The skating apparel industry could very well give the skateboard and gear industry a run for its money. Known as “skater style” or “streetwear,” this particular style of clothing first emerged as a phenomenon in the 1990s, with heavy roots in the punk and anti-establishment scene.
Skate clothing is generally characterized by its durability, looser fit, and flexibility to offer freedom of movement and overall comfort during activity. Skater style’s emphasis on comfort and functionality while still managing to pull off effortlessly cool looks has made it extremely popular with skaters and non-skaters alike – especially in recent years.
Below, we’re going to go over ten of our favorite skateboard clothing brands in no particular order. Whether you’re a seasoned skateboarder looking for history on some of their favorite threads or you’re just looking for some popular brands to rep, the following favorites are always a solid option!
What list of skate apparel brands would be complete without the granddaddy of skate shoes and clothing? Founded in 1966 by brothers Paul and James Van Doren as “The Van Doren Rubber Company,” Vans is credited with developing the first shoe designed specifically for skateboarding.
In the early 1970s, Mark, the then 13-year-old son of James, created the now famous Vans insignia as a cool design to spray paint on his skateboard. The company ended up approving the design for official use and began including it on the heel tab of some of their earlier shoe designs, such as the Vans Style 95.
Mark’s passion for skateboarding inspired his father to create more skate shoes, and in 1976, the “Off the Wall” logo and Vans side stripe design made their debuts, sparking a major boom for the company. Vans has long since expanded from skate shoes to include casual shoes, hoodies, shirts and polos, caps, accessories, and more.
The Volcom stone is another widely recognized symbol, both in and out of the skating world. Back in 1991, Richard Woolcott and Tucker Hall lied about being snowed in on a snowboarding trip to Tahoe in order to devote as much time as possible to the fresh powder around them. It appears that this extra time off sparked an epiphany, as two weeks later they quit their jobs and decided to start an apparel business oriented towards snowboarders, skaters, and surfers.
The Volcom name was born, and the stone quickly followed. Operating on a “youth against establishment” philosophy, Woolcott and Hall initially ran the company out of Hall’s room and ended their first year with a gross profit of only $2600. Like a true underdog, Volcom has grown to become one of the largest boardsports clothing and lifestyle brands in the industry, known for their hoodies, graphic tees, caps, and more.
HUF is the brainchild of professional skateboarder Keith Hufnagel, who began skating in the early 1980s. In a time when skateboarding was still demonized by mainstream culture, Huf branded himself as an outcast. His professional skateboarding career began when he moved to San Francisco in 1992. After traveling the world and taking note of the streetwear clothing trends in Tokyo, New York, LA, and London, he opened his first HUF boutique in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District in 2002 as a way to give back to the Bay’s skating community.
The boutique became known for stocking hard to find goods, bringing a community of skaters, artists, and other creatives together with clothing. Hufnagel eventually launched his own collection of goods under the HUF label, with the first full apparel collection launching in 2007. The brand expanded into footwear in 2010 before attracting controversy with their line of “F*CK IT” apparel and footwear drops in 2012 and 2013. Although Hufnagel passed away in September 2020, his vision of fusing skateboarding with the sneaker and skate forward streetwear scene continues to take flight with the brand’s collection of tees, hats, accessories, and more.
OBEY Clothing was founded in 2001 as an extension of graffiti artist Shepard Fairey’s work, one prominent example being his Andre the Giant Has a Posse campaign stickers that swept the East Coast by storm (you’re likely also aware of Fairey’s “Hope” poster for the 2008 U.S. presidential election). Fairey viewed the brand as another channel for his socio-political messages.
As per their official website, the skate forward clothing brand is “rooted in the do-it-yourself counterculture of punk rock and skateboarding” while also taking cues from areas such as popular culture and politics. The brand continues to espouse the “medium is the message” philosophy, asserting that while OBEY is about questioning purpose, its ultimate goal is reflecting the personalities and sensibilities of the consumer.
Unsurprisingly, Nike SB was first met with disdain from the skateboarding community. As a global sports conglomerate entering a self-proclaimed anti-establishment space, it was clear it wasn’t going to be an immediate hit.
Nike first attempted to enter the skating market in 1996, when it was still a very niche subculture. Not only did the target demographic not take too kindly to the epitome of the establishment invading their space, but the skate shoes themselves were neither attractive nor exceptionally functional.
Nike SB was the company’s third attempt, launching in 2001. Despite a still less than warm welcome, Nike SB was able to turn things around. The inclusion of riders such as Paul Rodriguez, Eric Koston, and Stefan Janoski on their team allowed them to build credibility, especially considering Rodriguez, viewed by many as the gold standard of skaters, left his long-term shoe sponsor for Nike SB. The explosive popularity of the “Dunks” featured in Rodriguez’s first ad, and the splash it made in the shoe collecting world, effectively changed the course of history for Nike SB.
DC Shoes can be traced back to 1989, when Ken Block and Damon Way began screen printing T-shirts and clothing under the brand name Eightball. With the endorsement of Damon’s brother Danny, a pro skater, they began selling their shirts to stores. Eightball soon expanded into a warehouse, launching the Droors Clothing brand, with the entire business incorporated into Circus Distribution Inc in 1993. The Eightball brand was retired later that year due to name ownership issues, creating space for DC Shoes to emerge.
The brand saw a gap in the skating shoe industry and decided to build their brand on technologically advanced footwear. DC Shoes continued to grow through professional endorsements before selling the brand to Quiksilver. DC continues to hold strong in the boardsports and extreme sports industry with its products, which has expanded from skate shoes to include casual shoes, clothing, backpacks, snowboards, and more.
One of the most famous skater-founded and owned brands, Etnies has branded itself as innovation for skaters, by skaters. Pierre André Sénizergues founded the company in 1986 following the end of his professional skateboarding career, thereby creating the first skater owned and operated business. With several of their iconic shoes designed by Sénizergues himself, such as the “Senix,” “Lo-Cut,” and “Intercity,” Etnies quickly established itself as a frontrunner of the European skate shoe industry. The acquisition by Sole Technology allowed Etnies to make its way over to the U.S.
Etnies is credited with making the first pro model skate shoes, the Etnies Natas. Today, the brand’s industry influence continues to grow with their roster of riders, commitment to community service, and dedication to durable, iconic styles that don’t skimp on comfort or support.
RVCA, pronounced “rew-cah,” undoubtedly has quite the hold on the action sports and skateboard industry as a brand, with folks proudly sporting the apparel at a wide range of events, from skate and surf competitions to MMA fights. Founded by PM Tenore, the brand aims to “transcend the boundaries of traditional action sports apparel” by operating on the emphasis of “the balance of opposites.”
Tenore, an avid skater, surfer, and aspiring clothes designer, began learning about the industry as a teenager. He moved to NYC at age 15 to learn fashion design, opening his first boutique at 19. RVCA is known for accepting work from artists when they have it rather than assigning out work. While this may appear like unsteady work, for many artists, this is the ultimate opportunity for creative freedom.
Primitive Skateboarding was founded in 2008 by pro skater Paul Rodriguez along with Heath Brinkley, Jubal Jones, Andy Netkin, and Jay Partow. Initially operating as a skate shoe and apparel shop in Encino, California, Primitive soon launched its own apparel line under the brand, which was immediately well-received by the skateboarding community.
Inventory has expanded to include apparel for all ages as well as collaborations with several brands and public figures. Rodriguez’s commitment to fair treatment and compensation for Primitive’s riders has helped to boost the brand’s popularity within the industry.
Neff was founded in 2002 in Southern California by Shaun Neff, becoming the first core snow and skate headwear company in the world. Originally printing T-shirts and selling them out of his backpack during his college years, Neff discovered a niche market for headwear and began to sell self-made headbands under the name Neff Headwear.
Over the years, the Neff brand was embraced by the snow and skate communities and has continued to make a name for itself through capsule collections and partnerships with Snoop Dogg, Steve Aoki, Disney, and more.