In a bid to escape the world of property recruitment, Archie Hewlett founded Duke & Dexter in 2014, armed with £5,000 and a passion for vintage slippers. He spoke to Drapers about the brand’s journey and the challenges he has faced along the way.
Archie Hewlett, 22, started up luxury men’s shoe brand Duke & Dexter with just £5,000 and a love of vintage slippers. Since its launch in 2014, the brand’s shoes have soared in popularity. Its celebrity followers include actors Eddie Redmayne and Ryan Reynolds and the brand opened its first store in Seven Dials in Covent Garden last year. Archie spoke to Drapers about growing the brand from scratch and his passion for London’s restaurant scene.
How did Duke & Dexter come about?
I left school and was going to go to Durham University to study psychology, but after I got my results I decided I didn’t really want to go. I ended up getting a job as a recruitment consultant and I did that for about four or five months, during which I started trying to figure out what I really wanted to do. I’d started to feel more conscious about my attire and I noticed that the consistent trend was to wear brogues.
As much as I like brogues, I thought there was such an over-use of them. I’d always had an interest in velvet slippers, so I had pair of grey suede loafers made in that style. Wearing those was first time that I can remember being complimented by friends on what I was wearing. I had a few pairs made for friends without thinking much of it, only charging the cost price. But it got to the point where I had to charge a little bit of a premium, because it was taking up too much of my time, and that snowballed into starting the brand.
What were some of the challenges you faced?
Money was a huge pressure. I took a £5,000 loan from my parents, which was an incredibly lucky situation to be in. That made me very money conscious, and meant I had to cover a lot of roles, but not having a job meant I spent a lot of my own time learning the skills.
Establishing credibility is challenging, too – I think that’s the same for a lot of young brands. Working out how you can pick up from having odd sales, and build a much bigger client base – I don’t really think there’s an easy answer for that. It comes with time.
Do you have a favourite design to wear yourself?
I love the Pyramid black and the Harli tweed.
What has been the highlight so far?
I’m not sure we’ve had one big highlight. We’ve always been very fortunate with celebrities [Eddie Redmayne wore Duke & Dexter to collect his best actor Oscar in 2015] and a tangible highlight would be having the store. The production move to England from Italy in 2016 was major for us as well.
What business advice have you learned along the way?
Because of how I started, I was desperate not to go back into recruitment, and I was terrified of running out of money. I wanted to do everything myself and I found that I was trying to do too much. The best advice I had was to do with delegating. Once you have enough on your plate it’s very difficult to focus on growth if you become wrapped up in the tiny things.
What would we find you doing at the weekend?
I’m a big foodie. I love to try different restaurants and find out what the latest restaurant trends are. Most recently I’ve been to Kricket by Piccadilly Circus, and there’s a great place called Cure & Cut in Seven Dials. I also try to get away on an escape to somewhere in Europe at least once a month because of how intense the job is – you have to keep some sanity.
Favourite clothing brand
Favourite places to shop
I like independent stores, partly because of the fashion but also because of the design of the spaces
Thailand – I went to Phuket in January
Last book you read
The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss
First and only job was as a property recruitment consultant
I like the creativity aspect in what I do now, so some form of production, whether that’s video production or art production
Discovering a new restaurant – I’m a big foodie