Initially launched as a niche skate brand, Supreme has grown to become the pioneer of street fashion with a huge cult following. Some people might question the legitimacy of the brand’s hype – both in terms of design, quality and cost. But whether you like the brand or not, its success is an indisputable fact. And with this success in mind, one can’t help but to wonder: how can a clothing brand attract millions of fans who are willing to stand in 24-hour lines to get their hands on a material item? Why are people willing to pay three times the price for a second-hand t-shirt with a logo? With the lines being increasingly blurred between the opposite worlds of luxury and street, and the term ‘streetwear’ becoming less commonly used, NBGA breaks down Supreme’s secret sauce to success and how it has had a key voice in defining today’s industry.
Supreme’s authenticity has always been rooted at their core. From day one Supreme couldn’t care less about popularity or fitting in and has always stayed true to their brand values. It all goes back to its origin in the 90’s, when Supreme was reserved for the OG streetwear-heads at the time. The brand revolved around a small community of creatives, who wore the clothes as a tool for expressing their image as a group that represented everything underground and cool – not because it was trendy or admirable.
More importantly, Supreme never curbed and became sell-outs or commercial, even if they could. They always stayed true to the concept of dropping limited releases, without exterior retailers. Supreme items were available exclusively at Supreme. With less than 10 stores around the world and no other retailers, they made sure the brand was difficult to come by. With a constantly increasing demand, the natural reaction would be to increase the supply in order to make money move – but Supreme had a different strategy. A strategy built on scarcity. Their supply stayed the same while the demand went off the charts. And we always want what we can’t have, don’t we?
Instead of reaching a biggest possible audience through tv commercials or online advertising, Supreme keeps it old school with guerrilla marketing. Creative posters, stickers, newspapers, even subway tickets spread the word. Their latest collaboration with the New York Post made people go crazy, buying stacks of copies at a time. The newspaper flew off the shelves in no time and was sold in the re-sell market four times the price. Now, that’s what we call cost effective marketing.
Other than traditional marketing, Supreme have used a number of handpicked brand representatives to front their campaigns. What do Asap Rocky, Lady Gaga, Kate Moss and Mike Tyson have in common? They are all trailblazers of their time with an authentic personality and a “fuck you” image. Who better to rep the clothes than people who go hand in hand with the brand identity?
Is there one thing Supreme knows how to do, it’s diving into the consumer’s mind. They have understood that there is more to a clothing brand than cotton and thread. More than anything, there is a social aspect to what we choose to wear everyday. It’s about how we feel when we wear it. Supreme’s target consumer audience is young people who are still trying to find their identity, looking for social approval of like-minded people to feel a sense of belonging somewhere. Somewhere, being Supreme. Finally, they have found a platform where they feel connected to peers who share the same interests as them. Through rare Supreme items, they will recognise each other on the street, thinking “hey, (s)he is one of us”. A desire to fit in, inspire and impress one another is not reserved for the hypebeasts of the world, it is basic human psychology. Supreme saw this gap in the market and created not only a clothing brand, but a community of like-minded people, where the brand is an extension of oneself.
The final point in Supreme’s success story is about their vast understanding of culture. Supreme gets culture more than any other brand and have made sure to pick up on every shift within fashion and popular culture since day one of the brand. One could even argue that they paved the way for similar companies thinking in unconventional ways today. For once, they were one of the first brands who saw advantages in a highly competitive market. Instead of working against their competitors, Supreme worked with them. They joined forces with it-brands like Nike, The North Face, Comme des Garcons, Vans, Timberland and Dr. Martens to equally boost their brand image and reach. Not to mention their 2017 collaboration with luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton, which marked a shift in fashion history. Before, luxury and streetwear were seen as two opposites, with streetwear being the underdog.
Today, the definition of ‘streetwear’ and ‘luxury’ is not the same as before. We are dealing with a new hierarchy where both luxury and streetwear is coming together as one. Where this leaves the fashion industry as we know it is hard to say, but the one thing can be said for sure: inclusivity and people coming together with different backgrounds, ideas and stories, has changed the fashion game.
There are different opinions about Supreme’s success, but one thing remains as true as ever: the brand’s existence has spanned over a decade and can today be seen as the ultimate reflection of the everlasting conversation between luxury and street fashion. Transforming from an underground hangout spot for downtown skate kids to a global cult brand, Supreme has proven once and for all that we are stronger together – not only in the fashion industry, but also for the normal kid on the block.