The Brit founded the luxury Duke & Dexter men’s loafer brand in 2014, armed with just 6,000 pounds in his bank account and a relentless drive. And that work ethic has quickly yielded results.
A breakout moment came in 2015, when Eddie Redmayne wore the loafers to collect his Oscar for Best Actor. Other celebrity fans have followed (including Ryan Reynolds, Jonah Hill and Tyson Beckford), as well as retail opportunities. The brand now ships to more than 120 countries and in November opened its first branded shop, in London.
Here, Hewlett shares a few hints at how he’s done it:
What prompted you to start a shoe label?
“It was just to get away from the work I was doing. I didn’t go to university and instead went into property recruitment, but I didn’t enjoy it. It didn’t suit me at all. And funnily enough, I wanted to move out of London, but with recruitment it’s a job right in the center of London. So my sole aim at that time was to make enough money on the side [with this business] to be able to move back to where my parents live, which is out in the countryside. That was the main reasoning for starting things up. It was never a basis to become an entrepreneur.”
How is your day-to-day different now from when you started?
“In the beginning, I was not only trying to carry out the designs but also deal with the business side and actually making sure that it was profitable. Since then it’s just completely changed. As we’ve continued to grow, we’ve taken on more hires who are far more intelligent than I am when it comes to running the actual business side and the operations side. So my focus has gone closer to designing and the new ideas and the creativity — and most recently that’s been the store.”
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?
“The biggest lesson was to actually spend money. Because I started with literally 6,000 pounds, I was always money conscious because I didn’t want to go into debt and I didn’t want to bring in investors. I started the brand to get out of recruitment, not to build a global empire. It was weighing up time against expense, [and at the start] I had a lot more time than I did money. As the business progressed, I became too conscious on using my time to deal with day-to-day stuff rather than taking on key hires, focusing on the future of the business and spending on things like moving factories, a new fulfillment house and moving our office into Soho in London. All of which, looking back, my former self would’ve had a heart attack about. But it had to be done. You have to spend and speculate to accumulate.”
How do you keep yourself motivated?
“I guess that comes down to realizing that there was a business to drive. I didn’t know that to start. I had confidence, but I had no idea whether it would take off. And also, I think it comes from being built with a drive. I could always find ways to have a go at myself about missing targets here or there. It takes a never-ending, relentless energy to keeping things going.”
How many hours do you work?
“Not as many as I used to, but still quite a lot. In the first year, I would easily get in at 8 a.m. and run through until around 11 p.m., then have dinner and then take a couple more hours to deal with the Americans. That was, without doubt, seven days a week. I didn’t have any fear of missing out on parties or what my friends were doing. I don’t know why, but it just wasn’t in my drive at the time.”