Everything You Need to Know About Supreme Streetwear
Supreme has built quite a name for itself since it first launched in 1994. Known for its loyal Hypebeast and Hypebae fanbase along with its exclusive drops, this brand has solidified its place in the prestigious world of designer streetwear. It's no surprise that they've inspired many of our own women's streetwear drops. But where did it all begin? And how did they become one of the most expensive streetwear brands in the resale market? Today, we're going to be exploring everything you need to know about Supreme.
- Who is James Jebbia
- How did Supreme begin?
- Copycat history and karma
- Why is Supreme so expensive?
- Supreme’s method of scarcity and marketing
- Celebrities working with the Supreme brand
- Selling out
Who is James Jebbia?
Fans of Supreme know James Jebbia as the founder of the iconic streetwear brand. But who was James before Supreme and what fuelled his vision for the brand? To better understand this, we'll have to look at where it all began. James grew up in the UK and initially started work as a child actor. It wasn’t until later in his life that he began to pick up an interest in fashion and worked retail for big streetwear brands like Stussy. He even had to continue working for Stussy during the launch of Supreme in order to pay off the first $12k he invested.
How did Supreme begin?
Supreme’s first store was launched in April of 1994 in Soho, Manhattan. It initially sold basic streetwear staples such as hoodies and sweatshirts that mainly targeted the skateboard community. Primarily a skater brand, it quickly grew in popularity within the skater niche and those interested in the emerging streetwear style of hip hop. The brand dedicated itself to guerilla marketing in its first few years, plastering their sticker ads all across the city. It wasn’t until its spiking popularity in the late 2000s that we saw a rise in demand, which ultimately allowed it to branch off to several other locations. Supreme was able to launch their second location in 2014 in North Fairfax Ave in LA, California, a location best known for their indoor skate ramp and wall. As the years progressed, Supreme has continued to grow and can be found internationally in places such as France and Japan. With 11 stores in total now, an astounding 7 can be found outside the US. Not only have they also been able to secure collaborations with several popular and high end brands such as The North Face and Louis Vuitton, they also managed to create added value through their collaborated pieces which would often double or triple in the resell market, a real testament to their growth and popularity.
Copycat history and karma
It might be a surprise to some, but Supreme’s iconic boxed red logo and thick italic bold text is not their original work. This idea was largely ‘inspired’ from an artist named Barbara Kruger and her specific work known as “I shop therefore I am” back in 1983. Her piece featured the same red background with thick italic bolded text of that very quote. However, Supreme’s history of copyrighting work is one they are not ashamed of. It is in their nature to take pop culture imagery and logos and adapt their design to fit a more contemporary art and graffiti style. In fact, their first copyrighted and branded T-shirt featured a black and white photo of Robert de Niro in the film Taxi Driver, alongside their branded boxed red logo. Supreme has faced countless cases of cease and desist from their unlicensed imagery since then from brands such as Louis Vuitton, the NHL and NCAA.
In March of 2019, Supreme faced a taste of their own medicine. A brand called Supreme Italia launched itself and replicated the entire branding of Supreme right down to its logo. With copyright laws different from country to country, Supreme Italia was able to get away with essentially creating a copy cat of the brand with no repercussion. As such, Supreme Italia was able to also launch internationally in regions like Asia and Europe where Supreme has trouble reaching. This controversy was amplified when Samsung announced their collaboration with Supreme Italia, in light of the brand's latest launch into China. This collaboration was quickly squashed after major backlash from Supreme's fanbase calling out Samsung for working with a counterfeit brand.
But has the production of a replica brand damaged Supreme? Not necessarily. Fans of Supreme are die hard supporters that wouldn’t dare to rock anything that isn’t authentic. Just because a shirt has the same box logo doesn’t mean it’s official. Hypebeasts around the world would argue that when you buy branded streetwear, you’re doing it to be part of a community, therefore buying a fake would miss the point completely. The idea is to understand a streetwear culture and represent it proudly when you buy the authentic product, as the fake would only be a shallow portion of what matters to the streetwear community. Ultimately, the community that puts Supreme on a pedestal believed that the brand is an extension of oneself, and a symbol of acceptance within the community.
Why is Supreme so expensive?
The simple answer is exclusivity and the brand's ability to harness the power of desire. This can be seen in the way they launch their new releases. Supreme drop their new products on Thursday. This means if you want a chance to be chosen to shop for their new arrivals you have to sign up as early as Tuesday, inputting all your personal information to be raffled off in a draw. If you get chosen, you’ll receive a text by Wednesday telling you the exact time and store you need to report to. But just because you have a place in line doesn’t mean you are secured to buy anything you want. Supreme also enforces a one style per customer rule. This means that you are only limited to buying one color of a sweater, for instance, even if that sweater comes in 3 different colors. This method of launching their products has created a buzz in the streetwear industry. Not only do they create a sense of exclusivity, they also harness the feeling of urgency. Customer’s now feel a sense of pride to be chosen to shop at Supreme and wait in their line. The rule of what a customer is limited to shopping for also induces a sense of pressure which ultimately feels like an obligation to purchase as it would be a wasted opportunity not to. With that in mind, you can find several Hypebeast and investors of the brand paying people to line up in their spot to get a hand at multiple items at once. In fact, it has been said that a lot of people standing in line are usually in the place for someone else.
The real money maker however, lies in the resell market. Supreme’s price is not as crazy one might believe, they are rather reasonable at $38 for a T-shirt and $138 for a sweatshirt at their brick and mortar locations. But due to the brand’s method of releasing very limited quantities to generate hype, the feeling of exclusively owning a branded product not many can have, has greatly caused a spike in the resale market. Once the product sells out, one can expect for the price to skyrocket, even reaching up to 30x its original price. This is especially true in places that have no way of obtaining the authentic Supreme products. With Chinese buyers unable to shop conveniently for Supreme, the brand has become immensely popular in Asia due to this added exclusivity when you own a piece. In fact, a lot of Chinese buyers will list a price they are willing to pay and have their people scout during these launches. This has created a massive resale market in Asia, since it’s nearly impossible to buy it in the Asian clothing online markets and having to deal with fakes.
But how can someone tell if an item will become extremely valuable? Dedicated Supreme sellers state that they simply know how to research what items will potentially sell for the most. Several Instagram and Twitter pages discuss the releases of Supreme, even adding polls to see what the general audience thinks of each item. People can vote it up or down, and this becomes a crowd sourcing tool to better understand the market for these sellers. That isn’t to say that everything is predictable. Supreme has released a couple of odd items here and there that have raised some eyebrows. But loyal fans are quick to praise the creativity of the brand to release bold products that are so out of the ordinary. Some out of the box products that were released by Supreme includes their iconic brick and crowbar.
Supreme’s method of scarcity and marketing
Supreme has created scarcity with no paid marketing and has transformed an underground streetwear brand to a billion dollar brand. Hypebeast now treat their items like valuable investments which have contributed in fuelling the popularity of the brand. Their method of word of mouth and experiential launches is what makes the brand stand out in their marketing as every launch is now a press worthy event. But what caused them to limit their product availability in the first place? This was largely because they didn’t want to be stuck with unwanted inventory initially. However, after seeing the hype that was generated from choking their supply, they continued to market their products in this exclusive way.
Celebrities working with the Supreme brand
In the late 2000s, Supreme began to quickly rise in popularity, with its success largely due to what has been dubbed “The Kanye Effect”. In 2006, Supreme released their blazer in collaboration with Nike. Originally retailing for only $150, it was going for about $300-400 in the resale market. It wasn’t until photos were released of Kanye West wearing it at the 2007 Grammy Foundation that the price skyrocketed in the resale market to $800. Similarly, the iconic teal hoodie with their box logo can be seen on Tyler the Creator in his She music video was retailed for only $150. After the music video launched, the very same hoodie sold for $3500.
In 2017, Supreme sold half its company for 500 million to the Carlyle Group, a private equity corporation. Fans were concerned about this move and believed that giving themselves away to a major corporation could ultimately devalue supreme’s image. While Supreme has primarily contributed their success to the limited releases they do, fans believe that if they end up overproducing their product due to the new partnership, the brand will face major consequences. As time went by, it was clear that Supreme had no intention of changing up what they do best. Hypebeast and loyal supporters would even go on to praise the brand for making the investment to grow and having a large corporation to back them up and fight off their legal cases.