Judge Interview: Keith Hufnagel

(photo credit: Skately)

1. Please explain the inception of HUF

Well I guess you could say HUF was sort of born on the streets. Back when I was real young just growing up and skating in NYC in the 80s, I was always tagging ‘HUF ONE’ around the city—back then skating and tagging kind of went hand-in-hand, spot-to spot. The name HUF just stuck with me as a sort of nickname amongst my friends, so once I turned pro I started using it on product and clothing and it became what people recognized me by. In 2002, after I had been living and skating in San Francisco for a bit, I decided I wanted to open up a retail shop that would sort of fuse skateboarding with the sneaker and streetwear scenes at the time. We ended up naming the shop HUF, and once the store caught on we started producing some product here and there with the shop name– just hats and tees at first—and before we knew it, it had turned into a full-blown clothing line. The whole evolution of the brand was really organic in a sense, and that’s something I’m really proud of. I’m stoked to see the brand where it is at today, considering how it all came about.

2. You grew up skateboarding in New York, and moved to SF in the early 90s. How has living on both coasts influenced your brand?

I think about that concept a lot actually, like how a specific time and place might impact a person, and to what degree. There’s that saying about ‘being a product of one’s environment,’ which can be so true… You know, you grow up in the city and you are exposed to this rich environment full of diverse cultures and creativity and energy, but at the same time there’s also this bleak sense of struggle and poverty and always this non-stop hustle. Being that I’ve always been tied to these major metropolitan cities, there’s no doubt that that has had an effect on me as a person and, in turn, the brand. I’ve literally been skateboarding my entire life, so everything about the way I look at things in life somehow ties back to skateboarding. Like I said, I grew up skating in NYC in the 80s—it was so different from what we saw in the skate videos coming out of California back then, where it seemed like it was always sunny and where there were perfect spots. We grew up skating under the Brooklyn bridge to dodge the weather and when we were cruising around the streets the spots were rough; you really had to be creative to approach a spot and see it as something you could actually skate. You had to have this sort of DIY mentality, this ‘fuck it’ attitude, and just skate raw, fucked-up spots ’cause that’s all there was… you really had to work for it. I can relate that back to my approach to HUF in that I had this original vision of what I wanted to do with the brand, and just said ‘fuck it,’ let’s go for it. It’s been extremely hard work getting the brand to where it’s at today, but that’s just how it is with anything in life. You create a vision of what you want, you set your goal, and you just go for it basically. I don’t know if I would have had that same drive growing up outside of the environment in which I did.

When it comes to the aesthetic of the brand, growing up on both coasts has had a huge impact on its direction. I mean, back in New York we were heavily influenced by the emerging hip-hop/streetwear scene of the time. I remember hanging out at Supreme and other shops growing up in New York, and they’d always be the first to get this crazy new gear and sneakers coming out of Europe and Japan and the rest of the world. No matter where I’ve traveled thorugh skateboarding, I’ve always seen NYC as this sort of central hub for fashion and trends. So when I moved out to SF and eventually opened up HUF, I wanted to bring that NYC vibe to the west coast, a spot where you could find all the sick new brands and sneakers. With HUF as its own footwear and apparel line now, we’re always looking towards that original NYC style and blending it with our own modern take, just adapting it to fit the needs and demands of skateboarding.

3. You’ve done a number of collaborations with brands such as Stussy, Schwood and DVS. Tell us about your creative process when working on collaborations such as these.

Oh man, when it comes to collaborations it is so hit or miss… Sometimes they can be really easy, and sometimes they can be extremely difficult. The process is always a bit different depending on the company, but it always begins with that initial spark, that original idea. Once that idea is in place, we develop it as a team down here, and then approach whatever company we have in mind. Some of those companies may be really feeling the idea and choose to go forward with it, but some companies may shoot it down and then we may have to re-approach them again in the future. The fact that there’s two parties involved and so many different minds coming together to make a collaboration happen makes the process very difficult and frustrating at times…. But then again, that’s what makes them so sick and worthwhile when they actually come together, you know. Like when everyone agrees on the idea and is stoked, you get so much positive input from like-minded people, and then the project just develops organically from there.

4. Personal favorite HUF piece of all time?

That’s always a hard one, haha… I’d probably have to go with the Barry McGee project we did a while back, the Ray Fong one. That was a project that did exactly what it was supposed to— that one shook some things up, which is exactly what Barry wanted!

5. Top 5 personal inspirations?

1. skateboarding

2. the streets

3. music

4. alcohol

5. creativity

6. How was the brand evolved since it’s inception in 2002?

It has grown completely out of control! haha… It’s crazy to see the brand where it is at now and imagine where it originally came from. Considering HUF in 2002, it was really only another shop in SF– in the Tenderloin at that. More importantly, though, it was always this bigger idea, a concept that people believed in. It’s always had that sort of DIY drive beneath it all, the idea that no matter how big or corporate the competition is out there, you can still open up a shop or start your own brand and make it happen, cause a stir. There are employees here at HUF to this day that helped us open that very first HUF shop on Sutter Street in San Francisco, and there are customers who have been supporting us since day one. I get so stoked that people have believed in and supported HUF from the very beginning, and have helped us grow to become what we are today. What I’m really psyched on now is the fact that we are finally able to have built our own skate team. HUF Footwear has been a long-time goal of mine, and I’m so stoked on all our team riders that represent it.

 7. When selecting the “Judge’s Choice” design for BYVM, what criteria will you be basing your judgement on?

Hands down, creativity. I know it sounds cliché, but ultimately we’re looking for designs that are original, someone that thought “outside the box.” Like I said before, so much of the way I view things in life is through the lens and influence of skateboarding. Today, there are so many technically ‘good’ and ‘talented’ skateboarders out there, that it is almost meaningless what trick you are doing or down how many stairs. More importantly nowadays is style, originality, creativity– same thing when it comes to design. We’re not looking for something that is just a regurgitation of everything that has been done before, but rather a design that comes out of left field, I guess you could say, something straying from the norm. In short, it’s not so much about what you do, but how you do it. There’s that line by Bukowski that really sums it up: “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” It is entirely true—that’s what we’re looking for.