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Dungeon Forward headwear in West Palm Beach lands deal with Nickelodeon

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AppelJax
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A Dungeon Forward crown inspired by Gary the Snail, SpongeBob SquarePants's pet.

For several years now, you may have seen athletes and entertainers don a Dungeon Forward hat on various TV shows — a quick brand appearance, a head nod for its premium hat culture. And now, the Black-owned headwear company in West Palm Beach is using childhood memories to broaden its reach even more.

Its new licensing deal with Nickelodeon and Paramount Consumer Products will feature some of Nickelodeon’s most iconic animated comedy series: SpongeBob SquarePants, Ren & Stimpy, and who can forget Angelica Pickles from the Rugrats giving people that infamous side-eye?

David Castro is the founder and design director for the premium hat line. The West Palm Beach native said through the delicate marriage between art and fashion, his new collaboration with Nickelodeon aims to bring nostalgia to the tri-county area.

“That marriage creates an opportunity for conversation, an opportunity for storytelling, an opportunity for some commonality between people, which directly aligns with the idea of creating crowns for the culture,” Castro said. “There’s a culture within the space of fashion, and there’s a culture within the space of appreciation for art, and combining all of those creates more connectivity among people.”

Dungeon Forward will combine its popular Sunika Kuraun hat collection with its first SpongeBob SquarePants-inspired headwear collection. It debuted a few days ago.

“We chose this specific collection to also honor SpongeBob's pet, whose name is Gary. He's a snail. And when you think about it, it's kind of like the underdog of the show,” Castro said. "Writers behind Nickelodeon do a great job of creating these personalities that you can identify with and in situations you can identify with. Our brand is not a children's brand, we're not children's focus, but the projects that we're taking on are projects that you can still identify with as well.”

The former architect and alumnus of Florida A&M University usually partners with Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The previous project produced hats that illustrated HBCU pride for 25 schools.

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AppelJax
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A Dungeon Forward crown inspired by Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants

Castro said his “fully bootstrapped” small business has been able to mitigate supply chain issues, such as backlogs at shipping ports, COVID-19 variant waves and other logistical challenges. Castro said many small businesses are finding unique ways to connect with fans and contribute to pop culture.

"You say SpongeBob, you start to smile. You say Ren & Stimpy and you start to smile because those memories are moments that made you feel joyful,” Castro said. “This is really going to make people smile. Anytime you can do that, you change the trajectory of that person's day.”

Even the name of the headwear, "Dungeon Forward,” symbolizes a person escaping a metaphorical dungeon and moving forward in life, “getting it out the mud more than the average person would know,” Castro said. “They [people] often see the refined versions of us. But they don't know the molding that it took to get to this point.”

“It's about forward progress. But in the creation of crowns (top of a hat), it's also about making people feel joyful about who they are,” he said.

Castro said the partnership also includes working with other Nickelodeon characters such as Rugrats, Ren & Stimpy, and Hey Arnold!

"Not every idea will come out," Castro said. It's a creative process. "But Rugrats have a very special place in my heart, because that was one of the cartoons that I would watch on Nickelodeon,” he said.

He said he appreciates how the show has since introduced more diverse characters.

“We are in discussions with them [Nickelodeon] about the launch of a sub-children's brand that will include some of their preschool properties as well, like Blue's Clues and Baby Shark but still have some of the design aesthetic of Dungeon Forward,” Castro said.

Architecture to Fashion: 

Castro found many similarities between architecture and fashion. The former architect said the transition from architecture to product creation was simple because the "knowledge base, thought process, and tools were similar." He also said, “there's a lot more scrutiny when you're designing a building in comparison to when you're designing apparel.”

He stumbled on a quote attributed to the late architect Zaha Hadid, who once said, “architecture defines a period and fashion defines now."

Castro said evoking nostalgia in fashion appeals to people focused on the present moment and people immersed in the past because the hat travels around with each individual.

“It's so simple yet so incredible because from a fashion standpoint,” Castro said. "When you wake up and you determine what you're going to wear, that is that moment, you know? And with architecture, buildings last 50 to 100 years. And so you're really thinking more on a macro scale, whereas when you're creating fashion, it's much more intimate.”

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.
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