Supreme was once a small skateboarding store in New York. Now, it's a billion-dollar streetwear company with a cult-like following and huge presence in the fashion industry. Supreme t-shirts and hoodies are worn by celebrities and coveted by people all around the world. The demand is huge, and pricing is the same. So how did all these happen?
The founder of Supreme, James Jebbia, was born in the United States in 1963 but grew up in England. As a teen, he worked at a Duracell factory and spent all his spare money on trips to London. He went to an elusive kind of store that would eventually become the model for Supreme. In 1984, Jebbia moved back to the US, worked as a sales assistant in Parachute and helped to run New York stores Union and later Stüssy.
James Jebbia. Image via Interview Magazine / Grant Delin / Devon Jarvis
He started Supreme in 1994 as a small store on Lafayette Street in New York. It was more of a space than a brand at that time. The shop was selling skate decks and some basic apparel from various brands. It was designed with skaters in mind: clothes were arranged around the perimeter leaving a large central space to ride in comfortably.
Initially, Supreme made only a few t-shirts. The now-iconic red and white box logo was introduced in 1995. It was inspired by, or maybe just lifted from, a book of conceptual artist Barbara Kruger. However, there were no legal repercussions for the brand. The shop become extremely popular with Japanese tourists, and in 1998 Supreme opened a flagship store in Tokyo, This would be followed by two more Japanese shops the same year.
Inspired by the success of t-shirts, Jebbia decided to add box logo cotton hoodies to the shop. This eventually led to collaborations with artists including Christopher Wool, Mark Flood, and Damien Hirst to name a few. In 2004 Supreme opened a store in Los Angeles and started to collaborate with Nike, Vans, and other streetwear brands. The rapid spread of the Internet also contributed to Supreme’s fame. Streetwear blogs and fashion forums chewed the fat about instant sell-outs and lines to the stores. In 2007, the brand opened a webshop and finally offered people outside New York, LA, and Japan to see what all the buzz is about.
Supreme x Champion Collaboration
2010 saw the brand’s first collab with a hundred-year-old Champion. They made a dual-branded coaches jacket, which went in several colorways. Since then, they made tons of drops together. Arguably, Supreme has brought Champion from sportswear into big fashion.
It the following years the duo released a dozen of various hoodie designs. All of them featured the iconic “C” and Supreme logos as well as the perfect quality immanent for both companies. The straightforward sportswear vibe perfectly fits into the streetwear-heavy wardrobes of Supreme fans.
Supreme x Comme des Garçons Collaboration
Although Supreme was already quite an established brand, it was the first capsule with Comme des Garçons in 2012 that opened a lot of fashion doors for it. Together they reinterpreted the classic with a new set of style codes. Rei Kawakubo added avant-garde motifs to Supreme hoodies, like polka dots, unexpected fabric combinations, mirroring or splitting the logo. The two brands release a capsule almost every year.
Supreme x Comme des Garçons hoodies
2014 was also big for Supreme in terms of collaborations. The brand created together with Lacoste, Dr. Martens, Timberland, and Nike. It was also the year when the resale market went crazy with Supreme as the products began to sell for 10 times the original retail price.
Supreme x Louis Vuitton Collaboration
In 2017, Supreme made history by announcing a collaboration with French fashion giant Louis Vuitton. Notably, years before the official high-profile collab, in 2000, Supreme used the LV monogram to decorate skateboard decks, T-shirts, and beanies without permission. The fashion house took legal action to have the collection taken out of circulation.
Supreme x Louis Vuitton hoodie
The collection had 23 items, including everything from denim outerwear to pajamas, from hoodies to bags, cardholders, and gloves. It even has blankets and pillows with repeating LV monogram emblazoned with Supreme’s red-box logo. Everything was sold out in a blink on the day of release. It also instantly bloomed on the resale market with a hoodie priced up to $25,000, almost 30 times the price.
Later the same year, James Jebbia sold half of the company to private equity firm Carlyle Group for around $500 million.
The Reason Behind Supreme’s Popularity
The first reason often cited in media is hype. The continuous buzz around the brand and celebrities wearing inspire people to go bankrupt bidding on eBay for a box logo hoodie. But for real fans, Supreme is more than a brand. It is a subculture about authenticity, it is a lifestyle choice. So what instruments does the brand uses to create this cult-like following?
Every time Supreme releases new stuff, hundreds of people skip school or work, fly to another country and wait for hours in lines to get first dibs. And even for them, there is a chance not to get what they want. Supreme intentionally makes a limited amount of product. As we know, keeping supply low is an effective way to create high demand and the feel of exclusivity. Luxury fashion brands have been doing it for decades.
The line to Supreme shop. Source: slamskateboarding.com
Celebrities and Collaborations
Kanye West, Chris Brown, Lady Gaga, and Pharrel Williams are just a few celebrity names that have been seen wearing Supreme in public. But arguably the best celeb campaign the brand had was with Kermit the Frog.
In 2006, Supreme released their Blazer SB in collaboration with Nike. The retail price was about $150, and resellers asked $300-400. But when Kanye West appeared in them at the Grammy Foundation’s Starry Night party in July 2007, the resale price jumped to $800.
Collaborations with artists, musicians, and other high-profile brands also create a lot of buzz around Supreme. The brand had its logo paired with names like Jeff Koons and Miles Davis, Timberland, The North Face, Levi’s and Playboy. Moreover, Supreme creates some non-clothing items that are also a blast, such as crowbars, bricks, a gas-powered mini bike together with Coleman and punching bag with Everlast.
Recognizability and versatility
Supreme uses its logo to make all the work. Even a brick with the iconic box costs 170 dollars now. The brand does not focus on just one type of clothing. It produces a lot of things from jackets and shirts to shoes and skateboards. This variety also ensures that the Supreme logo can be seen everywhere to further expand the brand’s popularity. And there is always something new to buy.
Word of Mouth
Supreme doesn’t rely on ad buys and splashy marketing campaigns. It mostly chooses a grassroots approach. The brand gives loyal fans some “leaked” information about upcoming releases, and they make all the work with promotion. The excitement it creates can’t be bought with money.
How to Buy a Supreme Box Logo Hoodie
A Box Logo hoodie, aka the “Bogo”, is the Holy Grail of Supreme pieces. If you want to buy it from the official store, it will be quite a challenge. New drops are released every Thursday at 11:00 AM EST, both on the website and in shops, and these items are sold out in seconds. And within minutes you can spot them on Grailed and eBay being sold at a premium. Supreme’s approach to purchasing is “the harder it is to buy, the more valuable this purchase is”.
In a brick-and-mortar shop
There are only 11 Supreme stores around the world — six in Japan, two in Europe, one in LA and two in New York (while the original one is under renovation, it has temporarily moved to a new place). Compare it to 3,300 Gaps worldwide or 550 Gucci’s. The brand doesn’t sell in department stores.
Lines to the shops start on Wednesday night if not earlier and stretch on for miles. The NY store tried to introduce order into proceedings via a ticket system, but that seems to have failed, there were just too many people. So the only way to buy a Bogo hoodie offline is to be there for a long time in advance and then know what you are looking for. Moreover, there is a one-per-style-limit rule, you can’t buy a shirt in two different colors.
Supreme only sells on the official website and the new drops also come on Thursdays. The biggest challenge here is to check out quickly. So you need to know what you want and in what size, have your card details and address on hand and autofill everything you can. And again, be there on time, at 11 AM EST sharp or better start refreshing the page a minute in advance. Here is an instruction on the quickest check-out.
There are also some dirty methods, like using a bot, a script that will automatically buy a product for you. They need only a fraction of time it’d take to do everything with hands. However, the brand does not improve it and can ban a bot.
Buying and reselling supreme is a huge business. A retail price for an original hooded sweatshirt is about 150 dollars Not that outstanding as you may expect. But once the drop is sold out, the items can reach 30 times their original price. An average price for a Bogo hoodie on Grailed is around $700. That’s an impressive markup. However, you can find more reasonable prices if you go somewhere like the SupTalk UK/EU Facebook group.
Some resellers do not rush to put their items on the market and treat them as the second bank balance. They rely on this cotton to age, as a fine wine, to sell for an even bigger price.
How to Tell a Supreme Hoodie is Fake
Unfortunately, some people see the potential in creating fake Supreme and selling it on. If you do not want to fall for this scam, you need to know how to legit check. To tell a real hoodie from the fake you need to check logos, print quality, labels, drawstrings, stitching, and tags. Here is a great guide with pictures on all the subtle moments you should know. Sometimes the fake looks extremely close to the original, details make the difference.
First of all, the box logo should be completely embroidered with a high-quality stitch. Pay attention to the color as well. The red on a legit Supreme hoodie is a bright, rich red color. Fakes are usually to light or too dark.
Photo credit: Reddit
As for the drawstrings, Supreme use them flat, not round. And last but not least, the original hoodies are made with high-quality materials, warm soft fleece on the inside. If it feels rough on the skin, then it’s a fake.
If you're considering buying an expensive Supreme piece online, ask the sender to take a picture of the item with a stated name, symbol or date to make sure it is legit. Ask them for pictures of the details, close up of the logo, tags, and labels.
All in all, Supreme has managed to keep their cool, alternative, and exclusive image through 25 years and it’s only getting more and more coveted with time. With all the hype, weekly drops, restricted distribution, celebrity endorsement, and exclusive collaborations,
Supreme stays on the top of street and luxury fashion