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This is how Shawn Stussy unintentionally created a brand new and iconic clothing genre

April 9, 2021 9:00 PM
This is how Shawn Stussy unintentionally created a brand new and iconic clothing genre

Stussy is a brand that is not unknown in the streetwear culture. To tell the unique story of this brand, we will first take you back in time.

Who is Shawn Stüssy?

Shawn Stüssy is the iconic founder of Stussy. Born in 1954, he grew up immersed in surf culture on the west coast of California. At thirteen, he picked up his first surfboard and since then his love for surfing has only grown. In his later teenage years he formed his own surfboards for friends and locals in Laguna Beach, California. With this, he built a reputation as a skilled shaper of boards.

This would at first be the foundation of the Stussy brand, but this did not work out as he had anticipated. Little did he know that he would become the man who would inspire the youth and create a brand new clothing genre. In fact, Stussy's move into the clothing world happened almost by accident. That's what makes Shawn's story, which has spawned an entire subculture with Stussy, so unique.

‘I was like ‘Oh fuck, are you kidding me?’'

Shawn scribbled his last name on his handmade surfboards in the early 1980s. This is the unique Stussy logo that made the brand what it is today. Stüssy began screen printing Hanes t-shirts with the graffiti-inspired logo. He wanted to sell the shirts along with the surfboards. This was a form of promotion for him for when he would be at trade shows for the first time.

Once at the trade show, he sold about 24 boards. Shawn said in an interview with Empire Ave in 2013 that every person who came by wondered how much the T-shirts cost. He responded by saying that he didn't know and that they were not for sale. When someone said they wanted to buy 24 shirts he said "Okay, they cost eight dollars". There was no price list and by the end of the three days he had sold a thousand of them. Shawn said about this: 'I was like 'Oh fuck, are you kidding me?''

Stussy in a time of change

Starting in 1984, Shawn Stüssy teamed up with his friend Frank Sinatra Jr (not related to the singer Frank Sinatra). The two then began selling Stüssy as a 'real' brand and it grew at a time when many cultural shifts were taking place.

In the late 1970s, punk was upcoming. This broke down creative barriers, both in music and in clothing and lifestyle. In addition, punk taught that anyone could start a band. The early 1980s then brought rap to the music scene. This too broke down these creative barriers. Rap pushed social and musical boundaries. For example, new ideas such as remixing and sampling were implemented. All these new ideas and areas created a new modern platform for fashion and cultural expression. Stussy was inspired by this, which led to a series of underground subcultures joining the brand.

International Stüssy Tribe

Stussy set itself apart from other brands. With the success of the brand came the opportunity to travel and spread their vibe. A global network of creative young people emerged who shared a common interest in surf culture, skating and music. This group of friends later became the "International Stüssy Tribe" with branches in New York, Tokyo, London, Berlin and Los Angeles. With the strong network of tribe members carrying the brand in clubs and on the scene around the world, the Stüssy message spread organically.

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 who is something of a self-made urban legend, of whom little can be found on the internet. Members of city chapters of the Stüssy Tribe each received custom embroidered jackets with their names on it.

In addition, the brand was also committed to producing relevant and high quality clothing at a reasonable price. These clothes were limited in quantity and were only available (worldwide) at stores selected by Stussy. This was an entirely new concept at the time, and one that has been used with varying degrees of success ever since. Stussy was also one of the first brands to produce clothing and accessories, such as caps and varsity jackets, that were not explicitly designed for sports teams. In addition, the brand changed logos such as Chanel's double C insignia, to a double S from Shawn Stüssy. In doing so, the brand pushed boundaries in terms of traditional style rules and limits.

Stussy as an inspiration

Stussy's rapid global expansion influenced a number of young designers to follow in his footsteps; Hiroshi Fujiwara of Fragment Design has named Shawn Stüssy as the person who inspired him to create his first brand GOODENOUGH. He was a DJ and columnist before that and is now considered the godfather of streetwear.

Then there is Luca Benini, founder of Slam Jam who brought Stussy to Europe. This introduced a generation of Italian children to the skate culture of SoCal and the accompanying, almost anti-fashion, casual trend. James Lebon, fashion photographer, video director and graphic artist was also inspired by the brand. Legend has it that he is buried in a coffin full of Stüssy stickers.

The brand also has ties to James Jebbia of Supreme, who began as a manager of Stüssy's NYC store, and Russell Simmons, of whom is claimed to have been inspired by Stüssy to start Phat Farm. In addition, it is also claimed that numerous streetwear brands such as X-Large, SSUR and Freshjive have been heavily influenced by the style that Stüssy established in its early years.

Yet we can tell you that to this day, very few streetwear brands are more iconic than Stussy. After decades, the brand continues to play a big role in underground culture and we love it!

1996 and beyond

In 1996, Shawn Stüssy left the brand to focus on his family. Fortunately, Stussy continued to grow and expand. Today, it remains one of the most prominent youth labels, available in boutiques and department stores. There have been many collabs in the last few years and we think that there will be many more. Stussy is a brand that won't go away.

This is also not the end of Shawn Stüssy. After Shawn left the brand, he continued to make surfboards. In recent years, he also started a new brand called S/Double, which operates on a small scale and is sold mainly in Japan.

Shawn Stüssy and his story makes us appreciate the most simple Stussy t-shirts and we probably speak for all streetwear fans when we say: Thank you for everything!

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