⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Supreme, a clothing and accessories brand with just eleven (11) stores worldwide, is notorious for selling ordinary products – only difference is the branded box logo – at sky-high prices. Airhorns, tall boy bags, hollowed-out bible stash boxes, you name it – Supreme could (and does) slap their box logo on anything – literally, anything – and people buy it like their lives depended on it.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Supreme has sold switchblades, crowbars, fire extinguishers, bolt cutters, and compasses, just to name a few. Now, Supreme accessories are known for their illicit undertones, so oddly enough, the destructive tools make sense: rob, pillage, destroy, and riot… Yep, those check out. But, compasses? Yeah, sure, someone could use a trendy Supreme crowbar to break into a house. Are these same crime-hacked consumers also needing a Supreme compass to Louis-and-Clark-it back home? It’s unlikely (we hope) – instead, Supreme accessories have become items of novelty décor. People love trends, plain and simple.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀If you’re attempting to uncover any sort of reasoning behind Supreme’s product lineup, you can let that ship sail. In fact, the only consistent, explainable trend is that their box logo sells. That red Supreme box logo is so recognizable, so iconic and sought after, that it sells itself. This is the brand recognition factor in full effect.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀So how did Supreme’s fandom, its “Hypebeast” culture, come to be? Well, the answer begins in its founding. Supreme started in 1994 as a grassroots, minimalist Manhattan skate shop by designer James Jebbia. Inside the store, the stripped-down, minimalist layout held all products tightly against the walls to allow skateboarders to literally ride right in. This new and unique atmosphere turned into a community of Supreme skateboarders who helped create a new and unique skate culture.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Skateboarders Ryan Hickey, Justin Pierce, Gio Estevez, Peter Bici, Mike Hernandez, Tyshawn Jones, and Chris Keefe became the first Supreme Skateboarding Team – AKA, a loyal and authentic group of influencers who bonded over interests in skateboarding, hip hop, and NYC culture. These themes have and always have been the core of Supreme.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀In 1995, Supreme, with Alleged Films International, released the skateboarding film “A Love Supreme,” featuring New York City and its underground skate culture. From this film, the Supreme Team, and the aptly-fashioned store, Supreme built itself from the ground up, totally encompassed by skate culture. Its notoriety and authenticity among skaters allowed Supreme to trademark itself as a cultural hub for skateboarding, giving value and legitimacy to any future branding and marketing endeavors; the Hypebeast fandom would be along for the ride.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Then there came the genius marketing. James Jebbia is no amateur in the field. The box logo – a poppy-red rectangle just big enough to fit the slanted, sans-serif, crisp-white letters that spell out “Supreme” – is unmistakable. Its simplicity is unique in the world of logos and brand marketing, which actually works better for imprinting the image in our subconscious – such a simple logo is easy for our brains to process and identify, and even recognize from a distance. There’s a reason for that. The box logo mimics Barbara Kruger’s propaganda-styled art. That’s right, you’re (more or less) being brainwashed, which, turns out, is a pretty effective marketing strategy – Though, on its own, a great logo won’t get you vary far.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Another very effective marketing strategy Supreme employs is the product drop, where, every Thursday at 11:00 AM, a very-limited-availability product lineup becomes available for purchase. All “dropped products” have a very short shelf life, if they have one at all, and sell out quickly in-store and online. The limited stock creates a FOMO craze (your Econ prof would call it “short supply, high demand”) that pre-validates any potential purchase. Limited stock, driving the FOMO, combined with the Hypebeast community talking up a product’s desirability, is a huge reason why Supreme is able to do what it does. Short supply, bigger demand, no matter the price. And for consumers, price is truly an afterthought – owning a desired object ups your social standing, which is priceless.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Personally, I’m not much for popular culture, but while visiting my brother in New York City, I decided to scope the scene. Making my way towards the mecca of Supreme culture, I approached the original store on Lafayette Street. Even though it wasn’t Thursday, I was soon confronted by a sea of “Hypers.” Ignorantly, I stood in what appeared to be the que, roped off outside the store. I soon was informed of my mistake, as I was nearly attacked by eager fanatics ready to kill for cutting the line.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Immediately, the bouncer (I’m not joking, Supreme has a bouncer) notified me that there was a line to get in the real line a block down and around the corner. In disbelief, I sputtered out, “How is there a line to get in line?” Without skipping a beat, the guy in front of me turned around and said, “It’s f*cking Supreme, you idiot.”
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Needless to say, I left without buying a Supreme hoodie, and instead got an uncomfortable amount of gawking faces from Manhattan Hypebeasts, which, to me, is priceless. Try reselling that on eBay.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Today, in the wake of “Hypebeast” culture, skateboarding seems to have taken a backstage presence for Supreme. In fact, many skateboarders feel betrayed by Supreme’s collaborations with some high fashion companies (looking at you, Louis Vuitton) and retail prices of up to $57,000. It seems that the days of skaters casually riding into the store have become mere remnants of skate culture history.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀With or without its core skateboarding base, Supreme has gained enough gravity to sit tight for quite some time. Impressively, the brand also managed to stay true to itself while bridging the gap from underground to mainstream, catering the core themes of skateboarding and hip hop throughout. To be fair, it’s only natural for skateboarders to reject pop culture, and when the goods are good, popularity is just unavoidable.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀Supreme may have grown out of its initial demographic, but its next tier is worldwide. Even as a skater, I must say, kudos to that. From local cult skate label to global fashion icon, the Supreme empire will live on to become whatever it wants.