Why Cambridge should care about streetwear
FRANCESCO LOY BELL explores the unlikely genius behind streetwear’s biggest brand
If you haven’t heard of Supreme, the New York skateboarding brand established in April 1994 by British-born James Jebbia, then you probably should have.
Dominating Tumblr and social media for the last few years, they now have 9 stores in three continents, and have slowly infiltrated high-end celeb fashion culture.
Wanting to get a better idea of what the internet feels about the brand, I typed the word “Supreme” into Urban Dictionary- the online hotspot where people go to either show their mates a jokes definition of their name (mine is “usually Italian and has a great Italian sausage”) or to low-key search up that slang word that your girlfriend’s older brother used when you went to hers so next time you won’t be busted thinking he wants to go hiking when he says “peak”. This was the first definition that came up:
- A clothing brand that has figured out a way to make a $3 t-shirt into a $100 t-shirt. Congratulations.
- Respect for the hype
They do have a point. Supreme tee shirts typically retail for £38 and, depending on the collection, resell from £50-£150. If that shocks you, fair enough, because no-one in their right mind would pay so much money for a t-shirt that, as was lovingly pointed out by our friends at UD, was probably made for less than a tenner, right?
The thing is, they would, and this is largely thanks to the company’s frankly ingenious business strategy.
This is basically how it works: every year, Supreme release a summer and winter capsule. These consist of some of their own brand stuff, but mostly feature collaborations with others, usually either more famous brands, or artists and singers.
In the last few years, they have collaborated with The North Face, Timberland, Rolex and Nike, as well as Lou Reed, Damien Hirst, Neil Young and many more. Every Thursday, a new collab drops. The catch is, only an extremely limited number of clothing releases every drop, meaning that, unless you have a computer bot or are frantically refreshing your page at 11:00 on the dot, you will miss out on all the heat.
This is fucking clever: not only does this exclusivity ensure that they basically flog all of their stock, but it also keeps the brand cool: managing to cop the Supreme x Comme Des Garcons means bragging rights at school, work, or whatever other slightly fashion-savvy place you frequent. Until next Thursday that is.
This is why Urban Dictionary’s definition is spot on – yes, Supreme probably do make a killing selling blank tee shirts with their brand name written on them, but you have to begrudgingly respect the way they manage to do it and allow so many kids to feel cool and sport some exclusive shit.
Cecily Pierce from Trinity summed it up: “Look what happened to Obey … they made so much of everything for instant profits that, in the long run, everybody has it and nobody wants more. And now they’re bumbaclats.”
All of this tied in with a banging knack for guerrilla advertising, and minimal-enough-to-not-be-lame social media presence results in a well thought-out, successful brand, and this is one reason why more people should be fans.
The collaborations Supreme does do are also well thought-out and noteworthy ones. Ok, they can’t stop the likes of Kylie Jenner and Joey Essex buying and wearing their shit, but they do control their official collaborations, opting to mix in with relevant and actually talented people in the industry, which subsequently makes the works of Reed, Young, and lesser known artists like Daniel Johnston culturally significant again.
There is even a rumour that Morrisey will be their next collaborator. I love David Beckham as much as the next person but come on H&M, we all know that that was just a fucking sell-out. A brand which places importance on redefining the cultural landscape for the youth (as utterly pretentious as that sentence just sounded) seems to me to be doing the right thing, and Supreme is a leader in that respect.
Aside from a respectable business plan and an importance given to promoting culture, getting into the Supreme buying/selling game is also legal, down to earth and economically viable. The last few years has seen the rise of proxies: kids who camp out for clothes, having previously arranged to sell them on to (normally internet based) buyers, and charging a usually significant commission fee. However, the main way to make money from Supreme is by reselling.
Despite this being frowned upon in the streetwear world – of course, it is annoying when someone manages to buy seven limited edition jumpers and then sells them for double the retail price – it is a way to make serious cash. Indeed, there are several sites, such as Graild, CopvsDrop and UniqueHypeCollection, who have basically set up online resale shops and make thousands of pounds, simply from selling on clothes. The astounding thing? Most of these guys are under 20.
This resale game is not a new one, however. Nike – the undisputed giant of street footwear – uses a similar strategy, but on a far larger scale. In 2014, the overall profit made in the USA from people reselling Nike shoes was $380 million.
Also in 2014, Sketchers overtook Adidas as the second most profitable shoe company in the USA. In 2014 Sketchers, as a company, made a net income of $209 million. This means that, in 2014, Nike’s customers made almost double the amount of money as their closest competitors. That is astounding, and shows the genius behind Nike and, indirectly, behind Supreme.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, the clothes are fucking great.
Creative Director Angelo Baque ensures that there is a suitable mix between haute-couture and streetwear, resulting in a clean, minimalist and trendy look which can be carried off in so many different situations. I mean, they did a collaboration with Brooks Brothers for fuck’s sake.