everyday…

You hail from Nottingham and this is where the head office is based, what do you like most about the city?

I’m actually a Brummie, but Nottingham is my adopted home. The thing I like most is that many of my mates live here, of course that’s because I’ve been here so long, but I am lucky to have some amazing friends around me.

Where do you draw inspiration for the brand?

Mostly from travelling, but that’s changed recently for obvious reasons! I guess its from observing people, and I’ve a few years of stored up ideas to get through in this time where we are travelling less.

Other than designing, what other passions do you have?

My wife, music, food, football, contemporary art, modern architecture – all in no particular order (well maybe apart from my wife first of course).

Obviously COVID has affected everyone’s life this year, how has it impacted the business?

Made it really really fucking difficult.

Is there an item you have designed which you’re particularly proud of, or means something to you more than the others?

Well our Bakers Jacket is special as its such an iconic piece for our brand, but we also have a newer style we make in wool fleece simply called “cardigan”. A kind of a informal soft jacket that I am particularly proud of and its currently our best seller, but maybe simply the fact we championed looser pants when the world wanted skinny jeans and yet here we are selling lots of loose pants. That gives me a warm glow.

I love your sample sales, which you often hold in Nottingham, at independent pop up markets – any plans to take these online?

Not yet. We do a sample sale once a year really, maybe we will try to do it online if covid continues, but for me those sample sales are special precisely as they are one off events, but lets see.

Could you tell us about your plans for the SS21 collection?

Better than the last one.

What are your favourite brands and why?

Comme Des Garson, singular crazy artistic vision allied with commercial acumen and amazing success, Adidas for making good sneakers, Brew Dog beer for having a punk attitude.

As well as fashion, this blog is all about music and football – do you have much interest in either?

I struggle to do them both at the same time, but I spend too much time on both. Stopped playing football much now as work does really take up a lot of time, but at least I can listen to music while I’m doing it. I’m a huge fan of music and our products take influence from musical inspirations too – like the Strummer jacket.

What’s the best, and worst, thing about owning and running your own label?

Best -Nobody can tell me what to do, Worst- everyone wants me to tell them what to do.

What advice can you give to any youngsters wanting to start their own brand?

Be prepared to work twice as hard as you would for anyone else, for half the money (or no money for a few years more likely) and then carry on working hard, and then carry on working hard and you’ll be fine if you have passion and a little bit of talent. But mostly it’s the hard work bit that matters, (of course I’m assuming your mum or dad is not a billionaire, as that can help too).

What are your plans for the future?

Sleep more.

Describe Universal Works in only 3 words…

Peace, Love and Soul

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