We delve into the surprisingly humble beginnings that have cultivated four of the most famous names in streetwear and skateboarding, from San Francisco to Copenhagen.
In 2015, the world has never been so aware of streetwear. Every day, streetwear brands are created and destroyed before lunch. Looking at the world’s top boutiques through a business-savvy lens, establishing an in-house brand is a logical step in ascending the retail pyramid and competing with the best. Not only does a vertically integrated clothing label increase profit margins or lower pricing via wholesaling, but in-house brands also allow retailers the opportunity to better communicate their identity. Additionally, in-house labels present the circumstances for a retailer to control the manufacturing, packaging and marketing in order to evolve the relationship between the products and the store’s customer base. Case in point with the names below, who have all built strong reputations in the world of fashion and retail.
UNDFTD, HUF, Norse Projects and Supreme have established themselves as points of reference for the culture as a whole, started from humble origins as shop brands and quickly breaking outside the confines from which they were founded. These four brand have grown in leaps and strides and each name is a signifier for authenticity and originality in their respective fields.
THEN: An independent, Los Angeles-based retailer started by James Bond and Eddie Cruz, and one of the first shops to purvey limited and customized sneakers to a market which was exponentially smaller in 2001. It was after Bond quit his job working on music videos and while on vacation during a sabbatical in the South Pacific, when he had the clarity of mind to to identify and create a business that simply didn’t exist at the time, and the long-term effects on the brand are able to speak for themselves. One of the brand’s first partners was Canadian designer Raif Adelberg, who personalized Nike Air Force 1s before shipping them to Eddie Cruz in Los Angeles, and this transaction in-part kickstarted an entire chapter of sneaker collaborations and sneaker customization for UNDFTD.
NOW: An athletic-inspired, first-mover streetwer label that boasts a massive catalog of sneaker collaborations alongside the biggest names, from Nike and adidas to Converse and Vans. UNDFTD boasts four chapters in California, two in Japan, and one in Las Vegas, as a testament to the global level of appeal that the brand has garnered. In 2015, UNDFTD linked up with Slam Jam for the Italian imprint’s 25th anniversary.
THEN: Living in New York, a young Keith Hufnagel would kick-push around the streets with his friends spraying “HUF ONE” through the city. The phrase “HUF” eventually stuck as a nickname of sorts for Keith, and after he signed a pro skateboarding deal, the moniker worked its way into the product and clothing that he was creating. In 2002, after Hufnagel had transplanted to San Francisco and opened a skate shop, he took the initiative to fuse together his viewpoints on streetwear and skate culture by creating a pseudo-eponymous label for the shop. After starting with a low-key line of T-shirts and caps, subsequently the shop’s house line became so popular that Keith decided to shut the store down in order to work full-time on the brand itself
NOW: An entity that has illustrated its staying power time and time again, HUF is a brand that has remained largely unwavering through changing trends and constantly shifting popular opinions of what a skate brand can or can’t be. However you chalk it up, over the years HUF has stayed winning. Peep HUF’s collaboration with South Park on the “4/20” collection.
“In order to be the best I can be at producing clothing and footwear for my brand, I have to give up my original vision of having a shop where I sold other people’s brands.” – Keith Hufnagel
THEN: The story of Norse Projects begins with pioneers Tobia Sloth and Mikkel Grønnebæk. The duo was operating a chain of skateboarding stores named Streetmachine in Copenhagen, Paris and San Diego, which acted as their first foray into retail. Years later, Norse Store opened in Copenhagen, purveying a line of limited-run apparel called “Norse Projects” based in the world of skateboarding, which was sold alongside a range of other brands from a small shop in the city center. The story is all too familiar – a range of graphic T-shirts was embraced by the local community, before becoming an international success. Sloth still helms Norse Projects as the creative director, while Grønnebæk is still the backbone of the brand’s menswear designs and collaborations.
NOW: An offering of menswear and womenswear, which has burgeoned far beyond the confines of the brick and mortar location from where it was born, Norse Projects is heralded as a functional yet markedly stylish Danish brand. Norse Projects still upholds its roots in graphic art via the Norse Projects “Artist T-shirt” line, which has featured the likes of Jake Blanchard, Daniel Frost, Sergio Membrillas and more.
THEN: Supreme was conceived as a humble in-house marque, sold out of a skateboarding store in New York that purveyed other skate brands including Anti-Hero, Thrasher, Vans, Girl and more. The original Lafayette location was designed so skaters could roll right into the store, without feeling out of place, and founder James Jebbia invested a mere $12,000 to open the shop in 1994.
NOW: One of the most iconic and pervasive names in streetwear, Supreme produces seasonal collaborations with some of the biggest names in the biz, not limited to Stone Island, Brooks Brothers, Playboy and more. After many seasons, several cease and desist orders and a handful of other controversies to keep things interesting, Supreme remains near the top of the streetwear food chain and shows few signs of losing its appetite.