How '90s Cool Brand Mossimo Went From Stussy Rival to Target Stores

A tale of two brands, Stussy vs Mossimo.

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Complex Original

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There's no doubt that you've seen the word "Mossimo" before. Lately, that means that you've been in the apparel section of your local Target in the last few years. But back in the '90s, the brand stood for much more than big box clothing staples—it represented a level of cool™ that guys would associate more with the Stussy Tribe than suburban strip malls.

But this kind of story isn't one that happens overnight. As described on The Hundreds' blog, Mossimo is in a radically different place compared to its late-'80s beginnings. It makes us wonder how a brand that helped define modern streetwear, could become so radically redefined today.

The story begins with Mossimo Giannulli who, after dropping out of the University of Southern California 1987, snagged a $100,000 loan from his father to kick off his self-named streetwear line. It's worth noting that Shawn Stussy was doing fundamentally the same thing in SoHo around the same time.

Almost instantly, Mossimo found success. Neon-colored beach volleyball shorts, and T-shirts with an “M” signature were instant hits, according Giannulli. At this point, Stussy and Mossimo (the brands) are still fairly similar, thriving off cult appeal.

However, the major turning point comes in how each brand handled this cult success. While Stussy had major appeal, it intentionally kept stock small and reduced the places where you could buy their thriving merchandise (sound familiar?). Mossimo pushed in the opposite direction, tapping into the popularity by expanding their reach and number of products. At the time, it was a strong—and positive—move for Mossimo's growth.

"Rather than merely play it safe, he continued to push the brand into new facets of production—including woven sweaters, knit shirts, and fleece sweatshirts—while also opting to sell his merchandise to larger stores rather than just mom and pop surf shops. While it was a gamble, it marked a huge step forward for the brand."

"Huge step forward" isn't an exaggeration either. By 1996, Mossimo was going public on the New York Stock Exchange, making Mossimo Giannulli a millionaire to the tune of $275 million. Naturally, Shawn Stussy decided he wouldn't be going down Giannulli's route:

“We have no desire to get bigger,” Stussy said, “no desire to open new accounts. And we feel we could continue doing business for many more years, sleep at night, enjoy kids growing up, and not be a victim of our business. You’ve got to look 10 or 20 years down the road, and nobody in America does. They just want the money now. They want instant gratification. But then they burn themselves out. This happens especially in the fashion industry.”

Maybe Mossimo should have followed Stussy's method. While the company was enjoying growth throughout the '90s, 1997 saw the company lose $18.7 million—with no turnaround in sight. For analysts, it comes down to Giannulli's desire to grow too fast, and too soon.

"Giannulli’s biggest misstep—according to fashion experts, retailers, Wall Street analysts, and competitors—was that he tried making the leap too quickly from a beachwear company to a top-drawer designer. 'He enjoyed so much success so early that I honestly don’t think he knew how long and how hard of a transition that is to make,' said Sandy Potter, co-owner of Directives West in Los Angeles, which advises major department stores on California fashion trends. 'I always believed he had the talent to make it happen, but that’s the kind of thing that takes 10 years to accomplish, not two or three.'”

So how did Mossimo end up at your local Target men's section? A $27.8 million deal between Giannulli and Target locked the pair together; providing Target with a cool™ brand for its shelves and shoppers—and $8.5 million in royalties for Giannull in year one. Inevitably, Mossimo would be acquired by the Iconix Brand Group (host to Joe Boxer and Candie's shoes) in 2006. This is how it remains today.

But before you slander Mossimo, it's worth noting that Stussy (following the departure of founder and namesake Shawn Stussy) was in its own "Mossimo situation;" considering selling out to the OTB Group; host to labels like Maison Margiela and Diesel. While the brand passed on the sale and remains independent, it's a reminder that even the most successful brands are tempted by the support and finances that come from selling off the brand.

But much like Stussy himself, OG partner David Sinatra invokes Stussy's strategy from the brand's earliest days. As noted in a Stussy-centric Business of Fashion feature:

“Sinatra characterizes Stüssy’s third act as having a “brand-first, revenue second” philosophy, in order to avoid becoming “this big monstrosity that doesn’t stand for anything.”

As a cautionary tale, or simply one version of success, we're simply left wondering: Where Mossimo would be now if Giannulli followed Stussy's lead?

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