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Universal Works

Its simple design aesthetic has given this contemporary menswear brand a wide appeal

Menswear brand Universal Works is all about understated design with commercial appeal. Young fashion indie Oi Polloi and etailer My-Wardrobe have already singled it out as a strong performer for spring 10 - only its second season. The brand launched for autumn 09 with a 50-piece collection.

For autumn 10 the brand is looking to maintain this momentum. Pieces include a waxed jacket with a distinctly British look and a knitted button-through work jacket with large pockets. Loose-fit cotton trousers in red and traditional camel cords with chunky knit cardigans and pullovers in beige and stone grey also stand out, together with deconstructed blazers and hooded parkas layered with casual waistcoats and checked shirts.

“We don’t tend to follow trends, although being exposed to them is inevitable so the product reflects our surroundings,” says the brand’s founder, David Keytes. “Universal Works is traditional clothing for modern living, stripped down to a simple aesthetic with quality garments that perform well and suit the modern lifestyle.”

Keytes’ experience in the menswear sector spans more than 20 years. He began as product manager at Paul Smith before moving on to retail group Sears and streetwear label Maharishi. “The menswear market has matured significantly over the past 20 years,” says Keytes. “Once brands told men what to wear and how to wear it with big slogans and logos, but increasingly men have more options and don’t need to be told or have it written across their T-shirt.”

Universal Works is largely modelled on old-fashioned workwear styles and appeals to all ages. “The laid-back appeal ensures the clothes can be worn by 22-year-olds to 52-year-olds and above,” says Keytes.

Manufacturing is split between India and the UK. “It’s important to have a balance to the collection,” Keytes explains. “Producing in India gives us affordable product but at the same time as a British brand it’s important to have a manufacturing presence in the UK.”

For spring 10, Universal Works grew its stockist base to 25 accounts across 13 countries including the US, Canada, Sweden, Denmark and Russia, and Keytes is looking to double that for autumn 10. Wholesale prices range from £13 for a T-shirt to £145 for a Harris Tweed jacket.

The brand has just taken on an agent in the US but is keen not to outgrow its suppliers and buyers. “I want to continue working with smaller, family-run suppliers and indies that I have strong relationships with,” says Keytes.

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