When Lord of the Rings star Orlando Bloom wore Huffer’s "I love NZ" T-shirt to the film’s premiere, it was a defining moment for the New Zealand street label.
Huffer celebrate their eighth birthday this month - a milestone, which on the surface, doesn’t seem to faze co-creator Dan Buckley.
"More than anything I think about the future. I don’t really reflect. Every now and then I have flashes of like ‘wow’ but it’s pretty rare - most of the time I’m just thinking about tomorrow and the next day and the day after that."
That’s not to suggest that Buckley doesn’t get excited about what he and business partner Steve Dunstan have achieved since they set up Huffer with a fax machine and a cutting table in 1997. It’s more a sense of humility and keeping to their roots, which has remained a core philosophy throughout their business.
"We’re just a couple of snowboarders and skaters, and even though we’re getting a bit old for that now, hopefully that’s who we still are," laughs Buckley. "How far have we made it? You know we’re pretty much still the same. Well, hopefully - I know life’s a crazy little rollercoaster ride."
Such a notion of staying true to themselves was certainly proven when Bloom wore that T-shirt. It gained overnight cult fashion status, and hundreds of people wanted one. But there were none left on shop shelves. While Huffer could have produced more, Dunstan made the decision to forgo the possibility of making a windfall from one print, a decision Buckley admits he might not have made himself.
"I think I’m a bit more ‘show me the money’ than Steve is," he laughs. "I was out of the country and Steve made the call, which I now see so much validity in, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have said the same thing. It was a real strong integrity-filled decision. And that’s Steve."
The pair met at a Grey Lynn skate park. Buckley, a design student, was selling his wares at the Dockside Markets, and Dunstan - a sponsored snowboarder - was in Auckland for the summer. They met up every now and then but the idea of forming a partnership was not cemented until a few years later when Buckley had designed what was to be the first range.
"We didn’t have a lot back then," explains Buckley. "I made a lot of the garments myself. We got orders of say 20 pairs of pants, and manufacturers wouldn’t take such small-sized orders, especially of super-technical snowboarding pants."
From small beginnings producing performance sportswear, Huffer has become a more fashion-focused brand.
"Our roots are probably tied in sportswear, I think, because of the brand and products are very much a reflection of my and Steve’s philosophies on life and what we like to do with our time. So having clothing that you can be active in is a pretty core value," Buckley says. "But at the same time as we get older we’ve probably become more interested in fashion - clothing you can go to dinner in. Well, you know," he laughs, "as you get older your horizons broaden.
"It’s a really cool balance, as we’ve got more involved in the fashion world which is a lot about hype and ideas, and perhaps the coolness factor, which is pretty fun to play with. But it’s a bit of a slightly fickle environment."
Clearly Huffer is a brand that is working. "It’s pretty amazing," admits Buckley. "We employ 11 people, and it’s a team of just really cool, really good people. A lot of our whole thing is that it’s for your buddies; you’re making things for you and your mates."
Last year Buckley moved to Sydney to focus on their growing Australian market, while Dunstan has stayed in New Zealand and is focusing on their break into Japan.
"We’re enjoying the challenge of trying to become an international identity. And for me living in Australia, I wouldn’t want to lose myself because I’m super proud to be a New Zealander," Buckley explains.
"We’ve grown up in small-town New Zealand, and I think a bit of our success has come from just being immersed in this culture.
"New Zealand has really grown up in the last 10 years - there’s a real recognition of our own culture. I think we’re really just like a teenager - we’re about 19 and going ‘Yeah, I’m okay, actually I’m pretty cool’ - our music’s good, our fashion’s pretty cool, and in fact this country’s pretty cool. We’re growing up a little bit. And it’s good to be a part of that."