Breaks Magazine recently had the chance to sit down with Keith Hufnagel, founder of HUF, while he was in London with the HUF Stoops x Thrasher Euro Tour. While HUF is now universally known for its apparel, and more recently its shoe line, Hufnagel made his own name as a professional skateboarder 10 years prior to starting the brand, turning pro in 1992. Growing up in New York fostered a raw East Coast skate style which developed further when Hufnagel moved to San Francisco, the city’s steep hills adding speed and power to the mix. Speaking with Breaks, Hufnagel discusses everything from his early career, to the HUF brand and skate culture today. Check out an extract from the interview below and head over here for the complete article.
So talk us through the tour so far? How’s it been, because we’re near the end right?
Yes, there’s one more stop. So we’re on the HUF Stoops x Thrasher Euro Tour.
How’s it been?
It’s awesome, it’s getting to the point of craziness because it’s like a 24 day trip so everyone’s tired, everyone’s broken, everyone’s pretty much over it but they’re all still doing it.
Where’s been your favourite place so far? Apart from London obviously…
Besides London, they’re all different. Amsterdam was fucking awesome.
So, a portion of our readership, because we’re not fully skateboard oriented, maybe don’t know the full history of HUF or how it came about. Could you maybe give us a brief overview or how you went from starting the company to where you are now and how the company came about? How long have you been going? How you moved from New York to San Francisco?
I mean super brief, I grew up in New York City, and I was going to college in San Francisco in 1992. Pretty much, I went there because I was addicted to skateboarding and San Francisco was the capital of skateboarding at that time so I went there. It had a feeling of New York City, just much smaller so I was attracted to that. I turned pro in 1993; actually 1992 right when I got to college, so I dropped out of college instantly and started travelling the world. I’ve been travelling the world since then. So basically, it was just doing the pro thing for the next 10 years. I moved around, stayed in San Francisco for a while, moved back to New York for a couple of years and then moved to LA and I just did a lot of travelling. I did about 10 years pro and I was like, man I kinda just want to get something else rolling. I’d been travelling to Tokyo a lot and seeing what was going on there. I was seeing what was going on with Stussy and I was involved in just being around Supreme when it started. So I just started a store in San Francisco because it didn’t really exist there the way I saw it in LA, New York and Tokyo. London too. I mean that was happening here also. Just really no experience, didn’t know anything, didn’t have a business plan, nothing, just started.
Did you start by printing t-shirts?
No we started with retail stores.
So you had the store but no product line?
No right away we did. We had t-shirts too because I was part of Deluxe, which is Real Skateboards. They basically helped me do it right away. They were like this is where you order the t-shirts; this is where you print it. It was all a family, like they pretty much owned the printers, so I basically just walked in there and started printing t-shirts.
So, in San Francisco you were the first real core skateboard store that was servicing the community so to speak?
To some degree, I mean we were doing sneakers, we were carrying Stussy, we were carrying Supreme, we were carrying all the little brands that I saw around the world that I liked, that I was connected with and wanted to bring all under one roof. That was my vision of a retail store and it worked, I mean it was doing really, really well and right away were making our own brand, which was selling and we just started expanding. We made a t-shirt, which sold, we made a t-shirt and a hat, then we made a t-shirt, hat and a sweatshirt. Then it was like, t-shirt, hat, sweatshirt, denim. T-shirt, hat, sweatshirt, button up and it just grew and grew and grew. I mean we were just doing it. There was no plan, it had a very organic growth to it and then we had to figure out how the hell we were actually going to put good margins on this product and like make it even better and do this whole thing and that was the whole new world of manufacturing. Now I’ve been doing apparel for 11 years and I’ve been doing footwear for like 3 and a half years.
Does the store still exist or did it shut down recently?
All the stores during the recession, we ended up closing them all and focusing on the wholesale of the business. We had a lot of problems with a lot of brands and a lot of things weren’t selling and it just wasn’t working. I mean 2008 to 2011 was a horrible time period for retailers and anybody that survived it is good. We had problems where the product just wasn’t selling like it was before and the companies were pushing us to buy more and more and more, forcing it on us. So we were just like, we’re done. We want to focus on what we’ve created and focus on our own brand. So we left it all, we dumped it all and cancelled all our accounts, paid all our bills.
Do you think your skate style is very New York because you moved at 18 to San Francisco? Do you think there’s still a difference in style between the two coasts?
I think I’m a hybrid but I definitely have an East Coast style because that’s where I learnt all my style and then San Francisco brought speed into the equation and power. That’s when I learnt how to go super fast. I was scared shitless when I first started bombing hills but I got addicted to it and learnt how to control it and go faster and faster and faster and do tricks whilst you’re going fast.