Synonymous with new-wave designs and punk culture, Stüssy is one of the world’s most in-demand brands of the moment. From city-inspired collections to trademark T-shirts, the streetwear label has remained a constant in the fashion sphere, continually pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo. But how did Stüssy become such an unstoppable force? The answer lies in the power of its collaborations. Here, we take a look back at the brand’s history, its long-standing legacy and how it came to be the industry’s favourite collaborator.

Founded in the ‘80s by Shawn Stüssy, the American brand was born from the Southern California surf scene. Famed for its statement graphics and graffiti-heavy apparel, Shawn’s mission was to take everyday clothing — often inspired by high fashion — and apply his own distinct and laid-back lens. The result? A contemporary look heavily influenced by skateboarding, surfing and music.

Following the brand’s surge in popularity in the early ‘90s, Shawn ventured to Tokyo, London and New York in search of fresh inspiration. Before long, the clothing was directed by an international group of musicians, DJs and artists with similar tastes, later dubbed the “International Stüssy Tribe”. With this game-changing move into micro partnerships, Stüssy began to appeal to fans around the globe, releasing limited-edition products and spreading the brand’s message organically.

In 1996, Shawn left the company, selling his stake to co-founder Frank Sinatra Junior. While the products continued to sell well and gain momentum, the brand had lost its touch. “Everyone would be like, ‘I love Stüssy, but I don’t really want to wear Stüssy,’ which is like, a unique and almost uncomfortable thing,” says Fraser Avey, Stüssy’s global brand director since 2015.

Fast forward to present day and Stüssy remains at the forefront of the conversation. Unlike its hype-driven spell in the 2010s however, the brand has withdrawn from the mainstream and found its calling card once again: high-profile partnerships. Where the label once reinvented Shawn’s pieces, it now sticks rigorously to its defining qualities and ambitious ethos. Stüssy’s collaborative roster isn’t just elevated and detail-led, but carefully curated and contextually rich.

Nike and Stüssy’s recent releases are testament to this. Including the Air Max 2013 and Air Max Penny 2, the Californian label has made subtle changes and colourful updates to each design, without attempting to rewrite the rulebook. The outcome is refined: textural accents adorn the uppers, while co-branded logos and premium fabrics fuse the two worlds together.

More recently, the brand has created a new fashion lexicon with unexpected collaborations alongside tastemakers and heavyweight players. Martine Rose and Stüssy’s car-centred capsule delivers on exclusivity, while the Dries Van Noten collection has propelled the label into the luxury realm. Through constant evolution Stüssy has redefined its identity, expanded its audience and developed a visual language that’s heavily desired. 

As we head deeper into 2023, Stüssy is showing no signs of slowing down. With more exciting partnerships lined up — Levi’s, Tekla and Dover Street Market, to name a few — the brand continues to change the landscape of footwear and fashion, while staying true to its streetwear roots. Attracting some of the world’s leading powerhouses, Stüssy has earned its status as the industry’s favourite — and most wanted — collaborator.