Real Recognize Real: HUF’s journey from oversized tees to skate culture dominance

By ERIN DENNISON
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As befits his former pro skater status, HUF founder Keith Hufnagel moves between the worlds of lifestyle branding, manufacturing, and skateboarding with impressive agility. In terms of branding, he occupies a unique space with a streetwear line that is as influential as it is distinctive. When Hufnagel started skating in the 1980’s, the culture was far from thriving in his hometown of NYC. In those days, the notion that skate trends would permeate high fashion was ridiculous. But that’s not what fueled him. Today, the company that started as a humble boutique on San Francisco’s Sutter Street is currently home to numerous collaborations, a full line of apparel and footwear, a skate team, a wholesale distribution arm, a host of celebrity cosigns, and a cult-like following that positions HUF next to industry heavyweights like Nike and Vans. If it seems as though @hufworldwide is planning on global dominance—well, it’s because that’s sort of the deal.

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Upon entering HUF’s LA headquarters, I’m greeted by a kid who looks all of eight years old. Skateboard in hand, he leads me through a meandering corridor in search of HUF’s creative team. After a few narrow turns, the office explodes into a massive, open floor plan. Clothing racks haphazardly punctuate the rows of desks, which are stacked with shoeboxes, lined with mood boards, and invariably occupied by cool-looking people. Between snippets of intersecting conversation about everything from moving offices to the logistics of a creative campaign, it quickly becomes apparent that these guys are pretty fuckingbusy. Finally, we make our way into the glass conference room, where Keith and Scott Tepper (HUF’s Creative Director and a long-time friend of Hufnagel’s) greet us with a degree of attention and politeness which, given theirroles at the helm of an internationally distributed,multimillion dollar company, come as a refreshing surprise.

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 There weren’t always this many moving parts in the HUF arena. Keith grew up a skate kid in Manhattan during the 1980’s—a time and place where the alt sport was known more for slackers than for burgeoning trends. After obliging his folks and enrolling in a four-year college in San Francisco, Keith quickly opted out of a liberal arts education in lieu of a professional skating contract with Real in 1992. Once he went pro, he started to observe a change in the climate: a merging of the skate and streetwear industries that promised to evolve into something evenbigger. “ I saw all these stores opening,” he explains. “I watched Supreme happen, I watched Union happen, I watched all these things starting to happen in streetwear. The culture was brewing.”

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