The time capsule of cool.
At the age of 13, most of us were spending our afternoons tradings pogs or, depending on your vintage, tuning in a transistor radio. While we were wasting our youth collecting small cardboard circles and navigating dead airwaves, one thirteen-year-old by the name of Shawn Stussy was beginning to shape surfboards and, unknowingly, the future of streetwear.
For the duration of his teenage years, the young creative honed his craft, leading to its developmental culmination of Shawn launching his own line in 1980. The following year, Mr. Stussy attended his first trade show. With a slew of boards and a handful of black Hanes t-shirts with his scribbled moniker of Stüssy in hand, Shawn sold 24 boards and nearly a thousand t-shirts in three days time. And just like that, something new – truly new – was born.
In 1984, Shawn and close friend Frank Sinatra (yes, that really was his name) went into business together to develop a full apparel line. The expansion morphed Stüssy from a simple surf line into an urban streetwear brand that began to attract I-don’t-give-a-shit trendsetters from skate, music, and artist cultures — or, better put for the time, counter-cultures. After years of the customary startup grind (skate pun intended), Stüssy hit it big near the end of the decade, in no small part due to the popularity of the “S” ball caps and interlocking “S” logos that paid homage to the classic lockup of the beloved Chanel. Through the success of their SOHO boutique in New York and further expansion internationally, Stüssy found it’s niche on the streets and, again, doubled down on the culture.
Over the next 25 years, Stüssy served to usher in the coming of age of streetwear. The self-titled “International Stüssy Tribe” formed in the late ‘80s at a global level, and any sense of personal genre was set aside. The clothing ripped apart societal boundaries with nods to brands like Comme des Garçons, only covered in lyrics from Bob Marley. Even the IST advertisements were of a new sort – obscure, but ambitious. Messages from a 1991 campaign read, “Leave me alone… Get off my bone… Cause I’m doing my own!”. The visuals of the brand became increasingly similar, while the breadth of its reach continued to expand and transcend existing cliques, inviting them into something far more important: the tribe.
As decades changed, Stüssy was forced to weather many challenges, such as the 10 year dominance of Japanese streetwear. With no regard for threats, Shawn and his team continued governing the scene all the same and partnered with (and hired) some of the most creative minds in the industry along the way. People like James Jebbia, founder of Supreme, and Matthew Williams, founder of ALYX. Stüssy became an incubator of brilliant brands. Eventually, Shawn Stussy left the brand in 1996 to spend more time with his family before launching a new surf line called S/Double over a decade later in 2008. In July of 2016, Shawn was inducted into the Surfers’ Hall of Fame, celebrating his work as a super craftsman surfboard shaper among his peers.
Today, Stüssy is still a tribe. A congruence of attitude and culture, both past and present, with no regard for any preconceived influences of who they’re supposed to be. In essence: streetwear today. Stüssy, however, has never been stronger. In 2012, the brand resurged the International Stüssy Tribe with the likes of A$AP Mob member, A$AP Illz, bringing the next generation of creative renegades under their wing. Beyond the retention of the scribbled insignia of its founder, Stüssy still anchors their colorful designs around 3-4 marks that were created by Shawn himself. They are an ever evolving time capsule of cool, with feels from the ‘80s and ‘90s, but coupled with commonplace pieces like satin bombers and oversized parkas. And, while most streetwear brands today have adopted the unapproachability that the Japanese decade of authority instilled, Stüssy remains welcoming to all.
So to you, Mr. Stussy and Mr. Sinatra, thank you for closing the societal gaps. For blurring the lines of commonality, and for supporting culture in all the areas it needed it most. And to you who are reading this – join the tribe.