Supreme is red-hot.
The streetwear apparel brand is having an amazing year with a roughly $A650 million cash infusion from the Carlyle Group, valuing it at $A1.3 billion. Adding to the good news for the company is a primo ranking on Piper Jaffray’s semi-annual Taking Stock of Teens survey, which indicates teens are eating it up — or at least desiring it — like never before.
Founded in 1994, Supreme was created by James Jebbia and catered to skaters. There’s an air of mystery about the brand, and Jebbia gives few media interviews.
Now, celebrities from Justin Bieber to Milo Yiannopoulous have been seen wearing Supreme’s clothing, and its cachet only seems to grow. It now operates 11 stores around the world.
I went to Supreme’s store on Lafayette Street in New York City to see how the brand became the phenomenon it is today.
Every journey to Supreme starts with standing in line. It doesn't matter when you go -- there will be a line. The store only allows about a dozen customers inside at any one time, and it's relatively tight inside.
But if you're new to the experience, there's nothing there to explain the process to you. There was an empty set of ropes in front of the door, so I tried to walk into the store like you would any other. I was blocked. 'Line starts around the block,' I was told.
Around the block, I found another set of empty ropes, and a family of four entered right in front of me. I got my hand stamped in one line, was held for 30 seconds, then moved to the other line and got my hand stamped again.
Only with both stamps are you allowed to enter the store. After the bizarre ritual, I was finally inside.
Inside the store, the energy is palpable. There's a lot of excitement. Foreign tourists and teens with their families were buzzing around the place, looking for something to purchase.
The clothes, however, were less exciting. Supreme's designs range from garish to boring. Some items use bold patterns or large letter block in in the same font as Supreme's famous logo. Shirts go for about $A155.
But there are also boring items, like sweatshirts with only a small Supreme logo on the chest. As another example, Supreme also sells Hanes shirts with a Supreme logo. Sweatshirts like these usually go for $A195.
Collaborations are really what everybody wants, though. Supreme has collaborated with everyone from Louis Vuitton and Nike to Playboy and North Face, and the products sell out nearly immediately.
Supreme has also sold things like branded Kiddie fire extinguishers, Hardcore Hammers, Everlast punching bags, and even bricks.
There's also a rack with shoes, and Nike, Adidas, and Vans are all well-represented. These brands are the three most popular among younger consumers, and it's further evidence that Supreme is plugged in to what's hot.
The shop also sells skate gear like decks and trucks, an obvious nod to its roots serving skateboarders.
Product rotates quickly, and it's refreshed every Thursday. On those days, the line outside the store can stretch far back, and the sought-after products sell out immediately due to their limited supply. They can then go for much more than the already-high retail price on resale sites like Ebay.
Much of the brand's cachet is due to how limited each drop is, and it's difficult to get your hands on your size. Hats like these go for about $A55.
Shopping in Supreme, the whole experience kind of feels more like a parody than a store. And I can't help but feel that's by design. There's no way to tell who is in on the joke, but with its new $A1.3 billion valuation, it no longer matters -- Supreme is demanding to be taken seriously.
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