Today, Supreme has become THE master brand of streetwear and has experienced a rapid rise since its creation. A look back and analysis of the success of the American company.
It all began in 1994. At that time, the corner of Lafayette Street and Prince Street, in the heart of New York City, was starting to get restless. Previously, it was not a highly developed commercial thoroughfare. Children from the boroughs of New Jersey or Long Island, could play in the neighborhood without being harassed by the police or bothered by the large high-end businesses.
At the back of a store, in an office, is James Jebbia, the founder of Supreme. Prior to that, James gained experience working at Parachute in the 1980s. Six years after arriving in the U.S., Jebbia opened the Union streetwear store on Spring Street and then the Stüssy store on Wooster Street. He then realized that a skate store was missing.
Embarking on his new project, the Supreme founder was on the phone negotiating with his suppliers. He had to fill the empty shelves of his store by proposing a drop, that is to say the exit, of t-shirts, sweatshirts or caps. It was his first mission, and today we can say that he did it rather well. At that time, no security guards or endless lines of people to buy. Originally, the staff and the main customers of the store were skateboard enthusiasts or New York artists.
Among these artists, we can find the filmmaker Harmony Korine for example. He lived in his apartment a few blocks from the store. Harmony describes the store as a gathering place for the art and skateboarding world, without thinking that Supreme would become a famous brand years later. The brand and the hype made high school students in the surrounding area curious. The positive energy of the store made it seem like it wasn't really a store at all.
Eventually, Supreme followed and accompanied the development of skateboarding in popular culture. In 1994, the American sports channel ESPN launched the first X-Games. This put skateboarding on par with other extreme sports such as sky surfing and street luge. Today, the craze that could have existed in the 2000s around these sports has somewhat fallen. Not the one of Supreme, which saw it explode.
For the public, the brand with the red logo is still a brand affiliated with skateboarding. There are clothes and accessories for this sport. But since its inception, Supreme has moved closer to the world of fashion and urban culture. Today the brand has products that sell very quickly and whose popularity does not weaken. It collaborates with renowned designers and houses, such as Undercover. Popular brands such as Nike, Louis Vuitton, Lacoste and The North Face also benefit.
Visitors to the first store on Lafayette Street included savvy Japanese tourists. They were the first to adopt Supreme as their brand of collection. This prompted the brand to explore the Japanese market, which had great potential. In 1998, Supreme opened 3 stores in quick succession. The first one is in Daikanyama in Tokyo, the second one in Osaka and the last one in Fukuoka.
It is only 10 years after the opening that Supreme will cross the country to have a point of sale in Los Angeles, in the North Fairfax district. The brand continues its development in Japan with the opening of stores in Shibuya and Harajuku for Tokyo as well as Nagoya. As James Jebbia grew up in London, the British city is logically the first Supreme store on the European continent. Paris, capital of fashion, has not escaped either. Finally, American stores have appeared in Brooklyn and recently in San Francisco, bringing the number of outlets to twelve.
You've all seen it before. It's only natural since the red is eye-catching and the brand name is written directly on the products.
When Jebbia opened the first store in 1994, he wanted to mark the occasion by creating a unique t-shirt for the event. There were 3 shirts to choose from. One featured Travis Bickle, the lead hero of the 1976 movie Taxi Driver. Another featured a skater from the 1970's while the third was decorated with the Supreme store logo.
A friend of James Jebbia's would eventually be the catalyst for the Supreme logo as we know it. He didn't like the original designs because he felt they lacked identity. This person gave the designers a book that describes the work of Barbara Kruger, a famous artist in the United States, for inspiration.
The final logo was ultimately inspired by an artist's poster on legal abortion. It featured a woman's face in two parts with the phrase "Your body is a battlefield" written in white on a red background on one of them. And it is thanks to the copy of the style of lettering that the logo of the American brand was born.
For certain occasions, Supreme modifies its logo on some of its products. For example, during the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011, the brand created the BOGO benefit t-shirt. All proceeds from the sale of this product were donated to the Red Cross. In 2017, to honor cultural writer Gary Warnett, Supreme dedicated a version of its logo to him.
As you know, Supreme is a brand that offers clothing tailored for the skateboarding world. So what can we really find from the brand ?
The brand with the red logo first sells basics that can be found everywhere else. These are the basic and loose t-shirts, hoodies or sweaters. The wide pants will be the pieces for the lower body. There are even boxers and socks of the brand. You can find them on their website. But the main strength of Supreme is its exclusive collections. Here the choice is rather large with t-shirts, jackets or sneakers that are the result of collaborations with different artists and brands. For example, Jordan and Supreme have worked together to offer Jordan 5 sneakers of very good quality.
The American company does not limit itself to clothing. It has also developed a whole range of accessories. Red caps will protect you from the sun while allowing you to be seen in the street. In winter, it will be the hats that will warm you up. Different bags also exist. Models worn on the back are available online in their store. For those who love fashion, Louis Vuitton and Supreme have recently unveiled a very sober travel bag with its red color and the name of the American brand.
But how does the brand sell all its products? Supreme doesn't work like any other mass-produced clothing brand.
The American company, closely related to skateboarding, does not offer large collections at key times of the year. The four seasons are usually the favorite time to launch all the new products and make sales. Supreme does not work like that. The company prefers to distribute the products it develops in small batches. This is called "drops". Its pieces are unveiled in this way because they are rare.
If products are put online on their online store, it is mainly in their physical store that everything happens. For French fans, the store located in Paris is synonymous with heaven. Buying in the store requires first to have a number. You have to pick it up in a park, a large space on Monday. Then you can cross your fingers that you will be called by the staff. If you're lucky, you'll then be allowed to stand in line in front of the store on Thursday. But the obstacle course doesn't stop there. This first wait allows you to register on a list and to make a second queue. If you pass this test again, the store offers itself to you.
The clothes and accessories available in the store are not present in large quantities. In a few minutes, all the pieces are sold out. That's why some fans are willing to wait for hours in order to be the first to buy..
The brand's influence is only growing. Supreme's DNA matches that of the skateboarding world. This is what made it successful in the first place and allowed the company to grow. It's still associated with streetwear. But Supreme is trying to evolve by collaborating with luxury brands, such as LVMH.
In January 2017, the two brands made their collaboration official. This actually surprised the world because the French luxury house had filed a lawsuit in 2000 against Supreme for reproducing their logo on skateboard boards. The Paris Fashion Week was therefore the opportunity to present the association Supreme x Louis Vuitton.The products presented combine the know-how of French luxury and the atmosphere of Supreme. It is therefore backpacks, baggys, sneakers and even skateboards that are available. It is notably on this occasion that the red travel bag with the Supreme logo in white described above will hold the attention. Obviously these products cost a certain amount of money, but it shows that the American brand is now one of the big ones, able to collaborate with luxury.
The brand first created its success through its unique operation. As explained earlier, Supreme offers drops, not collections based on the different seasons. Its best pieces are only available in very few copies. The numerous counterfeits that can be found in the world shows that it is envied by a certain part of the population..
It is no longer necessary to demonstrate that rarity creates envy. The small number of sales outlets in the world is a sign of this. But it is also because the pieces are produced only in small quantities, a choice of James Jebbia. From the beginning, the founder didn't want a store full of basic products, which you can find every month. He wanted to create something exciting. This difference in products will create a loyal fan base that is still there today. The limited quantities have been an asset in making Supreme the benchmark brand for streetwear.
The last interesting point with the New York brand is its communication policy. The collaborations with great artists makes people talk about the brand. Works of the photographer Terry Richardson, the painter Georges Condo or the sculptor Jeff Koons are reproduced to create high quality clothes, both in terms of comfort and design.
But it is especially at the level of marketing that Supreme shows genius. Many stars have collaborated with the brand: Mike Tyson, Lady Gaga, Kate Moss or Neil Young. They are perfect muses for successful advertising campaigns. No doubt that Supreme will continue to apply this model to continue its rise.
In a slightly different style, with Japanese influences, but at a much more affordable price. Discover the streetwear collections of the Tenshi store!
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