By  on January 2, 2008

NEW YORK — As streetwear surges in popularity, Stussy—the unofficial godfather of the category—is upping its commitment to retail, opening four flagships in the span of six months.

The new Stussy flagships—in Honolulu, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., and Toronto—more than double the North American retail presence of an otherwise unassuming streetwear label, founded 27 years ago by So Cal friends Shawn Stussy and Frank Sinatra Jr. Stussy opened its first flagship in 1990 in New York, and later set up shop in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Two additional Stussy shops are likely for next year as well, according to Stussy executives, although no plans have yet been solidified.

Sinatra, now sole owner of the brand, attests that while “Stussy never does anything that’s a push”—including retail—its new doors are a testament to a growing streetwear industry, at least in the U.S. and Canada. In fact, although Stussy has long had a vast international presence (with 48 stores in Japan alone), “America has recently trended towards some of the things that [Stussy has] always stood for,” he explained, perhaps best described as the story behind the trend, instead of the trend itself. “As information spreads through the Internet, more people are interested in more-complicated stories, and that bodes well for streetwear and Stussy.”

Stussy’s retail structure is an unusual one—the brand has partnered with local streetwear retailers to share in ownership of the Stussy flagships. Sinatra tapped Jules Gayton, a longtime Stussy friend and owner of the Hawaiian shop Leilow, for its Honolulu store, which opened last month. Eddie Cruz, owner of the Stussy flagship in L.A., will open a Las Vegas outpost in February.

For its Washington, D.C., store, scheduled for a soft opening this month, Stussy partnered with Commonwealth owner Omar Quiambao. Finally, in early April, Matt George will open Stussy’s first Canadian shop in Toronto. George also owns the Canadian Goodfoot chain, as well as Toronto boutiques Ransom Clothing and Nomad.

While Gayton and Cruz have been associated with Stussy for decades, Sinatra called George and Quiambao “the new generation.” At 27 and 34, respectively, the two were born at nearly the same time as the brand they’re now hawking. “They travel in different circles, they have different ideas, they’re open to different collaborations,” Sinatra said of his newest retail partners. “They can lead new generations, and that’s how brands progress.”

Certainly George and Quiambao are in good company as Stussy retailers; after James Jebbia opened the Stussy door in New York, he went on to launch the multibrand skate shop Supreme, which is often credited as one of the premier streetwear shops in the world. Across the country, Cruz parlayed his Stussy retail experience into the revered Undefeated shop, now located in both L.A. and Las Vegas. Cruz and Jebbia (along with Maryann Fusco) also have their hands in the bicoastal Union shop.

Although George and Quiambao are already successful retailers in their own right, George believes the Stussy flagship offers up a new challenge, and “adds a prestigious notch to the belt.”

More importantly, he continued, “We’re on the cusp of the amount of business we can do with streetwear in Canada. The masses are really just discovering it.” The Stussy store, he said, adds more credence to the rest of his streetwear boutiques. “The more people get into this lifestyle, the more successful we can all become.”

For Quiambao, the Stussy flagship “is a project of the heart. It’s really about building the culture that Stussy is a part of. Here in America, we don’t really have single-branded stores for the streetwear market.”

Of course, with its location on Florida Avenue in Washington, D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, Stussy adds to a fast-growing streetwear corridor of which Quiambao and partner Larry Incognito own a large chunk. Their second Commonwealth shop (the first is in Norfolk, Va.) is two doors away from the Stussy location, and the pair will soon open For the Greater Good, which Quiambao describes as “a progression for our Commonwealth consumer.”

Nearly all of Stussy’s locations have surrounding synergistic retail. In Las Vegas, Stussy is located next door to Cruz’s Undefeated shop and, in Toronto, George has three specialty shops within the same building where Stussy will be housed. Sinatra believes the complementary retail provides a destination for streetwear shoppers. “It’s all about the shopping experience,” he said—something he believes his specialty partners have excelled at creating.

In fact, while streetwear chains from demo to Man Alive are fighting a losing battle at nationwide malls, local specialty stores, said Sinatra, “are spreading the word in a very authentic way, and in a more effective way than anyone could do nationally. These guys allow us to get away from the cookie-cutter, mall-based corporate homogeny that’s hurt fashion in America.”

Despite what he sees as several winning retail combinations, don’t expect Sinatra to bring a Stussy shop to every city in North America. “Stussy doesn’t belong in too many B cities,” he said.

Nor will Stussy significantly grow its wholesale account base. Aside from a blip of over-distribution in the early 1990s, the brand has been notoriously picky about maintaining selectivity since it was founded. Stussy’s wholesale business, which Sinatra concedes is “in the range” of $45 million, will likely remain stable, despite the exploding growth many of the brand’s streetwear contemporaries have recently seen. “We’d have to open up a lot more mainstream distribution to change that number,” he said. More distribution, he believes, would sacrifice the authenticity of Stussy. “We want to be reachable when customers are seeking us out, but we don’t need massive amounts of the brand in every corner of the world.”

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