A Comprehensive Look At Keith Hufnagel’s Significant Impact.
By: Dalton Oium
Founder of HUF Worldwide and skateboarding legend, Keith Hufnagel, passed away on Thursday, September 24th after an unfortunate 2 1/2 year battle with brain cancer.
Survived by his wife and two children, Keith’s lifelong commitment and contribution to the skateboarding and streetwear industry will never be forgotten.
Let’s take a look back at the life and legacy of Keith Hufnagel:
Born in New York City on January 21st 1974, Keith received his first skateboard at the age of 4. As he began skating the streets of NYC in the 1980s he also took up the art of graffiti, tagging ‘HUF ONE’ at every spot he skated. HUF ONE became a moniker for Keith and was quickly turned into a nickname when his friends started calling him HUF.
As he grew older, his parents urged him to attend college and, in 1992, he eventually used it as an excuse to move to San Francisco. After just six months in college, Keith became a professional skateboarder and dropped out of school to jump-start his career with Fun Skateboards.
Once in San Francisco, Keith became accustomed to the city (which reminded him of New York City with hills) and immersed himself in the skateboarding scene. While skating for Fun, Keith was introduced to Real Skateboards and built friendships that forever changed his life.
When Fun fell apart in 1993 he joined Real, run by DLX (DELUXE), and officially began his skateboarding career—one that lasted over 25+ years under Real Skateboards. While pro, Keith began using the ‘HUF’ nickname on his products and clothing and, ultimately, forged a symbol that became synonymous with skateboarding.
After about 10 years of skating professionally, Keith decided that he wanted to open up a retail shop that fused skateboarding with the sneaker and streetwear scenes in New York and Los Angeles.
In 2002, at the age of 28, Keith opened HUF Worldwide and became one of the first skaters to ever launch their own skateboard and clothing brand. After opening their initial brick-and-mortar store located in San Francisco, which started with just shirts and hats, HUF eventually launched their first full apparel collection in 2007.
Just three years later, in 2010, HUF ventured into footwear and became one of the first brands to produce skateboarding shoes made from actual skateboarders. HUF shoes became so popular that they found themselves competing for market shares with big corporations like Nike SB.
“For us, competing with Nike, I think it’s rad: it makes us step up our game , and the thing is: we can do it, and we are doing it. They are going to always have a bigger share of the market, but we just need a little bit—and we’re good. We’re also able to do things faster.”
Although encouraging, it also cost HUF an enormous amount of money and, in 2011, forced them to close their retail shops in both San Francisco and Los Angeles.
However, around that same, HUF launched their controversial F*CK IT campaign with an anti-establishment collection that sparked a new era for the brand. Coincidentally, their Plant Life socks also burst into mainstream media in 2011-2012 and become one of their biggest hits.
The socks, which featured an all-over marijuana leaf design, were worn by more than just stoners. They were worn by pretty much every high school student in America and, since weed was illegal at the time, they became a symbol of rebellion—eventually getting banned by high schools across the nation.
This wildly successful turn of events allowed HUF to regain their momentum and, in 2014, they launched their first signature shoe for skater Dylan Rieder.
Shortly afterwards, in 2015, HUF re-opened their store in LA and also branched into a brick-and-mortar location in Tokyo allowing them to become an international brand.
In 2016, Keith decided it was time to return to his roots and, thus, opened a location in New York City. That same year, HUF also opened a second location in Japan with a store in Osaka.
Upon reaching their ultimate height of success, Keith Hufnagel decided to sell HUF in 2017 for $63 million USD in exchange for a 90% stake in the brand by Tadashi Saito’s Tsi Holdings.
Today, HUF has eight stores (New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Harajuku, Sendai) and is found in stockists all over the world. Headquartered in Los Angeles, their 16+ person skate team still tours and competes all over the globe.
Keith Hufnagel not only built the empire that HUF Worldwide is today, he bridged relationships between brands that forever shaped the industry.
Some of HUF’s most notable collaborations include partnerships with Snoop Dogg, Chief Keef, Pulp Fiction, South Park, Pink Panther, Felix The Cat, Spitfire, Chocolate, Obey, Butter Goods, FELT, FTP, and many more.
To see their huge list of collaborations, click here.
As if building one of the most successful skateboarding brands wasn’t enough, Keith re-launched Metropolitan in 2017—a DLX brand that he used to ride for in 1994.
Instead of wheels, Metropolitan’s re-launch consisted of locally-produced apparel and when asked about his decision to start a new venture he responded:
“This is me returning to my roots; it’s me giving back to skateboarding and keeping a brand alive.”
Ollie high, Keith.
Published: September 28th, 2020 | Dalton Oium