With its clashing colours and graphics-led personality, 55DSL is shaping a reputation beyond its skater kid roots
Celebrating its 15th birthday this year, cult streetwear brand 55DSL has all the characteristics of a teenager. The errant kid brother of denim brand Diesel, 55DSL’s against-the-grain, skate-punk attitude has helped the brand to not only forge a fashion-forward design personality, but also to develop one of the industry’s most innovative approaches to consumer marketing.
“I started working full time with 55DSL in 2000 but it’s always been very close to my heart,” explains creative director Andrea Rosso, son of Diesel founder Renzo Rosso. “I grew up skating and snowboarding in Italy before moving to California, where I became more immersed in the culture of action sports. It’s an evolving market which started in the 1960s but had boom periods in the 1980s with skateboarding, then the 1990s with snowboarding. That decade changed a whole generation, not only in terms of how people were dressing, but their entire attitude.”
While the explosion in boardsports-inspired fashion drove many branded specialists into the mainstream, creating household names such as Quiksilver and Billabong, not every player followed the same path. “Once upon a time this market was a niche area,” says Rosso. “Then it became huge and we had to make a choice as to whether we wanted to follow the market into the mainstream. In doing so we would have lost our humility, so we decided to stay closer to our niche market. We have 40 people at the head office, all of whom are on first-name terms, and we have annual sales of €30 million (£27.5m), so we’re still relatively small.”
This commitment to remaining niche informs the brand’s distribution strategy, says UK brand manager Russell Pickett. “We have to get the distribution balance between the high-volume retailers and niche players right. Policing the distribution is key.”
Remaining close to its target consumers preoccupies the brand’s marketing efforts. Leading the marketing charge is 55DSL’s Junior Lucky Bastard campaign, which selects two customers annually via an online campaign.
The winners experience a three month, all-expenses paid, globe-trotting fandango, in return for regular diary contributions to the brand’s website. “They have to have colourful and ironic personalities which reflect the brand, because in effect they become ambassadors for it,” says Rosso.
For creative inspiration Rosso looks largely to Japan, the UK and the US, but also spends time immersed in books, the web and vintage clothing markets. “In terms of graphics the 1980s has been done and people are now talking about the 1990s,” Rosso says. “People have become bored of 1980s neons and we’re trying out cleaner, more solid styles. Our graphics-led T-shirts and nylon jackets have helped create a uniqueness for 55DSL and it’s through those types of product that we are growing our brand.”