Spotlight: Steve Dunstan

Now in their 22nd year of business, streetwear brand Huffer is one of New Zealand’s apparel success stories. We spoke with Huffer founder Steve Dunstan about bricks & mortar, working through business plateaux and creating content.

Huffer’s infancy in 1997 must seem a lifetime ago, now in its 22nd year, it has become one of NZ’s best known clothing brands and retail destinations. Given the chance to go back to ’97, what advice would you give yourself to make the ride a little smoother? 

Tricky question because the bumps along the way have helped shape who we are. It’s good to look back and think of the skills or techniques that might have made life easier but getting through some of the challenges we faced along the way has helped shape the brand and myself 22 years later. My advice would be to not overthink things, be conscious and aware of your business but turn your passion into motivation or drive, that passion will get you through the challenges thrown your way.

You established a young customer base early on, centred around skating and snowboarding culture, but some of your most loyal fans have long since grown up and continue to keenly follow the brand. How do you balance appealing to both the young, new customer base and the loyal young-at-heart?

I’m blown away with the span of customers we have. 22 years later we’ve got plenty of customer that have been with us the whole way.  At one point in our first retail store in Newmarket, I was standing in the store and there were these 16 year old kids that really wanted the brand but couldn’t yet fit it, that was the moment I realised we’d spanned a generation and a new group of customers were coming through. The challenge for Huffer is that we can’t go into Australia or new markets the same way we operate in NZ.  We’ll continue to engage with our community here in NZ but we really have to be pinpoint focused in new markets. We aim for leadership and to go in strong into new markets.

Are you planning on focusing on retail or growing your wholesale presence?

Our focus is still wholesale but for us, bricks & mortar is about brand activation and an innovative, different, tactile experience. Hopefully with some byproduct of healthy revenue but it’s a brand experience for us. We’re actually investigating pop-up opportunities in New York towards the end of the year. Wholesale is still the best way for us to enter new markets. We have a retail arm also but it’s an entirely different timeline to work to. Retail is important but for us, but building strong relationships with wholesale customers and distributors is essential. Communication is really important with making wholesale a success. We’re on the phones sometimes 5 times a day with our key distributors or stockists, we’re practically holding hands. Trust and transparency are essential, you can’t be too controlling. You just have to find good people who know their market and let them get on with it.

Your NZ Fashion Week 2018 show went down as one of the parties of the year, what are the ingredients to a successful fashion show and after party?

Fashion week for us is really a time to celebrate. We’ve always done it but for Huffer, its questionable whether we even need the 12 minute runway show because it’s more about bringing people tougher and having a mega party that showcases our culture. One of Huffer’s core values is of inclusivity so we tried to get as many people together as we could. We even live-streamed the show and party for anyone who couldn’t make it or fit at the venue. The fashion game can be incredibly exclusive and elitist so we really want to be as inclusive as possible. A good party is about the entire experience from when you receive your invite to when you walk in the door. All the senses have to be sated throughout the process. We had Desiigner come down from the USA, he’s a pretty crazy character and a real showman. It was just great to put on a show and celebrate with as many people as we could.

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