LOS ANGELES – Prepare for a new trick out of Huf Worldwide LLC — no board required.
The Los Angeles company, led by recently installed chief executive officer Eddie Miyoshi, has big plans for Huf that, if successfully achieved, would set up the brand for real longevity in the marketplace.
The skate and streetwear brand, founded initially in 2002 as a San Francisco boutique by pro-skateboarder Keith Hufnagel, saw a 90 percent stake in the business trade hands from Altamont Capital to TSI Holdings Co. Ltd. for a reported $63 million late last year. A few weeks ago it revealed the hiring of Miyoshi, a more than 20-year veteran of Costa Mesa-based Volcom, as ceo.
“Huf has the ingredients to be a potential game changer for skate and streetwear,” Miyoshi said, in his first interview since officially joining the company about a week ago. “It’s a place where we can transition into a premium legacy brand. It has a lot of rich stories and culture. When I was in Japan [for Volcom], I saw this globalization effect encompassing fashion and streetwear. A lot of street brands were getting attention. Even a lot of Western brands were building their image in Japan and then a lot of Chinese consumers and even Koreans were picking up on that.”
Huf — with seven stores, one each in Los Angeles and New York, plus five in Japan — in some ways sits in an enviable position. Miyoshi pointed to its roots in skateboarding, an aspect it has largely stayed true to, avoiding any major mainstream growth that would have alienated its core customer.
For Miyoshi and Huf’s team of roughly 40 across the Irvine and Los Angeles offices — that’s not counting a warehouse and the workforce in Japan or the stores — the steps to becoming a premium brand first require the infrastructure, he said. That includes a focus on improving the quality to justify higher price points and carefully looking at distribution and operations. There’s also marketing and a more solid plan for direct-to-consumer that could include more stores and a constant flow of direct drops to shoppers.
“You’re going to see us spending the rest of this year prepping our infrastructure and then, as of 2019, opening a couple stores and then escalating from there,” Miyoshi said.
Huf’s start in San Francisco makes opening a store there an easy decision, the ceo said. He also identified markets such as Brooklyn, Chicago, Atlanta and West L.A. as other potentials for Huf stores.
The brand’s target market is 18- to 26-year-olds, and Miyoshi doesn’t see that changing as the brand transitions to something more premium. Even with a focus on elevating the direct experience, wholesale will remain important, he said, with Huf sold at retailers ranging from chains such as Zumiez, PacSun and Urban Outfitters to skate shops such as Active Ride Shop, Val Surf and Programme Skate and Sound.
There are also international opportunities, with Miyoshi focusing on establishing the brand presence in Japan, which he said would serve as the broader marketing platform to reach customers in other parts of Asia. He sees opportunity in growing the brand in Europe as well as Canada and Australia.
They are big plans and Miyoshi doesn’t see out of rose-colored lenses when he talks about the potential hurdles facing not only Huf but the broader action sports industry.
“There’s a softness in the action sports market right now,” he said. “There’s consolidation with the surf brands and these private equity companies. There’s this concern of, even within streetwear, a disconnect and a diluted interpretation of skate and streetwear. Skate is a lifestyle. Nowadays, it’s becoming a logo on a shirt and maybe kids are not getting a compelling story of our culture and our lifestyle. I feel a little concerned about that. I think we need to get kids excited about our lifestyle. We need to build a strong foundation in our culture and not just the hype. If we do that, it offsets the softness in action sports.”
He pointed out the balance that must be struck as a small company looking to scale but not lose its relevance among skaters, while also not getting caught up in the current frenzy linking luxury with streetwear brands. The question of whether it would even make sense for a brand such as Huf to collaborate with a European luxury house is a good one, Miyoshi said.
“I feel like we still are not at that point yet,” he said. “It’s cool that street and skate’s permanence in influencing youth culture is now mingling with legacy and high-fashion brands. I get that. Brands like us have to build our position in the streetwear market and lead and then, at some point, it might make sense to work with luxury. I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m knocking on luxury’s door.”
His even-keeled approach comes from more than 20 years of lessons learned while at Volcom, the last of the action sports brands to go public and one of the first businesses to build a brand that managed crossover among all three board sports: surf, skate and snow, mixed with music and art. Volcom founder Richard Wolcott initially tapped Miyoshi, who was working for the company’s Japanese distributor, to build Volcom’s international department. Miyoshi managed Volcom’s Japan business and also built teams in other parts of Asia, Latin America, Dubai and Israel. He eventually became general manager and president of Volcom Japan before being appointed global head of culture. Throughout that time Volcom went on in 2005 to file for an initial public offering and in 2011 was sold for $608 million to Kering.
That time period also reflected the rise and plateau of the broader action sports industry, which Miyoshi said ballooned to unsustainable levels going from a band of relatively unknown brands beyond their niche bases to mainstream, global entities.
“Next thing you know, we’re selling in Macy’s and Nordstrom and there was this giant bubble of growth and I feel like our industry wasn’t really prepared for that,” he said. “It spiraled into a sea of sameness. We were all creating the same product. There was too much product at discounters like Marshalls and T.J.Maxx and it just hurt the overall excitement for action sports. All these little mistakes that we [as an industry] made escalated into oversaturation of the market.”
He’s mindful of those mistakes now as he looks to grow Huf without treading waters he’s seen before.
“When I sat down with TSI, one of the things I said was I see all these opportunities with Huf,” he said. “It’s got skate roots. It’s got streetwear crossover. It’s got a great retail position and then it has this Japanese company that owns it. But I told them the reason I wanted to come to Huf was I want to create a brand of legacy that our employees’ kids can work for. In order to do that, I want to build Huf by taking all the learning points and not saturating the market, not making things for the top-line dollar, not building products for discounters, not forgetting our roots and not allowing retailers to dictate our styles and price points. I want to be able to build this company in the right way and see where that leads us.”