To quote HUFworldwide, “Keith grew up skateboarding in the gritty streets of New York City's late-80s. In those days, skateboarding was simply not accepted: it was punk rock, it was hip-hop, it was a counterculture of outcasts misunderstood by the masses. It was a way of life that would ultimately shape Hufnagel's outlook on life.”
From humble beginnings as a purveyor of hard-to-come-by goods in the Tenderloin, to launching a signature line, to evolving into what is now considered the epitome of street wear, HUF has proven to be a truly unique, independent brand with tentacles deeply rooted in skateboarding. This is The Keith Hufnagel Interview.
Back in the 80's did you ever envision skateboarding becoming what it is today?
I had no clue back then of what the future would hold. All I knew at that time was that skateboarding was the best and nothing could beat it.
What was the motivation to move from SF to NYC in ‘92? Who came with you?
The first goal was to go skating. The second goal was to go to college. I came out to SF solo in order to go to college, but Chris Keeffe, Ben Liversidge, Keenan Milton, Gino I, and Mike Hernandez all came after.
Do you still ever talk to Ron Allen?
I see him once in awhile.
Coming from the East Coast did EMB locals fuck with you?
I had a few kids trying to get money off me, but I put them in their place and that didn’t happen again. Ha!
Do you have any good longhair photos left?
They are out there for sure. I saw Tobin Yelland posted one today actually.
Keith Hufnagel | Fun Skate Tour 1993 | Photo by Tobin Yelland
"I had no clue back then of what the future would hold. All I knew at that time was that skateboarding was the best and nothing could beat it."
What’s your favorite OG SF skate spot and why?
Brown Marble was my favorite. The ground, the ledges, the gaps, how tight the spot was. It was pretty perfect for me.
You’ve ollied some ridiculously long gaps; is there one flat gap that stands out? (eg gap to lip slide in Barcelona)
Man, way too many right? That one in Barcelona is one of my favorites actually. I was stoked to make that one.
If you could resurrect one 90s skate brand, what would it be?
Best 90s SF rider of all time? (Transplant or local)
Mike Carroll was always my favorite.
Best NYC rider of all time?
Keenan Milton RIP.
What inspired you to open the first HUF boutique?
I wanted to do something beyond skateboarding. I was skating everyday and just needed something that I could focus on outside of skateboarding when I wasn’t pushing around. From all my travels I saw something that was missing in SF, like a boutique-type skate shop, and decided to go for it. So in 2002 HUF was born as a brand and retail shop.
HUF | San Francisco, CA | Circa 2011
"...I saw something that was missing in SF, like a boutique-type skate shop, and decided to go for it."
Have you always considered yourself to be an entrepreneur? Any other failed attempts before HUF?
I have never done anything besides skateboard and start HUF actually—haven’t really had time for much else, haha. I work my ass off for it and now I am an entrepreneur, I guess!
Did you always intend to start a HUF label eventually?
I always wanted to do something in terms of starting up a brand, but never knew my path till I actually got there. The way HUF came about and has developed has been pretty organic. It really just started as a shop, and then we started making tees, and once those sold we made hats to go with the tees, and before we knew it we were working on a full-blown clothing line. Now we have HUF Footwear, which was always in the back of my mind, but really just came about once the timing was right.
The Tenderloin is sketch as fuck, any good stories of trying to run a business there?
It was actually pretty mellow in the end, but there were definitely some highlights. The biggest thing was crackheads trying to break in at night. The cops caught some dudes with crowbars opening the door, so since then I have learned how to crackhead-proof a door. One time a rat crawled up into the toilet bowl when an employee was taking a shit, haha. That was a pretty good one.
What prompted the store closings? Was it a hard decision to make?
We really were having a hard time with the recession. We were not doing as well as we were in the past and the brand as a clothing and footwear line itself was really taking off. We had to make a rough decision to close the retail spots and just do wholesale. In the end it was very hard, but we are re-opening a shop in 2014. It’s crazy the rollercoaster rides that life and business give you, but it all ends up working out.
HUF | Los Angeles, CA | Returning 2014
"We had to make a rough decision to close the retail spots... but we are re-opening a shop in 2014."
Will there ever be another HUF boutique?
Yes. 2014 on Fairfax in Los Angeles.
It’s been 20 years with REAL, What’re you / they doing to celebrate?
Yeah, it’s crazy. I told Jim I wanted to do something, so the ball is in his court for now.
Kelch got a REAL Birthday Deck when he turned 42, Any product plans for your 40th?
Ha, I don’t think so.
Is it weird approaching 40 while branding for target market in their teens and twenties?
I’ve never really thought about it that way I guess. I still feel like I am in my 20s, I just don’t look that way anymore. So I guess 40s are the new 20s, haha.
What were the DC Super Tours like back in the day? Do you still have your jersey from the euro-tour?
I do have my jerseys. Those were the raddest tours. It was a really good time for skateboarding, and the demos were really crazy—people would just cheer if you did a kick flip on flat. I wish demos were still like that.
DC Euro Super Tour Team | Circa 1998 | Photo from @DGKalis Instagram
Keith Hufnagel | DC Euro Super Tour | 411VM Issue 30
"...people would just cheer if you did a kick flip on flat. I wish demos were still like that."
Did you play any part in the most recent Stoops Euro-Tour?
Yeah, I was on the whole tour. It was really rad to do it with a new team. Definitely way more stressful being on the other side of a crazy team, as like the brand owner, but at the end of the day it’s all the same—go out skating all day, hit a demo here and there, check out some sights, and then drink beers at night.
Keith Hufnagel aka Dad | Ollie; Stoops Euro Tour | Photo by David Broach
You’ve been named one of the 25 Most Powerful People in Street Wear… What does that mean to you?
Absolutely nothing. I laugh when I see that. What am I going to do with my power?
You work with a lot of brands on limited edition and capsule collections. Is there a secret formula to making a successful collaboration? Who has the final say?
There is no formula, really. Just try and make some awesome product. We all work closely here as a team and go back and forth with whoever it is we’re collaborating with to make sure everyone is stoked on the product as it develops, and then the final say usually comes from me.
What are some of your favorite collaborations throughout the years?
I think I’m a collaboration whore, haha. I can’t even remember them all. Barry McGee for sure. DQM, Stussy, Diamond, Haroshi, Haze…
"I think I’m a collaboration whore, haha. I can’t even remember them all."
Stussy seems to be one of a few labels that you most often work with, tell us about that relationship.
I used to ride for Stussy for many years, so I ended up creating a good relationship with them. When I opened up the stores we thought it would be cool to do a collaboration, and we’ve done about 4 since 2002.
How was Stussy able to be so forward thinking as one of the first modern street wear brands for skaters?
They really just stay current and stay cool. It’s probably one of the hardest things to do, and they do it well.
Who are some of your other favorite brands to work with?
That’s a tough one. DLX is always awesome— they’re like family. It’s always rad working with artists, as we are able to do something very creative.
What new collabs should we be on the lookout for?
We just did a sick one with Thrasher that coincided with the Stoops Euro Tour. Another one we’re working on is with Black Scale. For Spring, we’ll also have a couple footwear pieces for team riders that are in collaboration with their board sponsors. Joey has an Expedition One colorway on his shoe, the Pepper Pro. And Brad has a Krooked colorway on the Sutter.
Keith Hufnagel | World Traveler
How do you go about selecting riders for the HUF team? What makes a good fit?
Someone that is different and has amazing style.
What percentage of your annual revenue is comprised of HUF Weed Socks?
Regarding your recent Weekend Buzz appearance, How Italian IS Giovanni Reda?
Name a guilty pleasure that has come with fame and fortune.