Duke & Dexter: Archie Hewlett (Founder)
Entrepreneurship over University
Surrendering his position at Durham University at the age of 18 Archie committed himself to building his brand Duke & Dexter and providing the fashion industry with his own take on the formal slipper by creating unique designs using various different materials such as linen, velvet, canvas, suede, pony hair and needlepoint.
Staying true to its British heritage, Duke & Dexter’s new collection “Ultimate 10” is now being stocked at Liberty London, with designs reflecting the honorary British Crown and nation’s servicemen.
Duke & Dexter is sold in over 100 countries on all 5 continents. The Interview (London) talks to Archie on how he has achieved such success for his business aged only 21.
Hi Archie! Please can you introduce yourself and your brand?
My name is Archie Hewlett, I am 21 years old and I am the founder of Duke & Dexter a marketplace for high quality, yet affordable slip-on shoes originally inspired by the traditional British velvet slipper, but with our own contemporary designs and without the pretentious association and inflated price tag.
I started the brand 3 years ago on my year out after A Levels, at the age of 18. I was offered a place at Durham university to study Psychology but wasn’t sure that it was the right route for me so I took that year to work out what I wanted to do.
In the mean time I got a job in recruitment and started Duke & Dexter on the side, which I would work on in my spare time and on the weekends. This meant sacrificing visiting friends who had gone to uni and partying on the weekends like most other 18 year olds. Whats more I didn’t actually reveal anything about Duke & Dexter to most of my friends until it got to the point where it was more established and they had begun to hear about it. This had it’s pros and cons as although it was hard to keep it from them I could receive honest, candid feedback about the brand and what they truly thought of it.
Can you tell us about your new collection at Liberty London?
We’ve joined forces with Kurt Geiger, one of the biggest luxury retailers and as a result launched our ‘Ultimate 10’ Men’s Collection at Liberty’s. We’re are also going to be working with Harrods and Selfridges later this year.
The ‘Ultimate 10’ collection is inspired by the British style and the shoes are ideal to wear indoors and outdoors at both smart and casual occasions. When coming up with the designs we research extensively and we are inspired by so much from the art and design world. Our inspiration can come from anywhere in particular interiors and architecture.
Duke & Dexter is sold in over 100 countries. How did you approach your first stockists? And how do you choose who to associate with?
We stayed clear of approaching stockists but concentrated on building the brand and the sales from a direct basis. If you build that side of the business then it is a win win, rather than immediately wholesaling the business. We allowed the retailers to contact and approach us and then eventually other retailers joined the band wagon.
To build our credibility in other areas we used local bloggers, which increased our reach and visibility internationally.
When did you come up with the idea for Duke & Dexter and what were your next steps?
It was never actually meant to be a business. It came from wanting a pair of shoes for events where the dress code was smart-casual. I wanted a pair of brogues, but knew everyone would be wearing them. I didn’t really feel like I was much of a velvet slipper person and couldn’t really envisage myself wearing them, thinking they were too expensive.
I thought there must be some reason behind the price tag, perhaps some special manufacturing was needed to create the shoe. However, the more I looked into it I realised there was no real reason for the price but it was more to do with the historic associations. After doing my research I had a pair made for myself, with the velvet slippers plain silhouette design but in plain grey. I had so much positive feedback about them, everyone wanted to know where they were from and how they could get a pair themselves. And Duke & Dexter just happened from there.
How did it feel surrendering your place at Durham University?
Well I was so caught up in building Duke & Dexter and I didn’t decide until the business had formed to a small extent so it felt completely right. I certainly have no regrets.
It’s not the same for everyone, there is a loneliness at the amount of work you have to do to keep up, all my friends were going on to get degrees, which is obviously a huge support for getting jobs and future employment. You can hope that you will strike gold with your idea but at the end of the day that will only come from a lot of hard work.
What are the best strategies for marketing your brand?
Social media because it is so vastly changing, no-one knows it inside and out as new technology is forming the whole time. It is such a vital part of any brand and eCommerce as a whole. You can access so many customers through platforms such as, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook. It also comes without the un-certainty that comes with using bloggers etc as they can have subjective prices.
Of course press, pr and events cover all basis and increase exposure. Using different and innovative photographers, such as street style photographers or adventure photographers is good form of cross-promoting as they will reach people who aren’t usually our target.
What are your future plans for Duke & Dexter?
This year we are looking at opening a store in central London, hopefully in Covent Garden. We are building on the concept of having a personal approach to our customers and creating a physical experience of the brand. We are still building new ways to market the brand and will continue to release a whole new range of designs. We use the term Glocalisation, which is global branding through selective retailing in different locations it will still love the brand for what it is, a British brand, but it will have that ease of access to purchase.