Stussy, from Side Street Hustle to Streetwear Couture

Stussy, from Side Street Hustle to Streetwear Couture


In the beginning, Shawn and his crew were globetrotters, explorers, eating up culture and infusing that into the brand. The brand is unique in that they created a community around the world focusing on the underground subcultures. Many streetwear brands that are unique and have an edge usually surround themselves with creative people who exude this confidence and hunger for life. This is what we mean when we say Stussy is a more than a T, it’s a lifestyle. Anyone can wear clothes, but not everyone can create a phenomenon. It’s crazy to think this all started on the coast and in the water. In the early 80s Shawn was making his name in the surfing scene. He was making boards featuring his trademark logo.


Before he made a name in the surf scene he was designing and creating from an early age. Born in 1954 in California, the laidback surf style was in his blood. Shawn was a kid when surfing’s popularity began to grow. He learned to surf when he was 10 and by the time he was 13 he was already hard at work crafting boards probably listing to Regaee or Punk. At this point and even in the early 80s there was no financial aspirations behind his love for surfing. He lived a modest life up until the 80s when he came back to Laguna Beach after a stint in other parts of California. In 1980 at the ripe age of 24 he started his first venture, setting up a shop to sell surf boards in Laguna Beach. The boards were unique and apart from his trademark signature, a homage to graffiti culture and his roots in alternative culture. With a DIY ethos and a “can’t fail” attitude he was able to secure a dedicated following, but not for the boards. In retrospect, it was easy to see why the surfboard venture wasn’t the best idea. It was a competitive market and many brands before him took the same approach to selling boards. Shawn initially created clothes to hype and street customers to the boards, what actually happened was the opposite. As the story goes, it was evident he needed to drop the boards when, after an event, he sold out of all his clothing stock but barely managed to sell 24 boards. What a happy accident. The brand we know is born. 


The 80s was a great time for Stussy’s building blocks and the hustle was real. In 1984 Shawn was enticed to start a business by childhood friend Frank Sinatra Jr., no relation to the undulated late singer but somehow he still manages all the panache. It was this brotherly duo that really got Stussy going. In the early days the business was just as much about apparel as it was surf boards, but as time passed the influence became global and Stussy became less about surf boards and full time focus on clothes.  In 1985 Stussy Inc. Shawn served as the creative director while Frank handled all the business aspects. Throughout the mid to late 80s, Stussy continued to grow the clothing aspect of the business. The 80s mainstream fashion as we know was flashy and excessive. Everybody wanted to be Axel Rose or a member from Dynasty, the simplicity of former decades was lost and that it where the market for basic apparel really propelled the brand. By the 90s the duo went nationwide opening a store in Soho in 91 and gaining traction overseas in Japan’s fashion hubs. The term streetwear really was birthed in the 90s and although Shawn is the credited with creating the scene, it was a through and through New York sensation. Like we mention in our cap review, the hat became an accessory in the 90s when hip hop/streetwear culture really took over.  Stussy was one of the few to capitalize on this and create statement hats, not just something to shield your eyes from the sun. It was an accessory.

Stussy had an interest take, mixing high and low fashion. The approach to business was keep it exclusive, classy, original and fun. With their limited run marketing aspect, everything felt glossy and high end and most importantly exclusive. 

Stussy and the brands following soon became known as International Stussy Tribe. Even now this community of artists, skateboards, entrepreneurs, fashion savants are still going strong. Stussy exudes this aura of genuinity. Even after all these years, the company has remained in the hands of a few and they still operate independently unlike many of the streetwear brands that were birthed in the 80s and 90s alongside them like A Bathing Ape and Supreme. Shawn decided to part ways with Stussy the brand in 1995, and it was up to Frank to keep the brand going. By this point the market was becoming oversaturated with brands mimicking the model build by Stussy and Shawn was looking to spend his time working on his family. As interest shifted and streetwear become a common trend, the need to diversity led the brand into the shoe game. Here we see the brands first collaborations with huge corporations such as Nike. 

The 2000s has seen the brand once again make waves with consumers. In the last decade consumers craved streetwear unlike before, and the nostalgia wave helped propel the brands popularity. In 2014 was one of the biggest years in sales reaching 50 million, but much to the chagrin of Sinatra Jr, who is still running the show. Stussy always wanted to remain an underdog or at least give off that energy yet they continue to increase and continue to collaborate and add in fresh talent. So far the business has no plans of slowing down, and with their continued success with brand collaborations it seems like Stussy is doing great. In the internet era, Stussy is thriving due to the connectedness and eager for youngsters interested in fashion, learning they’re shit and knowing their history. But you also have kids who just think the brand's aesthetic is appealing all while remaining nostalgic for the older generations.

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