Creating well made things is germane to Hufnagel. HUF, founded in San Francisco in 2002, was built on a balance of constantly evolving product and the freedom of irreverence. Grounded in skate and driven by his vision, the current line features some of the most elaborate outwear in the brand’s history along with a $95 dollar ceramic apple suitable for smoking marijuana. Prior to selling 90% of HUF to Tsi Holdings in 2017, Hufnagel made a seemingly counterintuitive move resurrecting a defunct skateboard wheel company named Metropolitan and rebooting it as a clothing brand, and in the process, going back to square one.
Officially brought back in 2017, Hufnagel had been establishing Metropolitan for years after acquiring the name, securing copyrights and sourcing product. Once released to the public, the sentiment wasn’t “this is who we were,” but rather, “this is what Metropolitan is.” The actual marketing is the quality and production rather than overstating the heritage. Anyone can print on a Gildan T-Shirt and most skaters can ollie, so intention becomes the difference maker.
Though its existence was short lived—just a few years and change (1995-1998)— Metropolitan was well respected in the East Coast skate community due to its roster of emerging, mostly New York-based team and creative direction. The ads rarely featured wheels or photographs of skateboarding. Instead, Metropolitan eschewed those tropes for rich photographs by Ari Marcopoulos. It’s artistry was subtle, like New York City itself.. The East Coast skaters who were defining street skating in the mid tolate’90s had a different grit and feel to their environment. It was jazz in the sense of freedom. Without releasing any videos or making any marketing pushes, Metropolitan and its flowing script logo—created by Todd Francis— mirrored a movement before it quickly and quietly ceased operations.
“I was riding for the team because I was a New York skater living in San Francisco at that time,” Hufnagel says of Metropolitan’s original incarnation. “They hired Ari who took his own approach to shooting skate, which was shocking. It was shocking at that time to be like, ‘I’m not going to shoot you actually doing the trick. I’m going to shoot to kind of just cruising around and maybe the attempt —just waiting to do something.’ What people love today is that all that stuff was shot so differently and created an identity and they didn’t even put skateboarding in the ads. Half the time they put people hanging out, pictures of New York City or a riot photo or—something that’s totally abstract and weird, which gives it more of an art feeling,” Hufagel adds.“My goal was to not recreate a wheel company and more to create a cool, small apparel brand because first of all, I don’t want to be in the wheel business. I like apparel and I love the name Metropolitan, so I took it on and started doing trademarking while slowly building the brand. The goal is just to keep the brand alive, keep the history there, and make it quality. Honestly, I didn’t even have the time to take on a huge distribution and don’t even think the brand needs it. It needs to stay cool and core and special for the people who find it and those who know about it. It’s my personal garage project.”
In April 2019, HUF decided to stop making sneakers and instead focus on apparel. That decision turned out to be the right one, allowing Hufnagel to not only spend more time growing Metropolitan but to expand HUF’s offerings including their well-received Fall 2019 women’s collection.
When Hufnagel mentions that both Metropolitan and HUF are centered in skate, it’s not marketing or even a reminder but simply how he’s wired. The connection is more about a mindset. Whether it was his string of influential video parts or creating cut-and-sew apparel, Huf the professional skateboarder and Huf the business owner are seamless in their trajectory of putting the work to produce quality. It’s partially wired into the obsessive nature of skateboarding and how particular it makes those immersed in it—the feel of the shoes, the length of the bolts, the size of the wheels to a millimeter or obsessively starting at the concave of two seemingly identical boards to find the “right” one.
Many are familiar with that madness but translating detailed thought and intention into product is one of Hufnagel’s unique characteristics. Despite the intense commitment to craft, the leader of the Dirt Bag Crew, remains light, casual, and forever a fan of making things and appreciating it as an art and reflection of personality.“We all do these things differently just as we would being a skateboarder,” he says. “We all have different styles. We have different goals. Some people just want to eat, some people want to be popular, some people want to be rich, and some people just want to make cool products.”