At 18 years old, Archie Hewlett turned down a place at Durham University to build his slip on shoe brand Duke & Dexter. Now 21, Archie has a celebrity fan base including Eddie Redmayne and Tyson Beckford, who are loyal to his unique footwear. He’s also worked with big brands such as Kurt Geiger and is shipping his shoes to over 100 countries. As the perfect example of a young entrepreneur, we had to catch up with Archie to find out just how he did it.
What sparked your idea for Duke and Dexter?
I took a year out before going to university which I was due to do and in that time I started going to events and I needed to wear smarter shoes. As much as I love brogues, I just wanted something a bit different, I knew everyone else would be wearing brogues and the only other shoe that crossed my mind was a velvet slipper and, with all due respect to them, I just didn’t like the association they had. I thought it was very pretentious and I kind of dismissed them instantly because of the price point as well. So from there, I had an individual pair made just for myself and I wore them to the events, not really thinking anything of it still and it was from there that I began to get an interesting response and feedback.
A lot of people look forward to university, but was it Duke and Dexter that made you turn the other way or did you feel it wasn’t for you?
I was due to go to university, I hadn’t given it a second thought. I got a place at Durham, got the grades needed and then it was only after I realised I was actually going in a couple of weeks that I started to really question whether I wanted to go and I think, looking back on it, I always knew that I didn’t really want to go.
Have you always had an entrepreneurial side to you?
No, I still don’t to be honest, I just think the one knack would be, and certainly what I know now, is to work. I’ve always worked really hard and I never will have an issue if I’ve got to work all night. Whether that’s a Friday night or whatever, as much as I love to see my friends, it’s just how I approach things like that. Once I took that year out and once I decided to give it a go, I was very fortunate that I had a lot of time, because I wasn’t even at university and I didn’t have any commitments.
The fashion industry is obviously very competitive, so how did you want your brand to differentiate from other brands?
One thing I’ve always been amazed about is how open people are if you can get across that you really have taken time to show that you know what you’re going to meet with said individual for. They just said the absolute key is originality and as much as you’ll think that someone else has copied you, or is taking away your sales, everyone in the industry that has any care, will know that they’ve copied and the only way you’ll make it work is by being original. Obviously, that’s kind of where the whole celebrity and general designer originality has come from.
Where are Duke and Dexter on a global scale? Is it expanding this year?
Probably my biggest surprise has been the global element; right from the start, we’ve had a very global client base. We sell, most months, to over 100 countries just from our website. We have retailers and distributors globally now, so that’s the continuation plan and we’ve obviously worked with a few major accounts like Kurt Geiger and the United Arab Emirates. Having sat down at the start of the year with a lot of the team, I think we know that our general plan and point of movement has been to take on things slightly different in regards to the global element. What we’ve done, over the past few years, is to make sure that we continue to expose ourselves globally.
How does it feel when you see celebrities wearing your shoes?
It is weird, it was weirder to start with but the novelty has worn off but the excitement is still very much there. Again, I think it comes down to the designs and originality, we’ve never paid celebrities and never will and we don’t pay bloggers, I don’t like that element. We’ve always had celebrities and bloggers but we’ve left them to approach us and, again, that’s all in the lines of the same reason we don’t pay them, we want them to be passionate about the shoes. We have a number of new collaborations and partnerships coming up with celebrities, which is all very exciting, but at the same time it’s all our clients so it’s very kind of mutual.
Do you think that setting the business up at a time when social media is huge for fashion has helped with the brand?
Yeah, massively. I think what it allows you to do is to create an established name much faster, if you take it back to more traditional elements, it was very difficult to establish a name and get the clients that you want. Social media gives you that ability to work with certain bloggers and celebrities and also to convince the clients, you really want to be part of the brand, so much easier because of the mutual platform that social media gives.
What would be your advice for young entrepreneurs who want to start their own venture?
I would always say take as much advice as you can, if you’re an entrepreneur as such. As brilliant as your brain may be or as intelligent as you are, you’re always going to get really powerful advice from people that have been there and done it.
It’s incredibly hard work, that’s obvious as well but what I mean by that is, it’s hard work in a sense that if its going badly then it’s really hard work, but it’s a double-edged sword because, if it starts to go really well from the offset, then it makes it even harder because you’re always going to be playing catch up. You’re always going to be one step behind where you want to be and also where you need to be, in terms of efficiency and analogy of the business.
Do you have any moments where you think ‘I wonder if I went to university, how things would be different’?
There’s always times where you wonder if you’d done something else, but you can do anything and wonder that. So do I personally regret it? No. I always go and see different friends at different universities, so it’s certainly not the social aspect. Some people are set on university because they have a certain degree that they’re really looking forward to studying; I just didn’t have a clue what I wanted to study.
Shop Duke & Dexter here.