10 Oct How Supreme went from small NYC skateboard shop to a global…
Supreme is the rare brand that can inspire the same level of extreme devotion from private equity billionaires and streetwear aficionados.
The 25-year-old skateboarding and apparel brand is famously shy about publicity and it only has 11 stores (soon to be 12) around the world. But that doesn’t stop throngs of fans and “hypebeasts” (the term for the streetwear-obsessed) from lining up for hours at a time for the mere hint of an opportunity to buy the latest items to have a red and white “Supreme” box logo slapped on them.
That’s because the brand has managed to amass a growing following even as it’s come to symbolize the ultimate in underground cool.
It’s exactly that sort of rabid loyalty that spurred a reported $500 million investment (for a roughly 50% stake), valuing the company at $1 billion, from The Carlyle Group in 2017. (Supreme is a private company and does not report revenue, but the company was projected to hit $100 million in annual revenue in 2017, the year of the Carlyle investment, Women’s Wear Daily reported at the time. Supreme declined interview requests for this article.)
But Carlyle’s investment still had some wondering exactly how a marketing-shy skateboard shop with a cult following fits in the portfolio of a private equity giant that’s previously invested in the likes of car rental giant Hertz, consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton and Dunkin’ Donuts fast-food chain operator Dunkin’ Brands.
Supreme launched in 1994, when designer James Jebbia opened an unassuming skateboard shop-slash-clothing store on Lafayette Street in SoHo, the heart of New York City’s hip fashion scene. Jebbia, who had previously worked with skateboarder and designer Shawn Stussy, has said he was drawn to the edgy and effortlessly cool style of the young skaters he knew in the city.
The Supreme brand even sponsors a team of professional skaters that originally included skateboarders and actors Justin Pierce and Harold Hunter, who both starred in the 1995 cult classic film “Kids” â a controversial movie that both drew on skating culture and fashion of the mid-90s, while itself influencing both. When the first Supreme store opened, the first employees were extras from the movie “Kids,” according to Vogue.
Over the past 25 years, the brand has expanded at a snail’s pace, reluctant to relinquish Supreme’s standing as a symbol of the underground, in-the-know streetwear fashion scene. It was a decade before Supreme opened a second location, in Los Angeles, and today the brand has two stores in New York City, six in Japan and outposts in Paris and London, while a location in San Francisco is planned for later in 2019).
Along the way, Supreme’s fashion world street cred has been bolstered by high-profile collaborations with the likes of luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton as well as iconic global brands like Nike, Vans and Levi’s.
“Over the years, they’ve worked with all kinds of different artists, all kinds of different brands, and it’s part of what makes the brand so cool,” Justin Gage, a data scientist and streetwear analyst, tells CNBC Make It. Gage adds that Supreme’s collaborations with high-end luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci “really push the boundaries” of how consumers view skateboarding culture.
And whether Supreme is releasing a new line of its own apparel and accessories, or if Jebbia’s company is dropping new items from its latest big-name collaboration, it’s become commonplace for Supreme fans â dubbed “Supreme-heads” â to line up for hours on end outside a store for product release events that sometimes sell out in a matter of minutes. Supreme shoppers at these events will pay anywhere from $30 to $100 for a shirt or a hat, and from $150 to over $450 for a jacket.
Joe Migraine (a pseudonym, for privacy reasons) is a Supreme super-fan who also works full-time on the streetwear unit at the website StockX, an online marketplace for re-selling high-end fashion products. Migraine has been collecting clothing and other items made by Supreme since roughly 2011. He recently told CNBC Make It about the rigorous process he had to go through just to secure a spot in line at a recent Supreme product drop event in New York City.
“If you want to attend an in-store release … you have to register online for that in-store release,” Migraine says. “Those registries close very, very quickly. It’s very, very difficult to register for a drop, generally because so many people are trying to go for it and they will close the page down as soon as it fills up.”
If you do manage to get registered to attend an event, Migraine continues, you’ll likely get a text message confirmation and then Supreme will tell you what time to come to the store to wait in line. “You show up at that time with the credit card and photo I.D. that you used to register. And then you can possibly wait in line for up to three to four hours just to get inside,” Migraine says.
In this case, Migraine traveled to New York City from his home in Detroit to wait in line for about six hours on a hot August afternoon. He ended up spending about $3,000, he tells CNBC Make It, on a variety of items that included about eight t-shirts, six bags, seven skateboard decks, a few key chains and pins and one Supreme-branded Pyrex measuring cup.
A cult following, inspiring knock-offs
Supreme fans jump through hoops for the opportunity to pay up to $100 for a Supreme t-shirt, nearly $340 for a wool varsity jacket or even almost $200 for a Supreme table tennis set. But what do Supreme-heads do if they can’t secure a spot in the line to get those items before they sell out? That’s where Supreme’s extremely active resale market heats up, with…