Now one of the most famous streetwear brands of all time, Stüssy is a Californian skate/surf brand with an origin story in keeping with the brand’s laidback, free-spirited identity.
Growing up near California’s Laguna Beach, a famous spot popular amongst surfers and counter-culture communities, Shawn Stüssy stumbled into his business when he started out placing his distinctive signature onto his handmade surf boards in the early 1980s.
Over the next few years he began placing the Stüssy logo onto T-shirts, caps and other simple pieces, and a small local brand began to build. In 1984 he partnered up with his friend Frank Sinatra Jr. (no relation to the legendary singer), and the two began selling Stüssy as a proper brand. By the 1990s, the brand had grown to considerable size with a flagship store in New York and business expansions into Europe.
One thing that set Stüssy apart in the early days was the fact that it was one of the first brands to produce goods like caps and varsity jackets that weren’t explicitly designed for sports teams. Combined with the brand’s playful repurposing of logos such as Chanel’s double C insignia (transformed into a double S; Shawn Stüssy), Stüssy’s groundbreaking reconfiguring of traditional style rules and boundaries laid the foundation for virtually every streetwear brand that followed it.
Stüssy’s rapid global expansion influenced a number of young designers to follow in his footsteps; Hiroshi Fujiwara of Fragment Design has cited Shawn Stüssy as the person who inspired him to create his first brand, GOODENOUGH. The brand also has connections to James Jebbia of Supreme, who started out as manager of Stüssy’s NYC store, and Russell Simmons, who it is claimed was inspired to start Phat Farm by Stüssy. It is also claimed that numerous streetwear brands such as X-Large, SSUR and Freshjive were heavily influenced by the style legacy that Stüssy carved out in its early years.
One of the most famous elements of Stüssy is the famous Stüssy Tribe – collectives of like minded individuals with close connections to the brand. Funnily enough, this was first started in London by a collective of individuals that included Michael Kopelman of Gimme 5, Mick Jones of The Clash, and ‘Barnzley’ Armitage. Members of city chapters of the Stüssy Tribe were each given custom embroidered jackets with their names on. The movement spread to numerous cities including Paris, Tokyo and New York.
In 1996, Shawn Stüssy left the brand in order to focus on his family, and the brand continued to grow and expand. These days, it continues to be one of the most prominent youth labels, stocked in high street stores, streetwear boutiques and department stores. The brand’s Stüssy Deluxe sub-label produces premium, higher-priced versions of its products, as well as premium collaborations with other brands. Since leaving the brand, Shawn Stüssy has continued to make surf boards, and in recent years started a new brand, S/Double, which operates on a small scale, mainly selling in Japan.
It’s been over two decades since the namesake founder left Stüssy to spend more time with his wife and son in Hawaii. Since leaving the brand, he’s continued to make surfboards and even began a new brand, S/Double, in 2008. The moniker is a nickname given to him by his wife and the brand itself is more mature, with a mix of derby shoes and hand-made surf attire on deck.
Many streetwear brands owe their origins to the rise of Stüssy. One of the most famous links to the surf and skate label happened in New York with Supreme founder James Jebbia. As he launched what would become one of streetwear’s most iconic brands, Jebbia was working at Stüssy’s New York headquarters, which he helped open with Shawn Stüssy himself. Besides the Supreme link, Stüssy has also inspired the creation of Hiroshi Fujiwara’s first brand GOODENOUGH, Russell Simmons’ label Phat Farm, and influenced the style of brands like X-Large, SSUR, and Freshjive.
One of the most visible elements of the streetwear brand is the so-called “International Stüssy Tribe”—a collective of like-minded individuals with close connections to the brand. Ironically, the first Tribe began not in the label’s sunny California home, but in the dreary streets of London with Michael Kopelman of Gimme 5, Mick Jones of The Clash, and ‘Barnzley’ Armitage. Members of the city chapters were given custom embroidered jackets with their names on it and eventually, the movement spread to cities around the world including New York, Paris, and Tokyo.
While the meaning behind the name Stüssy is no deeper than the obvious family surname, it is Shawn Stüssy’s famous signature that has become the John Hancock of streetwear. After getting a job shaping surfboards at the age of 15, Shawn spent years perfecting the craft before he began to handmake boards at 24. For these, he would scrawl his surname on the end with a broad-tipped marker. Later, he silkscreened his signature on T-shirts to help promote the boards and officially began the brand in 1984 with friend Frank Sinatra Jr. (no relation to the singer).