A conversation with Keith Hufnagel on 15 years of HUF

Popular skate and lifestyle brand HUF is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Founded by Keith Hufnagel, who grew up as a professional skateboarder in the late ’80s when skateboarding was still viewed as a counterculture, HUF has endured the ups and downs of the market, and today remains connected to the roots of a culture that has evolved in its own right.

Keith Hufnagel on 15 years

The HUF team. Photo courtesy of HUF.

Skateboarding’s ties to that rebellious counterculture have lessened over the years, as skateboarders are viewed as athletes and the sport prepares for the mainstream spotlight with its acceptance into the Olympics. Contrary to this, Hufnagel continues to embrace skateboarding’s core values of underground music, art, and general nonconformity.

TRANSWORLD BUSINESS had the opportunity to chat with Hufnagel, congratulate him on the 15-year milestone, and touch on HUF’s exponential expansion and where the brand is headed in today’s ever-evolving market.

“HUF has always stayed true to our vision: Going about our business with a skateboarder attitude and not caring what people think,” Hufnagel said. “From the start, the HUF team set out to be leaders and not followers.”

Keith Hufnagel on 15 years

Hufnagel in his younger years; Clearly, not a follower… Photo: HUF

First off, congratulations on 15 years. How does it feel?
Awesome. I can’t believe it’s come this far and grown this much.

Obviously HUF has expanded tremendously in the last 15 years. What are some key attributes to HUF's popularity and overall brand expansion?
HUF has always stayed true to our vision: Going about our business with a skateboarder attitude and not caring what people think. From the start, the HUF team set out to be leaders and not followers. I think we've done a great job of sticking to that and as a result, we've continually moved foward.

Keith Hufnagel on 15 years

NYC, late ’80s. Photo: HUF

HUF now has three retail stores located in Japan. What’s it like functioning in the international market?
The Japan stores are going great. Japan is widely regarded as the fashion capital of Asia, and one of the many fashion capitals of the world, so to be out there has been nothing but positive.

We started selling HUF products in Japan about four years ago and opened up our first Japanese store in Tokyo about three years ago. Since then, we’ve expanded to Osaka and Nagoya.

One of our main objectives with opening stores in Japan was finding the right business partner to do it with. It took us a while but we landed a great partnership with Jack’s International. They help manage all of our Japan flagships.

Last time we caught up, it was right after you partnered up with Altamont Capital distribution. How’s that move played out?
Great. Altamont does a really good job with helping the HUF team distribute, strategize, and organize all the back-end work. They also allow us to be creative. My big thing has always been creativity and they have allowed me to be creative and push the company in the right direction.

What is (in your view) the state of brick and mortar retail in skateboarding?
Everyone has different opinions on this question but I think the current state of skateboarding's brick and mortar retail is awesome. I think that the people who run it are very smart and careful with what they do.

Shops are great places for people to buy products and learn about skateboarding culture. I hope the people in charge remain successful because I want them to survive, even if that means they have to change their approach at times.

Keith Hufnagel on 15 years

Art-influenced snippet from the HUF X HEK collaboration launch party, which celebrates musician and former HUF art director Hanni El Khatib. Photo: Ryan Lusteg.

Would you mind sharing your personal of view of the current state of skateboarding?
Skateboarding is funny. Personally, I'm more of an underground person that loves the street and art culture that's rooted in skateboarding. It's funny how that side of skateboarding has become a small portion of the scene. Skateboarding has become mainstream, and it has a homogenous platform and following. People think of skateboarding as a sport now, which is crazy.

Skateboarding is going to be in the Olympics and as much as I want to hate it, I’m not going to be one-sided about it. It’s still pushing skateboarding forward, and I love all of it.

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