Dexter saw crime in his community getting worse. Starting a successful retail business let him become a positive role model to the youth in his community.
Merchant Stories: Real stories from real people – successes and struggles from the small business owner. Here’s Dexter’s story of why he started his business.
Dexter felt powerless as he watched crime in his community get worse and worse
A young man, just twenty years old, was fatally stabbed in South London. Five others died in the span of two weeks, from knife crime in South London. Dexter lives in South London with his children. He was devastated.
South London is where Dexter Simms was born and raised, where Dexter goes to work, and where Dexter raises his kids. Dexter has fond memories of growing up in the community centres of South London, where he met some of his best friends and cultivated his skills in creative design. Dexter credits these spaces for keeping him and his friends off the streets and out of trouble when they were young.
A young Dexter Simms trying to be a superhero
But as he grew older, Dexter watched these places disappear. With nowhere to go, the youth in his community stayed on the streets, joined gangs, got lured into the cycle of crime and poverty. This was where his cousins lived, and where his children were now growing up.
Dexter and his eldest son.
Dexter decided to do something about it.
“I knew the only way to get through to the youth of today was to become a celebrity in their eyes,” Dexter said. “There are no black male role models. So I thought, what can I do? I can be as successful as I can.”
“I will stay at the heart of the community and kids can look at me and say ‘he’s in the street, he’s part of us, I want to be like him’.”
Dexter set his sights on becoming a role model.
Mula Cake Clothing was a way for Dexter to connect with his community
Dexter knew exactly why he wanted a retail store for his fashion brand. Opening a retail store in his South London neighbourhood was a declaration of his commitment: Dexter was now a public presence in his community. Everyone knew where to find Dexter and go to him for help.
Dexter, outside Mula Cake Clothing
To Dexter, fashion was one way he could connect with the youth and grab their attention. Mula Cake Clothing was trendy streetwear, something relatable and accessible to the youth.
He had to do something to stand out against the bigger labels and fashion houses, and he hit on a way to grow his audience organically: get the community involved. Instead of professional models, Mula Cake Clothing featured real people from Dexter’s community in photoshoots: friends, neighbours, even Dexter’s mother (“Mula Mama”).
Mula Cake Clothing featured real people from Dexter’s community, not professional models
Through Mula Cake, Dexter found other ways to get involved in the community. Mula Cake ran an educational holiday club for kids, and sponsored local sports competitions for youths (and their team jerseys). The Mula Cake Anniversary Party turned into a fun day out for all the family, with face painting, baking competitions, and a fashion show featuring kids from the neighbourhood.
Dexter and local kids walking the red carpet at The Mula Cake Anniversary Party fashion show
On top of that, the Mula Cake Clothing store became a hub for the community. The store hosted book signings, talks by artists, even food banks. All these events helped get Mula Cake Clothing’s name, out there, but it was also a way for Dexter to get involved with his community.
Slowly, Dexter realised that helping his community was exactly what he wanted to do.
Realising he wanted to focus on his community work, Dexter shut the retail store and reopened it as a creative hub instead
“I felt that just making money for myself wasn’t satisfying, and I wanted to achieve more.”
Dexter found himself spending more time working with the community, giving talks and workshops, and less time running the clothing line.
Dexter running a branding workshop for youths
The Mula Cake Clothing store was where people went to Dexter for advice or help. Slowly, it had become a hub for the community, just like the community centres of Dexter’s youth.
That was when Dexter made the bold decision to transform the retail store into a proper community space. He held a big closing sale, sold everything and reopened the space as the Mula Cake Hub. The space would be a safe haven for the youth, with space for workshops, and also tutoring classes for children.
Dexter turned the Mula Cake Clothing store into the Mula Cake Hub, a space for the community
But there was a snag. The proceeds from the closing sale were enough for the renovation, but not for some of the equipment that Dexter had wanted. Dexter applied for funding from the local council to outfit the hub, but did not receive it.
“I had a hub with many children but no podcast equipment, no online radio and no printing equipment,” Dexter describes the difficult time. “It is extremely hard, but if I don’t continue, a lot of others will lose hope. Then we will all lose.”
But the community stepped up to help him.
The community supported Mula Cake Hub
Dexter had this to say about the re-opening of the Mula Cake Hub: “The response from the community has been absolutely incredible.”
Dexter and a supportive community on Mula Cake Hub launch day
Through the support of his community, the Mula Cake Hub today has the equipment for podcasting and T-shirt printing, and young people have started to use the space.
One of the local youths interviewing Dexter at the Mula Cake Hub
Less than a month after opening, the Mula Cake Hub had already helped 35 youths with business advice, creative projects or voluntary work.
It was what Dexter wanted to achieve all along.
Dexter now has the influence and platform to inspire change in his community
Dexter continues to be a public role model, speaking about entrepreneurship and contributing to causes like Stand Up Black Dads, a platform to showcase positive parental role models, and #KickItOut2019, a local charity football game against knife crime.
Team Mula Cake, Dexter, and his kids decked out in Mula Cake
Mula Cake Clothing continues as an online-exclusive brand, and sponsors local sporting events.
For his efforts, Dexter and the Mula Cake Hub were awarded Entrepreneur of the Year and Business of the Year. He was also featured in his local newspaper, the Thornton Heath Chronicle, and was interviewed by the BBC.
“Everything I have, I put back into the community. People think the more successful you get the more famous you get. No, the more successful you get, the more change you can make.”
Dexter holding both his awards
Most importantly for Dexter, he is finally doing what he set out to do: inspire change, as a role model for youths to look up to.
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