Audi Ambassador Steve Dunstan on functionally expressive design
Huffer’s Steve Dunstan on design, community, and the future of retail
It’s a testament to Steve Dunstan’s endlessly curious, always-moving energy that in a year where his usual international travel was off the menu, he still found a way to sneak in an epic adventure.
“We actually started the year going on a real journey into what [Huffer] is,” the 47-year old founder says of 2020, explaining his decision to try and define the brand he’s nurtured over the last 23 years.
“Last Christmas we had somewhere around 175 staff – from part-time retail through to studio – and you can’t just expect everyone to understand the soul – the deepest meaning of the brand. I understand it because it’s stuck inside me, but I had to go on a journey to extract that. It was such an emotional ride for me, because [Huffer] has been a massive part of my life.”
Huffer, as the story goes, has been a part of Dunstan’s life since 1997, after the keen snowboarder had struggled to find functional but unfussy clothing for what was then a very new sport in Aotearoa.
“We came from a skateboarding culture and basically just wanted to look like skateboarders on the mountain”, he laughs, “but all that was available then was this sort of tight and bright European ski wear.”
Building community through design
Dunstan launched Huffer initially as a way to solve this issue – creating a range of fit-for-purpose performance gear that still conveyed the sense of expression that’s so fundamental to boardsport culture.
It was a remarkable example of innovation (particularly from someone who was then only 21), yet Dunstan himself humbly describes Huffer’s beginnings as simply “us wanting to earn our place in the community”.
“A big aspect of it was giving people the chance to feel part of something – to be part of a subculture, and having design that lets you express yourself in that way.”
This ethos of building community through design is one that Dunstan has kept central to the brand as it’s grown and evolved over the last two-plus decades. He, in his own words, “loves people” and is well-known for having a genuine interest in – and natural ability to connect with – people of all-ages, and across all subcultures – from performance sport to music, fashion to art.
“I am a pretty open person. I think that everyone has something to teach you if you're open to it – even someone you just meet down at the dairy.”
Through Huffer he’s able to bring these communities together, not just via the clothing itself, but via collaborations with like-minded brands like Audi, for which he’s been a brand ambassador for nearly a decade.
“Steve is a passionate Kiwi who understands understated premiumness, and most importantly has an eye on progressiveness and a customer-centric focus for his business,” says Dean Sheed, General Manager of Audi New Zealand.
Functionally expressive thinking - outside the box
For Dunstan – who prefers a fresh pullover and pristine white sneakers to a shirt and tie – the connection to Audi again comes back to the “functional expressive” approach that informs his design ethos. “They’re not ostentatious,” he says of Audi’s vehicles, “but they are incredibly innovative, beautifully designed, and there’s a real experience to driving them.”
Audi’s Dean Sheed says there are some dynamic design elements to enjoy for any Audi drivers. Including larger bold air inlets in the front bumper area, wider wheel housings and very distinctive grille area. The use of matt exterior paint colours, black instead of chrome, painted finishes on alloy wheels and in the interiors, ranges of real wood and metals is also something that speaks to the brand’s expressiveness.
“There are also features that harp back to history like the air vents at the base of the bonnet on the A1 sportback that originates from the sporty Audi quattro rally cars of the 1990’s,” says Sheed.
Like many Kiwis, Dunstan has been using the events of this year as an opportunity to get out and explore his own backyard (between lockdowns of course).
Alongside advanced technology like the“point of interest” features in the Sat Nav system which tell you about the countryside or buildings that you’re driving past, there is an in-car WiFi, and inductive phone charging pad, Dunstan points to the vehicle’s “amazing sound system” as a particular highlight of the driving experience.
“You’re on your way to the beach or the mountain, there’s this amazing scenery, and you’ve got the perfect soundtrack playing loud – it’s a real high.”
As for actually defining the Huffer brand itself – that, at customer-facing level at least – is still
something of a work in progress. Dunstan doesn’t consider Huffer as streetwear, nor a “lifestyle” brand. “I think people are just realising that you don't have to be put in a box or category for what you wear,” he says.
Amy de Vries
Spokesperson – Marketing