It was always about surfboards. I made my first one at 13. Since then, that’s been my job. Way before designing or my clothing line or even thinking about design, it was surfboards.
My parents had a printing shop that we hung around in as kids. They would pick us up from school, and we would go there and hang out until nine or 10 at night. I learned about printing and typesetting and old letterpress, pasting up negatives and chalking out the dust. My whole family was exposed to that at a young age. It was as if my dad had been a tailor or something; it was the family business. Graphic design, at least in terms of manipulating fonts and layouts, was something I grew up with.
Looking back, I still can’t separate the two, surfboards and designing. I was always drawing stuff or doing little graphic typesetting things, so even when I was making my first boards I thought, Ooh, where am I going to put my little logo? How am I going to write “Stussy”? I wasn’t thinking about these things specifically or individually; it wasn’t “design” in that way. They were just happening. I was 13 years old, and it was life.
It was never a conscious plan, not in a million years. I was never like, “Hey, I’m going to make surfboards for my job in my adult life and start a clothing company based on the logo I put on those surfboards.” I was just doing what I loved, staying interested and seeing where it led me. Luckily, it ended up being sustainable, but you don’t know that when you’re starting out. Often you still can’t see it when you’re halfway down the road. At a certain point, I guess you have to trust yourself.
In the end, we’re all looking at the same things. Originality gets harder.
I started so young that by the time I had to make decisions about the worth of my work and my so-called talent, I already had a track record. It wasn’t like I was 21 or 22, just out of college, and had to say, “Okay, now what am I going to do?” I never had to face that moment.
Nowadays, we’re force-fed visuals. We download so much visual activity in any given day that it has become nearly impossible to find images we’re passionate about. You just cruise through all these pictures with one flick of your hand. We all do it. It’s a ton of information, but in the end, we’re all looking at the same things. Originality gets harder. You can sit in your underpants in Prague and know where the hip Japanese guy was partying the night before. You used to have to go and physically find your influences; you had a real sense of discovery.
When I started doing my thing, there weren’t a lot of original ideas either. I was appropriating. I was always getting little glimmers from somewhere else, but maybe those somewheres were more personal to me. I had to choose to seek them out. I had to get on a plane and leave the country, go to a gallery or find a certain magazine store in Tokyo. It wasn’t easy, and 10,000 other people weren’t looking at the same glimmer at the same time. I was watching my own campfire, just staring into the flames, and the ideas would come from that.