Since launching in 2015, Duke + Dexter (D+D) has expanded from its London roots into a global community that works with athletes, musicians, artists, designers, photographers and pioneers who do things differently. In this interview, RLI speaks with company CEO & Founder Archie Hewlett about how the brand does things its own way and why this will continue moving forward.
“There’s a lot of bad footwear out there – made by worse practices,” says Archie Hewlett right at the outset of the interview. “I started D+D seven years ago with a mind-set to bring quality and comfort that comes from transparent supply and production,” the CEO & Founder of D+D explains.
An example of this is that they only use sustainable materials, they know exactly where they’re made, who they are made by and they know why they are making them.
“That ‘why’ is really important, we’re making footwear that exists for a reason, and we’re making it to go against the norm, and to give more than what people expect from them.”
Currently an online-only brand, plans are in place for this to change, as a flagship store in London is currently under construction and the brand will be launching pop-ups in the US in New York and Los Angeles and across Europe.
There has also been success in the wholesale sector through the joining of forces with the likes of Selfridges, Harrods, Nordstrom & Farfetch. The success of their Wilde penny loafer has cemented this – while the brand has become known for their sneakers – their roots are firmly in the creation of loafers.
So while their planned upcoming stores & retail partnerships are new avenues for the company, from a more commercial aspect they have started to develop the brand within the Australian market and have partnered with Zalando to service Europe more efficiently.
Having created a niche for itself in the sustainability sector, D+D continue to develop new products and initiatives to remain at the forefront of this space, and they do this through their design team that is based in their London lab and Hewlett highlights that they are connected to life in the city, and a lot of their more progressive products stem from that.
“For example, they’re working on the new D+D ECO+ sneaker that will release this winter. It uses a sole unit that actually reduces CO2 levels in its production, uses highly breathable recycled bamboo fibres for the lining and leather that’s 100 per cent biodegradable from one of the world’s most energy and water efficient tanneries.”
The D+D community is one that is always growing and developing and is now built out across multiple sub-groups all across the world and this is something that the team are most proud of. “From direct outreach by the team to wearers of the brand, to events and invites to exclusive projects, like our seasonal campaigns, we’re very much an open shop to the people who follow us and wear our products. Even our offices & design studio have an open-door policy, so that our clients know they can come by whenever.”
Hewlett feels it is this transparency that sets them apart, this sense of originality and ownership – rather than just being another faceless label manufacturing products for the masses.
Their latest social media campaign, Time + Place is a sound example of their approach to online activities. As much as they like to highlight their product, the quality of production and the unerring attention to detail, they also like to show how they want a product to be worn, and to inspire what it should be worn for and with. Their Instagram page has become a shop window and a view inside D+D that includes genuine moments behind the scenes that a lot of other brands try to cover up to feel polished and perfect, this is simply not how D+D operate.
The brand’s upcoming winter collection shows how they are pushing forward with the development of enhanced digital strategies and incorporating these within their physical sites.
“This collection will see us create a very real experience for some friends of the brands, that will in turn be part of our campaign – the release will see some installations at our pop-ups, so we’re taking this analogue and digital approach and making it very tangible, watch this space…”
When asked about the key drivers behind the brand’s success and what differentiates them, Hewlett feels that it is this approach to being real, and not being perfect that sets them apart. They don’t hide their team from the world and they don’t hide their practices as a brand either. They are a subversive brand, and that brings with it risk and mistakes, but the CEO & Founder welcomes this, as he couldn’t think of anything worse than being just another shoe company.
“We’re always open, always honest, and always aiming to make our products the very best they can be. We’re not afraid to delay releases if they’re not perfect, we’re not governed by rules and regulations like a lot of other brands. We sit together, we develop the brand together, and we make great products, together.”
The ethos of D+D is to fight convention and the normal way of doing things. The company is committed in its stance against fast fashion, its impact on the planet, on people’s mindsets, and how people interact with clothing and footwear to serve their lives.
D+D is all about making a commitment against this, and against following the crowd and they want their community to think, act and be different.
As he looks to the future, Hewlett explains that maintaining growth and hiring the right people are the biggest challenges for the company because with growth comes more complex production and hiring needs.
“For me, personally, the greatest challenge will be keeping consistent and not deviating from the mission we’re on.”