Brand Focus – The History of Stussy
This week sees the latest installment from streetwear heavyweights Stussy arrive at Urban Industry. With a rich heritage that spans over 30 years, Stussy has gained legendary status amongst America’s subcultures and street wear fanatics across the globe, with its iconic logos and rebellious attitude it continues to be one of the most sought after brands of today.
There were no expectations at the start of it all. Shawn Stussy grew up in Southern California and spent much of his youth surfing, which eventually led to him designing and shaping his own boards at the tender age of 13. Showing a clear talent, 2 years later Stussy was hired by a surfboard manufacturer and after moving around a bit, living a free lifestyle, he eventually settled in Laguna Beach and started his own surfboard business in 1979 at the age of 24.
Stussy figured that he needed to make the boards easy to distinguish and because of this he decided to brand his handiwork with a marker, scrawling the now famous ‘signature’ onto the boards. In order to spur board sales, he decided to transfer the logo onto tees and sweaters, selling them to the local surf community. After being sold in local surf shops around the area, demand began to grow for the clothing and he eventually found himself leaning more towards the apparel side of the business.
An old surf friend, Frank Sinatra Jr., saw potential in Stussy’s newly found clothing venture and with the business savvy that Stussy may have lacked, invested $5,000 and they became partners. In 1984 Stussy inc was established, with Stussy on design duties and Sinatra handling the business responsibilities. Although it was hard to take to surfer away from the beach at times, due to the increasing interest in the apparel offerings, the surfboard business began to fade out and the apparel took center stage.
The arrival of Stussy couldn’t have come at a better time. With the early to mid 80’s drowned out by over-the-top clothing, people were becoming tired of dressing too flashy and were starting to adopt a more casual look. Shawn’s approach was to apply a contemporary twist to classic items, a style that would carry through to modern day, all the while creating an air of exclusivity by limiting its production below the level of demand.
Check this old school BBC documentary on the brand, featuring Shawn Stussy.
As they moved into the 1990’s, the brand became synonymous with the Hip-Hop and DJ scene’s. Just like the development of the trends of today, much of the hype around the brand was created by the musicians and adopted by their fans. This part of the brands history would also play a key role in Stussy’s approach to design, using the idea of ‘sampling’ images and graphics from various sources and applying them to clothing, continuing the create a new style with this classic feel.
Along with this there was a huge calling for luxury clothing at the time, with Hip-Hop artists favoring the likes of Chanel and Gucci. Another trend at the time saw many artists emanating drug dealers, who would wear the likes of Carhartt and Timberlands to keep warm on the streets. Stussy was well aware of this and found a medium between the two, drawing from high end designs and merging them with these robust, work wear styles.
As the brand continued to gain interest and demand globally, Shawn Stussy travelled the world, building both his own and the brands reputation. Linking up with the likes of James Jebbia in New York, Hiroshi Fujiwara in Tokyo and Micheal Koppelman in London, each of them key players in their respective cities. They all had similar interests and tastes, and would all gel over the brands unique vibe. This was the beginning of ‘The International Stussy Tribe’, taking the brand worldwide and becoming recognised in all the major cities. The ‘International Stussy Tribe’ would also become one of the brands most recognised designs, naming the cities it had connections with using bold graphic prints.
1991 was a big year for Stussy. They opened their first boutique in the trendy area of SoHo, New York, with the help of James Jebbia. It was a huge move that would solidify the brands development from small surf company, to major players in the fashion world. From there on, stores started popping up all over the world and today, Stussy has 16 stores worldwide, as well as being stocked in hundreds of boutiques.
Shawn Stussy recognised that fashion was evolving and felt it was time for a change away from the brand. In 1996 he resigned as president of the company, selling his share to business partner Sinatra who would continue running the company in much the same way as it had been prior to Stussy’s departure.
Although the brand had lost its ambassador and was beginning to run out of steam in the US, many of the ‘tribe’ was still connected and because of that Stussy was able to stay on the right track, despite the arrival of brands who were pushing out similar products. Much of Stussy’s operations moved to Europe and more importantly Japan, which became a huge focus for the brand at a time when Japanese streetwear was on the rise.
Fast forward a few years and Stussy was beginning to regain some traction in the market. In a bid to re-connect with the youth a guy named Robbie Jeffers came up with the idea to start the brands first skate team. It would allow the brand to once again play a big role in a sub culture that it owed a lot of its success to, as well as connecting to those influencers that would support the brand, with the likes of Keith Hufnagel and Anthony Van Engelen to name but a few joining the ranks. It ultimately proved unsuccessful, with the company focusing on apparel design, they were unable to provide the support needed for the skaters to progress.
The next big stop for Stussy and a huge part of where they are today is the sneaker culture revolution. One big player that knew of the brands history and the key role it played in streetwear was Nike. Michael Koppelman was close with Nike in London and he along with a guy called Fraser Cooke came up with Nike X Stussy Huaraches, the brands first shoe collaboration. The second collab in the Nike Dunk High came out in 2001. Working with James Jebbia, they produced an extremely limited batch, which would sell out in just 2 days!
At this moment in time, Sneakerheads were the driving force behind streetwear sales and as interest grew in collectable sneakers, the interest in Stussy also grew. Collaborative shoe designs and collaborations in general have become a huge part of the industry today, with big name releases happening more and more regularly. Stussy were one of the first streetwear brands to put out a collaborative effort and it was a huge success. This strategy its still a big part of their development today and they continue to work with the likes of Nike as well as other big names in the industry.
Stussy is considered by many around the world as one of the greatest streetwear brands of all time. Not only has it gone on to inspire many of the brands you see today, but many who were involved in the company as it developed have gone on to form companies of their own. James Jebbia has Supreme, Eddie Crus has Undefeated and even Shawn Stussy returned in 2009 to establish the S/Double studio.
Many of the iconic logos and styles that made the company so big back in the early 90’s can still be found on Stussy product, and with a rich history spanning over 30+ years, they continue to be as relevant as they were back then.
A huge part of it’s success is the strength in its designs, although a lot has to be said for the people around it and those who supported it. It’s also important to acknowledge that Frank Sinatra Jr.’s and Shawn Stussy’s decision to grow the brand organically and stick to its roots has allowed the brand, through many ventures and changes within the company, to continue to stay relevant and will do so for the foreseeable future.
Here’s 50 things you didn’t know about Stussy;