Interview with Brand Creator David Castro
What was the inspiration behind the Dungeon Forward brand?
Dungeon Forward was not always the brand it is today. Initially, we were a t-shirt brand [Complex Apparel], and the inspiration came from not having the finances to pay for things I thought were cool. My partner and I began painting shirts on the campus of Florida A&M University. After graduation, there was still a desire to create, so in 2007, Dungeon Forward was born.
The idea behind the name Dungeon Forward is two-fold:
One - from whence he came (From the dungeon forward or from nothing to something)
Two - It’s a derivative of the term “fashion forward.”
We fell in love with headwear and saw there was an opportunity to be innovative in that space so three years ago we transitioned to focusing solely on headwear.
How would you describe the brand’s aesthetic?
The inspiration for our aesthetic is 100% music, art, and street culture. A lot of our items are tied to stories that derive from art pieces, songs, or the culture overall. Another aspect of our aesthetic is the innovating upon the construction of headwear. We teased a new hat on our Instagram called Sunika Kuraun, which is Japanese for “sneaker crown.” We took inspiration from the layering of sneakers that creates a broken silhouette to offers multiple opportunities in design and shifts in colorways. We did this in conjunction with a new closure element with a double strap that will better contour the hat to a person’s head. It will be the first time something like this has been seen on the headwear market.
Who are your competitors in the field? How do you rank amongst them?
We could be considered the smallest of the “bigs” [brands]. When we started to focus on headwear, we did a lot of research on the players in the field. New Era owns 80% of the market share, so it would be a misstatement to call them competition. There is no way for us to compete with them currently other than to be completely different [style wise]. Within the space of the medium-sized brands, there is Official; a mid to low cost brand and Melin, a mid to luxury brand. Dungeon Forward tends to fall in the middle of both of those brands.
A recent New Era campaign was released with a striking similarity to a Dungeon Forward campaign that was released last year. What were your initial thoughts when you saw the NE campaign for the first time?
The first person who saw it was my wife. She was jogging on the treadmill, and the commercial came on ESPN. Initially, she thought it was our commercial and she was so amazed that she almost fell off the treadmill. Then she quickly realized it was not ours, but the creative direction was a close facsimile of our campaign.
After I watch the entire (NE) commercial, I went back and looked at our video. The music track is similar; the opening is a frame by frame with a black background and an empty chair, it’s all too similar. I decided to post a side by side comparison on social media to get other people’s opinion. I felt like people needed to see this because I do not think it’s right to take ideas and try to infuse your brand with a culture that it was not built on in the first place.
I hate the thought of having to take legal action against someone for stealing my idea. I don’t like that type of energy but it’s one thing to be inspired by something, and it’s another thing to copy someone’s work.
Has anyone from New Era reached out to you since your social media posts?
They have not reached out to me. However, one of the (NE) employees who is listed in the credits of this campaign made a comment on my Instagram page. He tagged two other employees, and one of the tagged employees responded “We’re aware” on my page.
What are the next steps you are taking in regarding this matter?
I’m exploring my options at this time. I know the President of New Era did not say “Hey guys go use this video.” There are a lot of people involved such as the agency they use to produce video and the creative directors from both the agency and the brand. However, at this time the video is out, and they are gain equity from an idea that they didn’t originate and there is a level of compensation associated with that. If it’s proven that the idea was taken from our project a resolution will need to be made.
Getting back to the brand, what’s next for Dungeon Forward?
Next is the rollout of Sunika Kuraun. We are initially coming out with three different colorways then there will be another four that will come out within the year. The rollout will drive a shift in the imagery that is shared on our social media account and will focus on innovation and design that is recognizable and if copied would be completely obvious. Also, we are exploring the option for additional products in the accessories space.
Who would you like to see wearing the Dungeon Forward brand?
Odell Beckham Jr, he drives culture right now, and I think he would rock with the brand heavily.
Russell Westbrook, he also drives culture and is really into fashion.
Kendrick Lamar would be incredible because we respect him so much.
In the art space, I would say Hebru Brantley to him in our headwear or even collaborate with him.
What quote or motto do you live your life by?
Why not me?
In those moments where I’m questioning myself about whether I’m doing the right thing or if I’m spending my time in the right place, “Why wouldn’t this be an incredibly large brand in 2 to 3 years? Why am I not the right person to build this?” I find solace in the fact that I can’t find answers to why this brand wouldn’t be incredibly large in 2 to 3 years or why am I not the right person to build this. At the end of the day, I feel like I’m equipped to build this company into a multibillion-dollar organization. Why not me?
For more information on this brand, please visit dungeonforward.com and follow on social media at @dungeonforward