Growing up we’re told to follow our passion, that if “you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” We’ve heard stories of Wall Street tycoons becoming teachers and laborers becoming multimillionaires. One thing that they all have in common is that they chose to follow their heart and not the money. Money is more of a byproduct than the actual goal. In the case of Seun Olubodun, leaving a comfy desk job and venturing into the fashion industry, not only allowed him to nourish his passion for branding but also to create things that people can enjoy.
I caught up with my fellow Owl [Temple University Alum] at his new digs located in Rittenhouse Square. Although we attended school around the same time I have never met Seun personally, but heard many great things. A young, driven, and talented fashion designer that chose to build his brand in Philly rather than the stereotypical New York or L.A scene, Seun’s reputation proceeds him. While waiting for him to tie up a few loose ends, I began to look around his U.K inspired showroom and couldn’t help but be inspired. Here’s a guy who started from with minimal means and now has a storefront that would make just about any fashion designer envious. Seun’s story is one that definitely needed to be told.
After graduating from Temple in 2006, Seun began his career as an IT professional building and maintaining websites. Although, a respectable career, he knew it wasn’t his destiny. A chance encounter with a client sparked his interest in the fashion world, “I had a bunch of clients I was doing websites for, one was Johnny Cupcakes. I was working on the website doing research and checking out the store. I just liked the concept.” Seun recalls. He not only envisioned a change in careers but a means to create something and make a comfortable living in the process. “Every time [Johnny Cupcakes] put out a T-shirt, there was always hundreds of customers that would line-up just to buy one t-shirt.”
At the time Seun was realizing his dreams Philly’s fashion scene had limited options especially for young professionals as urban wear and corporate labels dominated the scene. Seun saw this as a golden opportunity, seized it and never looked back, “Philly didn’t have any independent type of brands. It was really corporate with Polo, and J.Crew, and Urban Outfitters. Then you had a lot of street wear brands but there wasn’t anything for young professionals with preppy-clean lines. So I figured that would be a good opening to get into.” That opening turned into a gaping hole allowing Seun to to not only follow his dreams but to flourish. Eventually he went on to establish his own label Duke & Winston in 2009, which produces clothes has he describes it, “Ralph Lauren on a more casual level.”
Seun’s story may seem like the classic Hollywood feel-good story but it didn’t come without some challenges and hard work. If you’ve paid any attention to the fashion industry then you have witnessed tons of labels come and go. Some were successful while others barely made it off the ground. Seun attributes many failures to not only lack of work ethic but also lack of preparation, “You can have a great clothing line but again the fashion industry is such a visual thing. So you need to have a great website, you need to have a good photographer. Unlike other businesses the fashion industry has a lot of layers.” What it all boils down to is that presentation is critical. How people perceive your brand determines how successful your label can become.
However, presentation can only get you so far. Work ethic will carry you the rest of the way. Seun has more than paid his dues. Having started a brand with minimal funds and resources he recalls having to take the long route and constantly be on the road trying to drum up brand awareness, “I did a lot of trunk shows. At one point I did 100 in a summer. You can imagine that’s sometimes twice a day.” Although, Seun has been in the business for five years he has seen his fair share of fellow fashion entrepreneurs crash and burn. Many of whom were just in the business for the glitz and the glam. These types fawn over fashion shows and the corporate sponsored events but are never willing to burn the midnight oil. “The one thing people don’t see at the parties and events is the stuff you’re doing until 5 in the morning and developing it. That’s what matters. You have to have that in you, if you don’t have it in you and you’re in it for the fun and visual side you will spend and lose a lot of money.”
One thing that was on Seun’s side was the fact that he began his start-up here in Philly. As he saw an opportunity to create his own lane he also saw a city that would allow a person in his position to create and make mistakes in the process and not flame out as others tend to do in larger cities. He attributes this to the affordability of Philly. Obviously not as expensive as say New York, Philly allowed Seun to devote his life to his passion without loosing the roof over his head. “It’s [Philly] big enough where you can get a lot of stuff done and there’s a lot of resources, but small enough that you can afford to start out. So if you don’t have a lot of money you can live cheap,” Seun describes.
As with real estate, many times with fashion it’s all about location, location, location. Duke & Winston’s foundation was built here in the city of brotherly love and it wasn’t by chance but part of Seun’s strategic planning. The fact that Philly is smack dab in the middle of New York and DC at just about half the living expense, allows Seun to take advantage of fabric districts, events, and other business opportunities, “It’s not as expensive as other cities and you still have access to a lot of places. I can be in New York for a trade show in the morning and come back at night.” Not only does Seun enjoy the benefits of Philly’s geological location but also the ability to secure a prime store front location in Philly’s ritziest section of the city.
Originally located in Northern Liberties, Duke & Winston recently relocated to Rittenhouse Square. More than ecstatic about the move, Seun recognizes that such a change in venue would not be possible in places like New York as he puts it in his own words, “I have a store in the middle of Rittenhouse which is our 5th Avenue, pretty easily in 4 years. For someone say in New York to get into 5th Avenue it would take 20 something years.”
Seun’s vision, challenges, and success are all experiences that aspiring fashion designers or any entrepreneur for that matter can learn from. Aside from the hard work, capital, resources, and preparation, I had to ask Seun if he had one piece of advice he would give to an up and coming designer. Without hesitation he responded with a great tidbit, “Focus in on one thing. If you want to create a clothing line focus on one thing and make sure you can get a customer for it.”
Check Out Duke & Winston’s Clothing & Accessories At: