Founded in 1997 by two friends with a love of skateboarding, local success story Huffer has grown to become one of New Zealand’s most well loved fashion brands. With their famous 3 circle logo being worn by several celebrities (who can forget Orlando Bloom wearing the I Love Huffer t-shirt to the world premiere of Lord of the Rings?), sold out Down collections, NZ Fashion Week shows and collaborations with uber-cool brands all just part of the Huffer experience, it’s no wonder the brand has gained such a loyal and supportive following. Portia Campbell caught up with Huffer’s Steve Dunstan to find out just what makes Huffer so popular.
N. 2017 marks twenty years of Huffer, a massive achievement in a very competitive market. Congratulations! From the outside, Huffer’s design ethos has evolved from a skateboarding and snowboarding streetwear brand to a high-fashion and lifestyle brand that is just as wearable on the runway as it is up the mountain. Tell us how it all began…
Thanks and thanks to New Zealand for supporting us! Huffer was born and we didn’t really know it. There was a want for garments that helped to express what we did, plus had the functionality to keep up with the lifestyle that we were living (Snow Bums and Skate Rats). The market was starved and expression was a massive part of who you were and how you did it. Huffer gave us and our community an identity to belong.
N. What do the three circles in Huffer’s logo represent?
The triangular shape represents balance and strength but also approachability with the round shapes of the dots.
N. Where did the name Huffer come from?
The name doesn’t have any sort of second meaning or background. This gave us an opportunity to nurture it from nothing and gives it more strength and a sense of purity.
N. Do you ever suffer from creative block when designing and if so, how you do move past it?
If I do, I change what I am doing. Sometimes you can’t force creativity but you can create the space to enable it. We also have an amazing team and our design and creative processes are collaborative where we can inspire each other.
N. Your Nuffield Street store opened in 2011. What was it about Newmarket that drew you to the precinct?
Newmarket felt like a natural home. I grew up 300m up the road and spent plenty of time skateboarding and socialising after school around the streets. I have good knowledge of all the carparks and old curbs that we used to skate and hang out in. It is a central point for different schools in the area and being situated here lets us have presence and enables us to have a conversation with upcoming generations that are important to the future of the brand.
N. Huffer are well known for their collaborations, with previous projects including work with Absolut and Audi. What do you look for when considering partnerships like these?
Collaborations can be very exciting and valuable when you have the right brand, product or person to collaborate with. For us, it’s about having common values and translating these into a combined project that creates a unique proposition to engage new audiences for both parties. Often the outcomes can be limited runs, or a celebration of something special. Collaborations can be hugely rewarding as a design project as it challenges us to break away from the ‘norm’.
N. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A Hang-glider. When I was 8 I had this cool striped T-shirt with a picture of a hang-glider on it. I haven’t made it yet, but along the way I have been into windsurfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, and surfing which are all sports that incorporate elements from hang-gliding, but more importantly they are all about freedom and expression. I have always loved flying and have recently been gliding a few times thanks to Simon Gault.
N. Huffer has more than 50,000 followers on Instagram alone. How has social media and blogging changed the way you work?
Social media is a great platform to add to our other touch points. I am glad that we grew our brand without it, as I believe in today’s world it is so important to have a balance and ensure that we are present and have tangible social engagement.
We know this well, as it is a factor in how we successfully grew our brand over 20 years! There are plenty of brands that try to exist purely on social. To me that is a bit one dimensional and I am not saying it’s wrong but that’s not what Huffer is about. For us, it’s all about the senses and social media can’t cover all of them. Social media is a great way to start conversations and build awareness that can then feed into the physical, tangible experiences.
N. Where do you look to for inspiration and ideas when planning for Huffer’s next season?
I am inspired by a mix of innovation and style. It is a careful balance of keeping things classic, but evolving on past successes and being hungry to innovate and experiment. Getting that balance leads to high quality, well tested, contemporary classics mixed with exciting new fabrications, construction techniques and silhouettes. We have 20 years of history mixed with our aspirations of furthering our capabilities – this challenge gets us very excited.
N. Huffer’s Down collections have become legendary, with a cult following of fans eagerly awaiting the new collection each winter. Why do you think the Down collections have become so popular?
Down can provide joy and ultimate comfort. It is a natural product for us as we have been producing Outerwear since we started and Down since the year 2000. We produce highly performing garments with an aesthetic that has relevance to a market that identifies themselves as the urban adventurer. Down is such a functional, technical product but it has its place in day-to-day life. Our styling and street aesthetic which we design, offers customers a garment that can be worn in an everyday environment without making you look like you are about to conquer Mt Cook.
N. Name 5 things you can’t live without.
Friendships, Road trips, Coffee, New Zealand and Travel.
N. Huffer’s ‘Free coffee Friday’s’ with Allpress are renowned for being the best way to kick start the weekend. How do in store events like these add to Huffer’s brand?
I’m a big fan of events like this as it’s a time for myself and our staff to engage with our community. Being social as a brand is important. At the end of the day we are here to design and sell great products but sometimes we just want to hang out and get to know people. That’s why on a Friday at FCF, there is no pressure to buy anything, we just want people to come chill and we will supply the coffee, donuts and music.
N. Tell us a bit more about the cheeky hidden messages that can be found on some of Huffer’s care labels.
We are serious about what we make but if you look deeper we make sure we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We like to have fun and there is a real spirit at Huffer and we don’t always play by the rules.
N. The current Australian retail market is a challenging one with several large retailers not surviving. Huffer has bucked this trend, recently opening two stores in Sydney and there are rumours of new Melbourne stores on the horizon too. What has been behind Huffer’s success in Australia?
Two years ago we developed a strategic plan to grow the brand and the business over in Australia. The plan consists of taking what we have learnt as a brand over the past 20 years and looking to replicate this with more aggression and urgency but maintaining integrity. Part of that has seen us develop a multi-channel distribution platform; retail, wholesale and online all working together, for each other. The success of Australia is the commitment to the plan. Being there. Developing communities. You can’t do this remotely.
N. What is Newmarket’s best kept secret?
The Broadway Diner for a cheese & pineapple toasted sandwich after hours…. so good!!
N. It’s 10am on a Sunday, where will we find you and what are you doing?
I have probably been for a surf. I would be at the Piha store sitting on the small deck having one of the best pies in the world, alongside an Allpress brew and having a yarn with Piha Pete.
N. What’s next for Huffer?
Huffer – 18 Nuffield Street, Newmarket
Huffer.co.nz | 09 524 9031 | @huffer_