Stussy: Brand History and Company Success 

blonde girl wearing stussy teal tshirt on the beach


In spite of increasing competition in the streetwear market, Stussy has remained successful, celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2020. Many influential aspects of the brand’s journey have contributed to its monumental legacy, one of the most notable being its hand-drawn logo. Since its inception, this logo has been the brand’s original logo, placing it in a category reserved for highly influential and well-known brands. Stussy laid the foundation for an industry that did not exist decades ago, and it will continue to hold a high reputation. 

Stussy: The Beginning 

In the early 1980s, Shawn Stussy began hand-making surfboards in his garage, constantly blending unique shapes with stellar graphics. His designs encompassed post-punk, roots reggae, and even the new wave. Thanks to this, his skills were in high demand, and several professional surfers were loyal. It was always Stussy’s custom to finish off his famous surfboards with a hand-drawn logo, his uncle’s signature who was an abstract artist. 

A hallmark of Stussy’s work is his ability to bring disparate points of reference together under one lens. In order to meet the needs of his consumers, he first entered the clothing industry by offering traditional surfwear. A stark contrast existed between his designs and the loud and brash surfwear available at the time. During the late eighties, many of his customers were seeking gear for transitioning from the beach or street to the club or bar at night. Thanks to Stussy, this shift in consciousness was catered to and the Stussy brand was born.

Navigating Brand Growth

Throughout its history, this brand has achieved many firsts. Among its many initial innovations, this brand reworked pop-culture graphics and referred to high-fashion houses. Additionally, the brand is known for continuously straddling highs and lows in order to provide customers with a comprehensive fashion experience. In the late 1980s, the brand was one of the first to put logos on baseball caps, and this business segment accounted for 20% of its total revenue.

The late 80s look of Carhartt jackets, baggy jeans, and boots is one of the influences of Stussy. This trend also gave birth to the fashion segment known as streetwear today. In the early years of Stussy’s history, Shawn would travel worldwide to network with creative people in the industry. This network became known as the International Stussy Tribe and included high-profile individuals like James Lebon and Hiroshi Fujiwara. What set Stussy on a new trajectory in New York City was when James Jebbia opened a shop on Spring Street. The brand stepped away from the baggy look of the time while still embracing the street attitude. 

Jebbia stocked a selection of younger, boundary-pushing labels and also wanted to stock Stussy, although Shawn refused. So it wasn’t until Shawn came to the store to see if he agreed that they opened the first Stussy store in 1991. Afterward, Jebbia started his own fashion brand Supreme a few blocks away. 

The International Stussy Tribe

Among the reasons why Stussy quickly gained international recognition is the drastic increase in the Stussy Tribe. Shawn was well known for sending clothing to a variety of creatives and tastemakers around the world. the brand had been producing its iconic varsity jackets for years before Shawn decided to create an international tribe variation. By customizing each unique jacket with individual tribe member names, Shawn was among the first to take advantage of “buzz marketing” or astroturfing. generating organic hype around these eiconic styles helped bring a sense of community to the brand, thus bringing a sense of pride to the wearers. after this, Tribe members became unofficial spokesmen for the brand. 

in fact, a number of the Stussy Tribe have founded some of the most successful streetwear brands and street culture brands around the world. In providing growth, Shawn’s actions were organic and brilliant. The brand was discovered by several fashion-conscious individuals who felt they had discovered something truly unique. Considering the brand’s strategic exclusivity, Stussy was able to position itself in such a manner as to provide a sense of status to its tribe. Clients had to be authentic to the industry and Stussy was something they “stumbled” upon rather than something that was sold to them. 

As time passed, several brands emerged, focusing on what was in style at the time. However, Stussy refused to let the fashion industry dictate his products. As time went on, many people mistakenly identified Stussy with Mossimo, a brand that had a similar logo to Stussy. As opposed to Stussy, this brand sold its products to any retailer who desired them. Disheartened by the external pressures and dilution of the American market, Shawn left the brand in 1995.

The Entrance of Frank Sinatra Jr

​​In 1985, Frank Sinatra Jr. entered the picture. Initially, he was an accountant who became a partner in the company with Shawn. He persuaded Shawn to launch an apparel line when the only clothing options available were surfboard-themed. As the brand’s clothing options became increasingly popular, it became increasingly difficult to avoid branching out into apparel completely. The Stussy brand was revamped by Frank Sinatra Jr. during years of struggle when a new creative team was brought in to give the brand a boost. With the help of the entire Stssy team, along with his connections inNew York City, Sinatra not only kept the brand relevant but guided the company into scaled success.

Nick Bowers was a key persona who helped Sinatra achieve his goals. Bowers had years of experience in the fashion industry as he had spent time working at the luxury fashion house, Valentino. The brand’s new creative director, Paul Mittleman also played a key role in the company’s success and Hiroshi Fujiwara, a member of the Stussy Tribe, was one of the main reasons why Stussy was able to gain entry into the Japanese market.

In addition, the rise of sneaker culture and the brand’s collaborations with other brands have provided the brand with new customers and outlets. One of the most notable collaborations in Stussy’s history is its collaboration with Nike in 2000 and 2002. Moreover, the new team had access to Stussy’s history, which was well documented. Shawn’s work served as inspiration for the brand even after he left, as the history of the brand was readily available. With this, the brand could make it through the years and remain profitable throughout the period.

Stussy History and Going Global

We discussed how Stussy developed the International Stussy Brand by taking the brand’s vision around the world. Shawn has built a large following around the world as he has traveled from country to country. Frank Sinatra Jr. observed the growth of this international fan base when he took over from his father. Compared to the American sales of the brand, the global figures were more impressive than the minuscule sales there. 

This explains why Stussy entered the Japanese streetwear market after focusing on the international market. The streetwear scene flourished because of names like Hiroshima Fujiwara and Shinsuke Takizawa. The Japanese streetwear market loved Stussy for its uniqueness and authenticity and this market aided to bolster the brand in this new market. 

Later in Stussy history, we also see it make an entry into the European market. The Slam Jam Socialism was one of the main distribution points for the brand in Europe.

Majority of the brand’s business and revenue comes from overseas markets, with less than 40% of its revenue coming from its US operations. At present, the American market contributes less to the brand’s success than the international market. In 2014, the band recorded a whopping $50 million in sales, however, Frank Sinatra Jr. calls it a reluctant achievement because the brand focuses on staying small and niche-relevant.

Stussy History and Sticking to Roots

Maintaining relevance and success is crucial for any brand. A great deal of interest is always expressed by the public regarding the ways in which fashion brands achieve success and longevity in the fashion industry. By building a sense of fascination around Stussy, the brand has been able to scale to a level of iconic status. One of the reasons that Shawn’s brand remains successful to this day is due to his early days. Although the unique logo of this brand is the main export of its history, there are a few iconic moments where the brand flipped other brands’ logos.

In the early days of Stussy history, the brand reinterpreted the Chanel Logo. The brand also poked at one of the longstanding fashion brands in fashion history, Louis Vuitton. It created a Stu-ey Vuitton homage that led the top brand to send Stussy a cease and desist letter. This rich background is one of the reasons why the Stussy brand strives to stay small today. The smaller the brand’s scale, the easier it is to remain close to its past. The brand’s size also shares a connection with its authenticity.

Staying True to its Vision

Throughout Stussy’s history and in the present, the company’s leaders have strived to maintain the company’s scale. According to Frank Sinatra Jr., one of the team’s fears is that the brand will grow too fast and become unmanageable. In order to maintain Stussy’s connection with its customers, the team desires to keep in touch with them. Besides selling to people who have fallen in love with the brand, the brand also sells to a collection of new consumers who are looking for an alternative to more prominent brands. Furthermore, Stussy benefits from the growing number of young consumers who are obsessed with fashion. 

By responding to the call of those who want an alternative to the 70s style, Stussy stays true to its vision. There is still a need for these products in today’s market, even among the younger generation. It is fortunate that Stussy is aware of these needs and strives to meet them.

Final Thoughts

Although Stussy is a small company, most people consider it to be one of the greatest streetwear brands and the company has been an inspiration for many relevant streetwear fashion brands today. Eddie Crus, the founder of Undefeated, and James Jebbia, the founder of Supreme, are two of the members of the Stussy International Tribe today. It is this rich history of the brand that makes it relevant in the present day.

A major reason for the success of this brand is its designs as well as the support it receives from its fans. Since Frank Sinatra Jr. and Shawn Stussy continued growing the brand organically while concentrating on the brand, the brand has remained relevant until this day. In the foreseeable future, Stussy will remain relevant if it sticks to its roots and remains true to its vision.

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Stussy: Brand History and Company Success  Stussy is over four decades old and continues to stand firm. Its focus on brand is one of the top reasons for a successful Stussy history.
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