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Icons before Instagram: How Stussy paved the way for streetwear culture

The world of streetwear is an ever-changing dynamic — it’s full of hype and clout that many seem to endlessly chase without any real reason or purpose. Hype clothing has been around for some time now, mainly starting out with luxury brands. Thanks to its exclusivity, luxury fashion brands were able to control its supply and demand to greater effect. Soon after, streetwear took over the hype and since then, it has not looked back — with the help of Stussy, of course.

A vintage Stussy ad from the 90s. (Image Credit: Stussy)

What is it about streetwear that has gotten its hook onto people? Some would say its due to brands like Supreme, Bape, and Off-White, all of which were responsible for creating the amount of hype in its apparel. While that may be true, many do not know that it is thanks to Stussy these brands were able to succeed. But what is the appeal it has on the streetwear industry?

To find out just how big of an impact Stussy has on the current streetwear scene today, we have to go back to the early 1980s in Laguna Beach, California. Back then, Shawn Stussy was no more than just your average surfboard maker. He began scrawling his surname on his handcrafted surfboards, which has since come to define the brand.

Some of Stussy’s earlier designs. (Image Credit: Grailed)

Known for his punk rock/new-wave design styles, he began promoting his custom wave rippers with his surname emblazoned with a unique hand-lettered style. He then went one step further by printing his tags on black t-shirts to go with the surfboards at the Action Sports Retailer trade show in Long Beach in 1981-82. At the end of the three-day trade show, the name Stussy was the talk of the event, in addition to selling roughly a thousand t-shirts.

While he began slowly making a name for himself at trade shows, it wasn’t until 1984 when Stussy met with his soon-to-be business partner, Frank Sinatra (no, not that Frank Sinatra). A certified accountant, Sinatra was one of the few people who believed in the young designer’s vision, helping him turn his improvised apparel into a full-fledged business. Sinatra offered him US$5,000 to become his partner and later, they established Stussy Inc. while eventually trademarking the name in 1986.

The first of many designs to come out from the brand includes its now iconic ‘Stussy No. 4’ with the interlocking double-S (no guesses from where it drew inspiration from). This also includes its bold S design affixed on painter and baseball caps, which has since become a staple in the streetwear fashion industry.

The first International Stussy Tribe, which featured the likes of Nigo (the founder of Bape) and Hiroshi Fujirawa. (Image Credit: Grailed)

By 1988, Stussy made its way to Europe and just a few years later, made its way across to globe to bigger upcoming markets like Japan, the birthplace of streetwear. However, it was from the 1990s and onwards where Stussy made an upward trajectory with its first stand-alone store after years of selling through select shops. This was done with the help of James Jebbia, who is known for founding Supreme later on in April 1994.

However, by 1996 Shawn Stussy had left the brand he created entirely. To make matters worse, more up-and-coming streetwear brands were emerging, defining what it means to be part of the culture in the new era. It wasn’t until 2001 did Stussy reemerge onto the scene by collaborating with Nike on two limited editions Nike Dunk High sneakers that were only available at Stussy stores in New York, Tokyo, London, and Los Angeles.

Stussy is also known for its varsity jackets, which was donned since the early 90s. (Image Credit: Stussy)

As a whole, Stussy is still one of the original streetwear brands in the world, coming up from nothing and turning itself into a global presence. While Shawn Stussy may have parted ways a long time ago, the brand itself has managed to make itself relevant even after so many years. Speak to any OG streetwear enthusiast and the likes of Stussy, Bape, Neighborhood, and Undercover will be mentioned constantly.

Wi-Liam Teh
Senior Writer
Wi-Liam is a geek at heart with a penchant for tattoos. Never without a drink in hand (preferably whisky, gin, or Guinness), he is also a writer by day and a keyboard warrior by night. On his day off, he masquerades as a streetwear and sneakerhead enthusiast while his bank account says otherwise.