Supreme New York: Counterculture conglomerate

2015 redesigned Pioneer logo.

Tam Duong Jr.

2015 redesigned Pioneer logo.

Liam Beyerle,

Supreme. To some it’s a word meaning superior, the best or highest. To others it’s a cultural phenomenon and a pioneer in street fashion. Supreme is a streetwear brand based out of New York, with only eleven locations worldwide, one wholesale account with Dover Street Market and a webstore. On Oct. 6, the founder, James Jebbia announced that the company just became the first streetwear to be valued at a billion dollars. What was once a local skate shop has transformed into one of the most sought after brands on the planet.

American-born, Jebbia spent most of his life in England before moving back to the United States in the ‘80s. He worked at various boutiques and skate shops, including Stussy, before deciding to open his own shop. On April 21, 1994, Jebbia opened the doors of the first Supreme with only a $12,000 investment.

Jebbia said he opened the shop because he felt there were not enough places in New York to buy skate hard goods. The brand was an important aspect of the shop, but they always sold other brands popular with the underground street culture.

In 2010, a book from Rizzoli Publications in New York City interviewed Jebbia, who talked about the early days of the shop and brand. Jebbia said the brand really stepped up when he opened three stores in Japan and they needed product to fill the shelves. Now the problem is keeping those shelves stocked.

Supreme uses skateboard decks, T-shirts and hoodies as mediums through which they deliver a product that provides exposure to art at an affordable price. While some people skate or wear the pricey designs on their boards, others cherish them as collector’s items.

The store often has lines wrapping around the block with kids eager to get their hands on the product. Jebbia was forced to do something different outside his stores after pressure from the New York Police Department. Many products on Supreme’s website sell out within minutes, if not seconds, and are often resold online for astronomical prices.

Supreme is one of the first brands to thrive on exclusivity. Jebbia has said in many interviews that Supreme makes far fewer units than what they know they can sell. This is a unique business model because it creates an incredible demand for Jebbia’s merchandise.

The news of Supreme selling a 50 percent stake to the Carlyle Group for $500 million was confirmed the day after opening a new store in Brooklyn on Oct. 5. This came as a shock to most fans of the brand, since Supreme as an independent brand, was able to enjoy great success due to great product, high demand and limited supply.

In a statement to Business of Fashion, Jebbia said, “We’re a growing brand and to sustain that growth we’ve chosen to work with Carlyle, who has the operational expertise needed to keep us on the steady path we’ve been on since 1994. Working with Carlyle allows us to concentrate on doing what we do best and remain in control of our brand, as we always have.”

To some, the sale of Supreme came as a surprise, but to others it cemented its place in the fashion world and let everyone know the brand is here to stay — not that Jebbia ever wanted to or needed the validation.

While Supreme has collaborated with brands like Nike, The North Face, Vans and most recently luxury powerhouse Louis Vuitton. The company also worked with some of the world’s most famous modern artists, including Damien Hirst, George Condo, Peter Saville, Kaws, Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami.

Supreme has made undeniably in-demand products for over 20 years now, and with its recent investment the company will have the capital and renown to do whatever it pleases. The biggest obstacle will be retaining Supreme’s core fans and convincing product devotees that it didn’t sell out. As long as there are no changes to the brand’s philosophy or the way the company rolls out product, they will continue to grow and be around for a long time.

Supreme has always been a hero in the underground world.