Duke & Dexter: the upstart brand treading a new footwear path

He may consider himself an ‘accidental entrepreneur’, but Archie Hewlett’s custom shoe designs are flying off the shelves so fast that he’s turned a personal project into an international business in less than three years.

Today, Archie’s Duke and Dexter brand is hotly desired by everyone from red carpet stars like actor Eddie Redmayne, to young professionals looking to add a dash of flair to their office attire. All this, and Archie is still only 22 years old.

Retail Connections caught up with the footwear mogul to discuss his rapid entrance to the retail sector, and the advice he would offer to other budding young businesspeople.

Three years ago you were leaving school; now you’re an international business owner. You’ve certainly packed a lot into a relatively short career!

It’s funny because I never really meant to be an entrepreneur! After leaving school I went into recruitment, which wasn’t for me. However, it did make me more conscious of how smart I looked; I started noticing what people were wearing and, moreover, became aware of the fact that I couldn’t find any smart loafer-style footwear that I liked.

As a result, I contacted a supplier to see if I could source my own. Lots of friends and colleagues commented on them, so I had a few pairs made for friends at cost price – and it kind of went from there!

Talk us through the early days of the Duke and Dexter business…

I had so much time and very little money to start with, so I tried to do everything myself. I built my first website and developed our profile through social media – that’s been a very powerful tool for us, as it gives us access to the global market on a limited budget.

I don’t see myself as an entrepreneur; I was just totally driven by the fact I was running with a small trend at the time. Thankfully, the business has grown incredibly quickly, with top retailers wanting to come on board.

What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered along the way, and how did you navigate them?

The biggest challenge for me has been managing the business as a whole and taking the right people on at the right time. It was always prevalent in my mind that I didn’t run out of money, so I tried to do everything I could myself. But eventually, it was impossible to continue without hindering growth.

I now have two offices – one below our store and a head office located on Bloomsbury Street, London – and a talented team of people to support the brand.

Although you’ve previously been stocked in some big name department stores, you recently opened your first store in Covent Garden. Why is now the right time to explore a standalone bricks-and-mortar presence?

We felt the brand was in the right place to launch its own store. Because of our success we’ve had a lot of people starting to copy the Duke & Dexter style, and online it’s so hard to know who the real pioneer is, so that was one key motivation for us.

Also, opening our own store gives us another way to extend our profile and create more of a brand experience. Customer service is a big priority of mine and there’s only so much you can do through a website.

Who is the typical Duke & Dexter customer?

It’s impossible to say who the exact client is – it’s so varied, because we ship to so many different countries; price point makes them accessible to so many people.

We attract anyone from students buying one special pair of loafers for university events, to 25-35 year olds looking for evening shoes, to the super wealthy looking for distinctive, top quality footwear. We purposefully try not to strap ourselves down to one section of the market.

Your shoes are worn by some pretty high calibre celebrities – how important is that to your brand identity?

Sales don’t always rocket when a celebrity wears our shoes, but it does help! It gives us a coolness factor; many celebrities are greatly admired for being trendy and on-brand, so when a star like Eddie Redmayne wears Duke & Dexter shoes to the Oscars, it sends out a signal.

It also helps us when new customers are browsing through our website for the first time and see all the famous people that have worn our shoes. If they haven’t made up their mind, seeing a celebrity choosing Duke & Dexter can be a trigger point.

What’s next for Duke & Dexter?

I didn’t start out with a five-year plan and I still don’t have one! My main aim is to keep pioneering and keep being original.

I want to streamline the overall brand a bit more and make it operationally more efficient. I’d also like to offer same day delivery in UK.

I want to keep exposing the brand globally, too, so we’re looking at stores overseas. The U.S. is an obvious choice – it’s our largest market, and we’re hoping to open store in New York City next year. We also have a big presence in Australia, the Middle East, and Canada, so those are all regions where we’re looking at expanding our presence.

Although you never set out to be an entrepreneur, what advice would you give to other young budding businesspeople who aspire to achieve your levels of success?

Be prepared to work hard. As the owner of the business, you have to tackle every problem that your company encounters, and dealing with that means being really committed. You should always be pushing yourself to achieve more, and be ready to change at a fast pace.

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