Archie Hewlett launched British shoe brand Duke & Dexter four years ago with a £9,000 loan. A year on, Eddie Redmayne wore a pair when he won his Oscar. Now its shoes are sold in more than 120 countries worldwide, with the US by far its biggest market. This is the story behind the success.
How did you start your business?
After deferring my place at Durham university, I started working for a property recruitment firm in London. It only took three months to realise that the corporate world was not for me. However, it was during my time in this role that my inspiration for Duke & Dexter first hit.
I attended a number of black-tie events and found myself uninspired by the formal footwear on offer in the market. I became convinced that there was a gap in a market for a velvet slipper or loafer with a contemporary rather than traditional design. So, particularly motivated by a chance to escape corporate living, I had a bespoke pair made which drew a lot of attention from friends and colleagues. The final step was a loan to kick-start the business.
What makes your brand stand out?
I think originality distinguishes D&D – from designs and prints to aesthetics. The brand is a disruptive one and we continue to push ourselves to be different at every opportunity.
This of course goes hand in hand with quality. In 2016, I moved production from Italy to a family-owned workshop based in Sheffield. This has allowed us to be a truly British brand, with every D&D shoe designed in London and handmade in England.View on Instagram
How do you continue to stay relevant?
The frequency of releases definitely keeps the brand fresh – we’re constantly working on new designs and can get a product to market very quickly. Not limiting ourselves to ‘seasons’ is also a key factor, this frees us to drop products outside the fashion calendar.
Social media presence, fuelled by creative campaigns and relevant content, is also important. Instagram has been a huge part of our success and we’ve built a following of more than 320,000 people across the world. I see social media today as a level playing field that allows you to rely on the quality of your products rather than huge marketing teams.
What challenges do you expect British shoemaking to face over the next decade?
I am definitely optimistic about the future of British shoemaking on the whole; I feel it will always have a premium attraction and defined heritage. The biggest challenge will be to ensure that, as with many other British manufacturing processes, there are enough young craftsmen coming through and learning the required skills and techniques to ensure the masterful production process is never lost.
Where do you see D&D in ten years?
When we first launched, we offered products for both men and women and it’s our strong intention to return to that model when the time is right. By this point, we aim to have further expanded our range into desert boots and potentially sneakers, confirming our status as a multi-product footwear brand. In achieving our goals, we will not waver from our founding principles as a British brand in which every D&D team member has a voice and the freedom to be innovative and original.
For more info, see Duke & Dexter