Aesthete, an ethically-sourced and design-focused clothing brand, was co-founded by Wesley Lu and now touts Ritesh Pakala as its CTO, both chapter brothers of Dustin.
We recently spoke to Dustin on the topics of ambition, creatity, and entrepreneurship:
Can you tell us about your background and what lead you to wanting to create a transparant, sustainable clothing company?
Well, initially I was more into the creative arts than business, I went to a technical school in High School for a year and studied digital design. But after High School I decided to become a bit more practical so I studied Business and Finance specifically at USF. Because of the intense focus on startups in the Bay Area during the time of my formal education, much of my financial studies were performed on new but quickly growing companies. This formal education combined with personal interest and research gave me at least a foundation to make a decision from: Either go and work for a company and devote myself to improving their cause, or fight for a cause of my own and build a team around that. I signed a contract to do Financial Regulations Consulting at KPMG before graduating from USF but eventually decided to take a different turn and work for a venture-backed startup here in the Bay Area that I had interned for in school called Trumaker which was leveraging technology to create an E-Commerce experience in which everything delivered to you was tailored to your custom measurements. I worked there for about a year and a half before I left to another young clothing company based here in SF as well.
How did you go from the idea stage to the actual production and creation? Was it a specific moment or a gradual process?
My dad is a through and through entrepreneur, the truest they come, and so after a lot of deliberation between ideas and a long time (albeit novice) appreciation for Fashion and Design I decided that this was a good area. In school, I had also studied the Fast Fashion industry in relation to finance and been ever-aware of the increasing consequences globally arising from the poor ethical behavior of the Fast Fashion industry. So this gave me a mission behind the interest.
After a bunch of time talking through the idea with close friends and family, one of which being our initial investor, I officially formed the company during which time I recruited my co-founders which were a couple of long time best-friends and the smartest and hardest working people I know, two of which I met in my time at USF and with Pi Kappa Phi.
Do you think you'll ever feel like your company has "made it?" Is that something you're looking for?
I don’t really know what it means for us to have ‘Made It’, I think about it a lot but I’m not entirely certain where the end is, if it exists, I guess to have really made it, would be to have effectively used our skills as a team and the best technology available to us throughout the process to re-design an industry from the ground-up that is largely antiquated and produces a ton of harmful waste in the world. And in that process I hope we make some cool things that people love, with the people I want to spend my time with.
What was the most valuable advice you received?
I think the most valuable advice I’ve ever received is from my Dad and comes through writing most effectively as a quote although he has given me this advice many times in different forms: “...Krishna’s [In the Bhagavad Gita] message to Arjuna is pretty much the same: don’t fall for the reality created by the five senses. Just because you see it or hear it does not mean it is real.” And with that I think the most valuable advice that I could pass on to anyone who wants to fight for a cause would be this: We absolutely do create our reality, there is no question that we do, so the question then becomes what is it that you want to create? As someone who has done both, it is (in my opinion) much more challenging to take this path, to look uncertainty in the eye daily and put everything on the line for something you believe in, but I believe that although it is much more difficult and much less glamorous than most stories make it out to be, anyone can do it if you are willing to really fight for your cause and hang in there when the going gets tough.
You met two of your co-founders through the fraternity. What was it like starting a business with your chapter brothers?
The process for this really came naturally, we were drawn to the fraternity for the same reasons that we were drawn together, we all valued community, and loyalty really highly. Pi Kappa Phi is the champion for these values and in this way acts as a great magnet for people who share these values together. Funny enough, one of my co-founders, Wesley Lu (who is now our CMO), and I started a Club Lacrosse team together at USF as well. And the other, Ritesh Pakala (Our CTO) and I actually met through the Club Lacrosse team, and he ultimately joined the Chapter as well, which led into a different project that we worked on together before this which was this awesome Educational Platform that he had built. My other two team mates Ian Reid and Cole Mayer I met early in High School and just formed a really strong bond with that lasted through College. Ian is our Creative Director and is an insanely talented guy creatively and also one of the most genuine people I know. And I like to describe Cole (Our COO) who is this super hard working, super loyal guy, as the 6 quarts of oil in the engine, he keeps everything running smoothly.