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Launching a luxury fashion company is not an easy task, but Peter Dundas and Evangelo Bousis were determined their label DUNDAS would exist in the traditional fashion space and be a pioneer in the virtual world.
They have embraced what they believe is the future of fashion and launched collections in the metaverse and on gaming platforms – something you wouldn’t immediately associate with the usual luxury customer.
The brand formed in 2017 and was rewriting the rules from the start. They launched as Beyoncé appeared at the Grammy Awards in a custom-designed, and now iconic, outfit. She was their dream client with a global reach, and her stylist was keen to work with Dundas and Bousis when she heard the duo was creating their own company.
Dundas had previously worked with Beyoncé designing looks for the Mrs Carter Show tour in 2013, when he was creative director at Emilio Pucci. They received a call at the beginning of January and flew out to meet Beyoncé the next day.
“Beyoncé told us she was pregnant and she wanted to wear our brand to the Grammys,” DUNDAS Co-Founder and Image Director Bousis tells The CEO Magazine.
Knowing they wanted to use this event to officially launch DUNDAS, they needed to consider how to communicate the news.
“We didn’t know if we should write a press release or use social media, because it’s such a powerful tool,” Bousis adds. “We all agreed that when Beyoncé went out on stage, we would launch the brand on social media – and the impact was massive. At the time, I don’t think we realized how huge it was because we were so in the thick of it. We were working around the clock to get everything done.
“We woke up the next day and it felt like every publication in the world had called us asking for interviews.”
Bousis says the team spent February to July putting together a full collection and a small team.
“It all happened really fast,” he says. “Probably one thing we learned in all of this was that we should probably slow down a bit just to make sure we have our ducks in a row, so we are trying to put that into practice more so now.”
Dundas and Bousis had planned to launch the company through red carpet moments on superstar celebrities. This fitted with their non-season structure of timeless and seasonless capsule collections and their ‘see now, buy now’ strategy incorporating ecommerce channels.
The plan proved a success, with high-profile moments coming thick and fast. Using influencers and celebrities to showcase the brand is a strategy Creative Director Dundas feels should be considered by all new fashion companies.
“I think today there is definitely an opportunity to reach audiences through influencers,” Dundas says. “They come from a different angle in fashion, are very open-minded and want to discover new things. That definitely gives more opportunity to less-established brands and collections.
“The red carpet has more influence than ever. It has become a moment where people discover brands. You see how much the established fashion houses now invest in having a presence on the red carpet with the influencers. The conclusion to draw is obvious, the reach of the influencer is undeniable. People look at who is watching the show as much as the collection.”
Launching in an unconventional way is just one way the duo demonstrates their entrepreneurial spirit. The fact they have wholeheartedly embraced fashion tech and the metaverse is another.
“Our launch was not very typical, and that meant we didn’t feel we had to take the traditional route when it came to giving the brand a platform,” Dundas explains. “So technology is something we have approached with a very open mind, and it has proven very beneficial.”
Bousis has siblings working within the AI and tech space, so he had been exposed to cutting-edge technologies and was aware of the potential capabilities of the metaverse long before it was well known.
“We had a head start even when we didn’t fully understand because we are open to it. We are not ‘these tech guys’, but we are interested in how consumers use it and we were able to say yes to a lot of things and see how they would pan out,” he says.
“It’s part of our company and who we are right now. We were the first brand ever to do the Super Bowl halftime show and offer digital wearables when we dressed Shakira in 2020, which sold out right away.”
Digital wearables are a huge consideration for the company, and both Dundas and Bousis love how it opens the market to DUNDAS designs.
“It’s part of inclusivity for us,” Bousis explains. “People who can’t buy your real products are able to buy into your brand at a much cheaper price and it’s immediate.”
At their traditional Paris Fashion Week show this year, the occasion was given a tech overhaul with guests taking away PoAPs (Proof of Attendance Protocol) non-fungible tokens (NFTs). These tokens, which prove someone attended a specific event and can be collected like digital memorabilia, provided the audience with their own exclusive access to a D24 collection Paris Fashion Week experience.
They were created on Unique Network, a sustainable NFT blockchain. This feeds into the fact this is a sustainable addition to the DUNDAS offering, which is something they are very keen to work on.
“The avenue of being sustainable and having all of these elements of fashion, which cause so many issues and waste for the environment, especially with how conscious youth is with it, being able to give them digital wearables is both interesting and exciting,” Bousis says. “We think digital closets will become really important and versions of the clothes, the real garments, so we are really going deeper into that.”
Having a digital presence has also opened their market considerably, with the company selling its clothes on Roblox to young fans, some of whom probably have parents who have never even heard of DUNDAS.
“We have our godchildren wearing DUNDAS on gaming even though they are so young,” Bousis explains. “You’d be surprised. It’s the boys wearing the girls’ clothes because they have the cooler avatars. It’s interesting to us from a consumer point of view that kids so young are able to connect with the brand.”
DUNDAS also participated in the first Metaverse Fashion Week in 2022. Although this is seen as an unusual move, Dundas and Bousis believe it is something all companies will be factoring into their annual schedule in the near future.
“Now you hear more companies announcing they are going deeper into the metaverse,” Dundas says. “The metaverse opens so many opportunities that brands are crazy not to embrace it wholeheartedly. It is all about community building and that’s so important in brand building.”
And as far as the creative process is concerned, incorporating technology has also been inspiring and fascinating.
“Some of the technology is still in its early stages, like AI for example, so there are certain things that are just more difficult to render,” Dundas explains. “If I’m working on a project where that is going to be difficult, I adjust some of the work. My discovery with our first metaverse show was that the technicians definitely needed me as well, and I feel there is room for artistic expression as a designer.”
For Dundas and Bousis, thinking outside the box is the norm, but they recognize they are still a young brand that has already faced significant challenges. Just a month after their success and the buzz created by their 2020 Super Bowl moment, the COVID-19 pandemic shut the world down.
Building a business based on going out when every red carpet and party had been cancelled could have sent many companies into free-fall, but the duo – who have been together for nine years and have two children together – took it as a moment to take stock.
“Our trajectory was very different before COVID-19 hit,” Bousis admits. “We had to be nimble and adjust our strategy. It made it more difficult to stay on the path because there were so many unknowns. But we know we have built a strong brand and brand recognition, and we are building a very strong business and expanding on that. We are building the lifestyle brand we always wanted to be.”
They firmly believe that building their brand as a couple gives them an edge and the ability to navigate unexpected events, such as a global pandemic.
“If I had not done this with Ev, I wouldn’t have lasted more than a season. One of the things that makes us unique is that we are doing it together and are complementary. We split our roles and we talk about everything that we do. We get to support each other, and it’s easier when you share those things,” Dundas reflects.
“We built the company together and now we have built a family together. Obviously you have your ups and downs and the madness, but so far so good.
Bousis is quick to agree.
“I think if we didn’t have that foundation already it probably would have been more difficult,” he acknowledges. “Starting a company and the pressure associated with that, you have to trust each other. Having that existing foundation made it quite easy.”
With plans to launch a beauty line and go deeper into Web3 in the near future, Dundas says their modern approach is one everyone in the fashion industry needs to consider. In the future, it will probably not seem so unusual.
“You have to do this when you are starting a brand nowadays. There are a lot of clothes out there,” he says. “I think how you communicate your vision becomes incredibly important, especially if you are trying to penetrate the market with something new. That’s one of the keys to success you have to have. I don’t believe a completely traditional route can even work now.”