Northeast Times

Northern Liberties shop owner uses ‘Duke’ — his dog — as inspiration

North­ern Liber­ties-based Duke and Win­ston own­er Seun Ol­ubodun looked to his dog Duke for in­spir­a­tion in his new line of cloth­ing.

Matt God­frey / For the Star Duke & Win­ston own­er Seun Ol­ubodun folds t-shirts at his show­room in North­ern Liber­ties.

There’s no ques­tion that start­ing your own busi­ness can be daunt­ing.

But even then, if you quit a well-pay­ing job and sell your fancy car to gath­er a little star­tup money for your new busi­ness, a lot of folks prob­ably would fig­ure that’s down­right lun­acy.

Yet that’s ex­actly what Seun Ol­ubodun, own­er of Duke & Win­ston cloth­ing in North­ern Liber­ties, did in 2009.

He thought the de­cision was pretty simple.

“There’s a guy named Johnny Cup­cakes up in Bo­ston,” Ol­ubodun ex­plained. “He was just a kid who star­ted a T-shirt com­pany and would drive around selling at shows. Everything he made had a cup­cake graph­ic on it.”

While at his old job, Ol­ubodun went to hear Johnny Cup­cakes speak at a con­fer­ence about how he shaped his busi­ness brand.

Ol­ubodun had gradu­ated from Temple Uni­versity — he stud­ied busi­ness — and Johnny Cup­cakes’ busi­ness ap­proach made sense to him.

“He has turned down of­fers from big stores who want to sell his stuff be­cause he wanted to keep it as his own thing,” Ol­ubodun said. “I was really in­trigued by him.”

Ol­ubodun spent the next six months day­dream­ing about how he could carve a sim­il­ar ca­reer path. In Decem­ber 2008, he re­gistered the name “Duke & Win­ston,” and the fol­low­ing Ju­ly he launched the com­pany with a line of T-shirts fea­tur­ing an im­age of his Eng­lish bull­dog — named Duke.

He settled on the name after try­ing a vari­ety of com­bin­a­tions in­cor­por­at­ing his bull­dog’s name and the man he refers to as the “greatest states­man of his time,” Eng­land’s Sir Win­ston Churchill.

“I knew, be­cause of my Brit­ish lin­eage, I had to go that way,” Ol­ubodun ex­plained. “I lit­er­ally still have a list of a hun­dred names that I tried.”

Ol­ubodun is Ni­geri­an by birth but lived in Eng­land un­til 1996, when his fath­er, a doc­tor, came to Phil­adelphia to work at the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania. Ol­ubodun grew up in Chel­ten­ham and landed in North­ern Liber­ties after gradu­at­ing from Temple Uni­versity.

While in col­lege he star­ted a Web design com­pany out of his dorm room, and it quickly grew to the point that he took on some friends and class­mates as em­ploy­ees.

After some time in the real world pur­su­ing Web design full-time, he real­ized it wasn’t the ca­reer for him. That’s when he heard Johnny Cup­cakes tell his story, and Ol­ubodun’s mind star­ted ra­cing. Duke & Win­ston was born.

“At the time I lived not too far from here, and the Piazza was just open­ing up,” he ex­plained of the en­ter­tain­ment com­plex.

He ac­cep­ted an in­vit­a­tion to ex­hib­it at a trunk show hos­ted by the Piazza. Ol­ubodun had 100 shirts prin­ted and set up a table to sell them.

He sold more than 90 shirts that week­end. Things have been go­ing well ever since.

Last Novem­ber, he opened his show­room on Second Street in North­ern Liber­ties, us­ing the first floor of the apart­ment he was rent­ing.

Re­sponse has been great, with people com­ing from all over to pur­chase his shirts. But people keep ask­ing him for more.

“I’m ex­pand­ing now,” he said, laugh­ing. “I’ll prob­ably be mov­ing out soon.”

He has big­ger plans for the Duke & Win­ston brand as well.

“Even though it’s just a T-shirt line at this point, it sounds like it could be so much more,” Ol­ubodun said.

He has ad­ded oth­er items to his show­room floor, namely dog beds and base­ball caps. But to take his com­pany to the next level, he needs to start of­fer­ing much more.

“I’ve really fun­ded this all on my own,” Ol­ubodun said. “But for you to really build a com­pany and get it out there to people, you need more vari­ations.”

The pop­ular­ity he has found in Philly has not es­caped him, which is why he’d like to fol­low the lead of Johnny Cup­cakes, who has three stores in his nat­ive Mas­sachu­setts and has ad­ded out­lets in Los Angeles and Lon­don.

“It’s a really well-known brand loc­ally, but out­side of Philly, not many people know about it,” Ol­ubodun said of his own busi­ness ven­ture.

He’s aim­ing to change that real soon. ••

For more in­form­a­tion, check out Duke & Win­ston on­line at www.duke-win­ston.com

You can reach at mgodfrey@bsmphilly.com.

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