Changing seasons at Universal Colours

From starting during a pandemic to launching its second collection, we catch up with William Hurd, lead designer at London-based Universal Colours.

Universal Colours has quickly made a splash in both cycling and fashion. Founded in 2019 and releasing its first collection the following year, the London-based cycle clothing company has lost no time establishing itself. Instantly recognisable for its block colours and distinctive muted aesthetic, the firm’s designs also focus on ethical sourcing and utility.

Launching its initial products last summer during the pandemic, its new autumn/winter range expands the brand’s offering with an increased number of technical products to see you through a whole year’s worth of weather. Previewing at the Rouleur Live Show, 4-6th November, we sat down with lead designer William Hurd.

A universal approach

‘I think all of us had an idea of what the key value should be,’ explains Hurd regarding founding Universal Colours. ‘We wanted to build a brand on those values rather than acting reactively later’.

Key to this would be the use of recycled or sustainable materials where possible. At the same time, the firm aimed to work with audited suppliers to ensure high environmental and welfare standards. Men’s and women’s ranges would have equal prominence and a unified aesthetic. Technical expertise would also be essential, with the brand aiming to compete with established names for year-round functionality.

Related: The Bikes and Tech to see at Rouleur Live

Seeming to chime with a trend against disposable sportswear, Universal Colours quickly found itself a receptive audience. From the unconventional brand name to the distinct look of its products, despite the difficult timing of its launch, the firm was one of the most talked-about in 2020.

‘When we launched, we were expecting some good feedback, but we were completely overwhelmed by how well it went. We were selling out of products within a few weeks’. With its emphasis on sustainability and gender-neutral aesthetic proving popular, the brand’s styling also reflected broader trends in utility and streetwear.

‘We wanted to create a product that was as mutually appealing to men and women,’ explains Hurd. ‘At the same time, we wanted to ensure the product was as technically strong for both men and women’. This success came despite the challenges of launching a company as many supply chains were grinding to a halt.

Varied inspiration

Trained as a product designer, inspiration for Universal Colours also came from outside of cycling. Located in London, while the city’s cycling scene may have grown exponentially in recent years, its association with art and design is long-standing.

‘Designing the clothing is always a function-led process, but then I’m a perfectionist. I’d say my design aesthetic is quite contemporary and stripped back,’ says Hurd. With influences outside of cycling filtering back into the brand’s look, its pieces sit easily beside many riders' day-to-day wardrobes. It’s partly why the brand has been picked up by shops otherwise specialising in streetwear, including Hypebeast and the Departmento store in LA.

In this regard, the brand’s location might also have helped. ‘London is an epicentre of cool. You’d struggle to find a weekend without something going on. Whether it’s fashion, cycling, product design, furniture, lighting, so many exciting brands are coming out of London at the moment’.

Into A/W 2021

Having done a good job of establishing itself among the pantheon of cool, Universal Colours’ first collection also included plenty of pieces that taxed the firm’s design technical expertise. Its new autumn/winter range will expand on this.

‘Each day, you can have different conditions, so we’ll be concentrating on layering systems that allows you to approach this,’ says Hurd. The tones chosen for the products reinforce this idea, with each designed to reflect the garment’s purpose while complementing the items they're likely to be used alongside.

‘The idea is to encourage people to understand how each product will interact to provide the most comfort on the bike,’ says Hurd. ‘At the same time, there’s a satisfying colour palette that runs throughout’.

If winter can be a tough time for cyclists, it can also be a challenging period for young cycling brands. With the idea that smaller labels might not have invested as much in development and testing, there’s the risk of being overlooked for more established names

Geeking out 

To combat this, Universal Colours has spent extensive resources in testing and researching fabrics that can compete with those already at the top of the market. The brand also had to weigh up carefully the balance between sustainability and performance that can be easier to maintain on more straightforward items.

‘The investment in these more complex items is higher, the minimum order quantities are higher, plus you need more testing and more samples,’ explains Hurd. ‘Yet as a designer, I prefer designing for autumn and winter because I get to geek out completely’.

The higher cost of designing technical products often means that, when they do appear, they’re absent from other brands’ women’s ranges. However, Universal Colours is committed to duplicating all its products, so both male and female riders are equally well served. Reflected both in its consistent styling and promotional material, this emphasis on equal billing has also helped the brand win fans.

Ahead of the official launch in December, Rouleur Live will be a first opportunity to see the latest Universal Colours collection. Taking place in London between the 4-6th November, more information and tickets can be found here.

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