This article kicks off both our Blog and our Rising Stars segment. This series is dedicated to in-depth interviews with up-and-coming labels, bringing you an insider's perspective to building a brand. If your label wants to be considered for an interview, then don't hesitate to get in touch. Meanwhile, for more emerging talent, check the Blog regularly to see new interviews in our Rising Stars series.
Dichino Clothing - London, UK
One summery Saturday afternoon, I took a tube to North London, where I was picked up by Dieu and Paul. I could tell it was their car as they rolled up, as I saw them wearing as yet unreleased Dichino trucker caps.
It was only when I took my earphones out that I realised the slight tremors I could feel through my feet were resonating from the car Dieu had parked across the road.
I could hear UK drill music thundering from the vehicle and, after introducing myself to my hosts, sat in the back while I was driven to the location for our interview – the Westwood Crib Session continuing at full blast.
Once we arrived, Dieu and I got out and crossed the road to head through a playground in between blocks of flats, where we found an iron bench to set up…
hs = HYPERSUPPLY - DS = Dieu
hs: Can you tell me about the beginning of the brand; how did you start up?
DS: It was just a day at sixth form. My friend Natalia brought a drawing she had completed and asked what I thought of it. I actually liked the image, and I was thinking I could turn this into a brand logo, along the lines of Versace’s. I asked her to redraw the logo, so I could digitise it, and get T-shirt samples done. Having a brand was never a part of my plans in life; it’s something that just hit me when I saw the drawing.
I’m a keen guitarist as well, and I’ve been playing for a few years. Around the time I started the brand, I had just left a gospel band, and I had some cash stacked up. I started using my savings to slowly invest in the brand with sampling, photography, and all those small things.
hs: How busy was it at the start? How did selling differ from what you initially thought it would be?
DS: After the t-Shirts were made, I asked for feedback from my friends. I received a lot of negative feedback, because people thought the logo had something to do with “demonic symbolism”.
I only sold 2 t-shirts at first. I realised I needed get on my toes, and start communicating and networking. I always knew it was going to be quite difficult for us in general, but it’s just about how you market yourself. My main angle was my strong love for music. I knew a few musicians, and I knew that I had to hit them up, before anything else. That helped us get our name out there, and the brand was seen in different places. That’s what definitely attracted customers.
I started to get busy when I bulk-ordered T-shirts the next summer, in 2014. My boy Prince – he’s an owner as well – was sorting out the website, and we got a bit of business online. We started off small, using Big Cartel at that time. I made hoodies next, in a small run to start off with. The first run also didn’t initially sell out, so I again made sure that these items were seen in the right places. July was when everything started happening. I found the suppliers I needed, I took on stocks, and the online orders were popping.
hs: How did you first meet Prince and your current team members?
DS: I was at Middlesex Uni a few years back; I tried to do the uni thing as well, while running the brand. If I’m being honest, the course [in Business Information Systems] was taking me to another path in life. It was a case of picking the brand path and chasing it. I didn’t even get to finish the year. Obviously, there was a bit of an issue at home, but… [chuckles]… yeh man, mum now understands why.
During that 1st year, I met new people, and these guys were the ones I became close to. They were from Tottenham as well, and also knew about what I was doing with the brand. I was effectively on my own before Prince offered to help me. Now there are four of us: I also met Richard at Middlesex, and Paul is Prince’s big brother. I built up a good bond with them, and after a few months, I then looked at the situation, and saw that I could go somewhere with these guys.
So I turned them into owners as well, cos I knew that I needed to build a team if I wanted to move forward. It’s about teamwork; working with individuals that are serious. These guys have always been down for this brand, and from the day they stepped in, they’ve never slept on the job, not once!
Aargh, bro! [We see a muscular, unleashed and unmuzzled Doberman wandering the grass around us, but at a relatively comfortable distance away]…I don’t like dogs, I’m not gunna lie.
hs: [I let out a nervous laugh, then slowly ask my question]… Relative to those times, how busy are you now?
DS: Things are progressing in a mad way right now. Some things I can’t believe are happening. However, this year we had a serious setback. We haven’t released all the stuff that we were supposed to, because of some trademark issues, but by God’s grace, everything has been sorted out, so we’re looking to come back stronger.
We had an opponent from abroad claiming that our name is similar to theirs, so we had to focus on clearing this hurdle, before we could continue. So… we’ve won our case, and we’re looking to now take over, literally. There are certain steps we should have been making, but the trademark issue set us back. Things are still busy, we have our core range [of signature caps and hoodies] which is always available online; those still move regularly. Things are going well, but we need to feed our customers with new items, definitely.
hs: What is currently driving you to make your products in a certain way? Do you ever check out what other independent brands are doing?
DS: [In an inaudible whisper picked up on the microphone] shit...
hs: [I’m oblivious to what’s happening until I look in the direction Dieu is facing. I then spot the Doberman intently staring us down, just metres away]
DS: Should we move to another spot?...
hs: [I shake my head. The last thing I want is to initiate a chase]
DS: What was the question again?
hs: [I let out another nervous laugh before repeating the question. Our canine friend eventually loses interest and moves on]
DS: We are not trying to compete with the other streetwear brands; we are trying to compete with the “Big 3” [Nike, Adidas and Puma], and see what we can do differently to them. It helps to push us, because they produce higher quality stuff than the brands lower down.
Every successful brand has a feature that they keep consistent. For me, I’m looking at quality fabrics, so we use premium cotton mainly, as I just want my customers to feel comfortable. There have been a few times where I have received a sample, and I’ve wondered why it’s causing my skin to irritate or sweat. That’s an issue of quality, particularly with synthetic materials.
There are a few types of fabric that we would like to use, but we are working out how we could best incorporate these new materials. I’m looking to bring out some velvet-material products soon, in a couple of limited edition one-off runs. We’ve got some items coming out that nobody else has!
hs: I noticed you have a newer sweatshirt, which displays “Dichino” in text, but has your logo hidden within it. How are your items created, and once they are manufactured, how do you then market them to your customers?
DS: That there, that’s Paul. He’s the guy that just sits down and gets an idea that seems to come from nowhere, but he’s good at putting things together. When he showed us that design, for the first moment I glanced at it, I couldn’t see anything but the Dichino text, but then took a proper look, and realised just how smart the design really is.
Once made, the next thing is photography. With product photography, the key is to understand the different aims of indoor and outdoor shoots. With an indoor shoot, the focus is on the product itself, nothing else. So you just use a plain background and focus on what the model is wearing. When we take the brand outdoors, we’re focussing on the lifestyle behind the brand. So, whenever we’re shooting outside, you might see blocks of flats behind whoever’s modelling, because that’s the lifestyle that Dichino’s coming from. Right now, we’re in North London, life ain’t as great as it should be…yet! So we’re showing that this is where the brand is coming from.
In terms of social media marketing, our main platform is Instagram, cos that’s where we show the lifestyle of the brand. We also notice artists being styled in our clothing in a lot of music videos: Looking across the YouTube platform, we’ve seen quite a few artists wearing our stuff while featured on the main UK channels. It just goes to show that we are relevant in the scene.
hs: Who are your main customers, and how do you know what they think of your brand?
DS: The main age group is teenagers. But even the ‘younger youngers’ are also looking at our stuff; we’re gunna have to feed them as well. There’s also a serious fan base among uni students. We like to keep our prices nice, because we know it’s not only people our age buying our stuff, but also the ‘youngers’ who will go to their parents for the cash. We just want to make our prices fair for everyone.
Sometimes we reach out on social media asking what are customers want us to put out next. We always interact with them to get as much feedback as we can. The last time we asked, we realised that people wanted accessories. I don’t want to say too much but, they’re gunna see what we come back with!
hs: How are your team roles divided, and how much time do you spend together?
DS: Paul has always been in charge of designs. Now we’ve also got a new addition to the team – Ramone – who designs with him. He’s another brother that we’ve grown up with as well. I went to sixth form with him, and we were in the same class.
Paul and I handle quality control, and advise our suppliers on any adjustments needed. Prince runs the website, while Richard’s mainly on the social media inboxes. My main role is to promote the brand. Our office is at Prince and Paul’s house; Richard and I normally meet up first then go to theirs.
I’m not gunna lie to you my bro, we’re together every single day. Every single day! Literally, even on the days we’re not doing anything Dichino related, we’re just together anyway. We’re friends as well.
hs: You just mentioned that you interact with your suppliers for product development. How do you make sure your partnerships with them are strong over time?
DS: One thing I like to do is always check up on the people that run these companies. For example, sometimes I will message you [HYPERSUPPLY] asking how things are going in general, and try to maintain constant contact. At the end of the day it’s business but, apart from that, it’s always good to get to know each other as well. We build relationships with everyone we deal with.
Shout out to you guys at HYPERSUPPLY though, I feel that we’ve been communicating nicely and, in terms of getting things done – especially with sampling and development – it’s always been all smooth.
hs: Thanks! Now, at the moment you are selling exclusively online. Would you ever look at trying to place in stores?
DS: There are some shops that are trying to place us, but sometimes you go into meetings, and you get the feeling that they’re trying to eat more than their fair share. There’s one store in America; hopefully by next year we should be seen in there. We also have a well-known UK store that’s monitoring our next few releases. From there they will decide on whether to pursue their interest in us, and I would want to see us in that store next year.
The aim is to take the brand global. I want it to be seen in shops internationally. That’s the type of level we’re trying to hit. It’s about independent work – It’s all mind strength. However, we will always be online first, even if we see store sales doing well; the site is the main home.
hs: How has your role evolved? What were you doing now that you were not doing at the beginning?
DS: At the beginning, I had more time for the brand, but now I’m more actively managing my close friend Ekeno in his rap career. I’ve been managing him for roughly the same amount of time as I have been running the brand; it’s just that now I’ve got to wear both hats more and more. Soon after I launched the brand, I got him to do a theme tune for us with a few other artists. After that, I then proposed that I become his manager, which he accepted.
Out of all my friends, he’s the one that I’ve known the longest; from school days, when I was in year 8, though he’s a year younger than me. I used to have a studio at home, and he would sometimes come down and record, but it got to a point where he needed to upgrade. I realised that my studio wasn’t giving him that quality, professional platform he needed, so he pushed on to another place where he had his own links. We drifted out of touch for a while, then got back in contact around sixth form, once he had finished year 11. In that sense, it’s like I’ve been his manager from years back as well, cos I’ve always tried to look out for his best interests, and not hold back his development.
hs: What role does Ekeno play for your brand? Are there ever times where you might want him to promote your stuff, but maybe another brand also wants him to wear their gear?
DS: [A smile emerges from Dieu’s face, the sun glinting off his gold tooth-cap] I’m not gunna lie, there’s a lot of interference right now… A lot of brands, they’re trying to steal him from us! Not really steal him, but obviously, business is business. I’ve got to help him market himself, so I never try to limit him. I always let him know that if another brand comes through, he should be flexible with them, cos it’s nice to be able to support other people’s ventures as well. But yeah, in terms of Ekeno, he’s the only artist we sponsor. He’s known as “The Boy from Dichino”, and he reps the brand highly. We always give thanks to him for everything he’s done for us. He feels that he’s a part of the brand, and he has elevated us to the next level, giving us a genuine association with the local music scene – we're going to release a new product line in his honour.
hs: How do you feel that you can further push your association with music?
DS: Right now I want to do 1 or 2 collaborations. We have a collab coming out, which was initially supposed to drop around May, but we changed the date cos we wanted to drop it at the right time. It’s a collab with a Boston, US-based brand, and will help both sides to reach new audiences. I’m always looking at the music angle as well: Ekeno has got a feature up there with an artist called Dutchy. He’s about to blow, with a few labels looking into him. We’re trying to do this project around the tune they’ve done together, so we’re looking to travel over, give the clothing to the artists, and have it featured in a video that we will shoot for the song. It’s all about timing; we decided to put it all together, all in one go.
hs: Right, so given that you’re extremely into music, is there a song that you can recommend to readers for the summer?
DS: Ekeno will be dropping a song called “My Homies”. That will be our main summer anthem. Look out for that one there guys; it’s coming soon!
hs: I look forward to hearing it! As a closing soundbite, how do you want someone to feel when they are wearing Dichino?
DS: I want them to feel nice and expensive! Expensive, that’s the one!
hs: Nice one! Thanks for your time Dieu; I look forward to witnessing Dichino’s future progression!