There’s a few things that are certain in life: death, taxes, and Brooklyn hipsters wearing Supreme box-logo beanies.
The headwear accessory, touting a red and white embroidered patch, has long become more than just a hat. Supreme’s logo-centric ‘bogo’ items have become a sign of heightened luxury in a counterculture streetwear environment.
The label’s standard cotton t-shirts often feel more valuable than gold, with patrons lining up for five hours before the latest drop or resellers on streetwear websites like StockX and Grailed jacking up prices by 800%.
Supreme and its cult-like base of rabid consumers preach about how the label doesn’t conform to the typical fashion market. The brand is averse to big money and trends, with founder James Jebbia citing multiple times that the inspiration behind the Supreme was just to make clothes he’d wear.
Supreme is a millennial now– it’s been 26 years after the label was founded. Even though Jebbia and his team are still making clothes they like, a lot of other people like those clothes too.
As fashion consumers begin to pick casual cool brands over high street stores, Supreme and a collective of like-minded skate-chic streetwear companies are at the forefront of a changing market. In 2017, the label became the first billion-dollar streetwear company in the wake of its summer collaboration with Louis Vuitton, providing the blueprint for luxury streetwear partnerships in the coming years.
All eyes have been on Supreme, and now it’s heading to… T.J. Maxx?
In early November, retail giant VF Corporation fully acquired Supreme, valuing the company at a whopping .1 billion. The conglomerate is responsible for the success of several other Supreme collaborators, including The North Face, Vans, and Timberland. It’s the same VF Corp that has pushed its products into mall shoe stores, big-box sporting goods retailers, and on the clearance rack.
The buyout is terrifying to die-hard hypebeasts. What happens when Supreme, the most anti-establishment, middle-finger to the corporate fashion world brand becomes a sellout?
The “Supreme is dead,” argument circles back every few years, most notably after collaborating with Louis Vuitton– the perceived standard for stuffy luxury. However, the argument stands in the face of VF Corp’s acquisition. Supreme has turned to a conglomerate whose catalog can be found in the back of an outlet store, and it may ruffle some feathers among the skate brand’s dedicated purists.
Supreme’s origin story takes us to a small shop on Lafayette Street selling skateboards and tees in 1994. Jebbia, a young transplant from London, wanted to create a space for the stylish underbelly of New York’s youth. Supreme slowly grew for those in the know about the brand. It wasn’t until the red-and-white colorways were spotted on some of the world’s biggest celebrities that the brand reached into the mass consumer market. Jebbia won the 2018 CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year Award, despite not seeing himself nor Supreme operating in the fashion realm. The shop in SoHo rapidly expanded across the globe in the mid-2010s, adding outposts in London, Tokyo, and Paris.
Supreme wasn’t just for skaters with impeccable style and busted elbows anymore.
What began as a passion for a sport grew into a brand at the epicenter of the cultural streetwear zeitgeist, and to Jebbia, the buyout doesn’t change anything.
In a statement, he said the partnership with VF Corp was going to maintain the brand’s image, determined to stay true to its roots.
“This partnership will maintain our unique culture and independence, while allowing us to grow on the same path we’ve been on since 1994,” Jebbia said.
Supreme has stayed intact before in the face of corporate America– first with a private investment from Goode Partners in 2014 then with a 50% buyout by the Carlyle Group in 2017. Since losing independence partially 6 years ago, the brand hasn’t radically changed, and instead has added to its impressive lineup of collaborations with Lacoste, Rimowa and Pat McGrath.
Like most brands throughout the pandemic, VF Corp has struggled to adopt a direct-to-consumer approach– the exact method Supreme uses for its online webstore and limited worldwide boutiques. Nearly 60% of Supreme’s revenue comes from e-commerce proving its digital stronghold despite the industry-wide “new normal.” The brand’s profitability is only expected to go up according to top executives, aiming to hit 540 to 550 million by 2024.
For VF Corp, it’s easy to see why buying Supreme is the best move. For label itself, the sell remains debated. One can argue if something isn’t broken, you shouldn’t fix it. But with 12 measly stores and a growing consumer base in the streetwear world, Jebbia and his band of skaters wouldn’t be hurt by venturing out into the mainstream. VF’s strong supply-chain and investor money may be lucrative to Supreme, particularly as they expand internationally.
Buyouts aren’t new to the fashion world, though. While LVMH and Tiffany & Co. continue to battle it out over acquiring terms, Michael Kors Holdings continues cruising with Versace and Jimmy Choo after buying both brands for a combined .3 billion in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Donatella Versace remains Creative Director for the Italian maison, its aesthetics unchanged since the deal.
Versace and Jimmy Choo didn’t turn to outdated monogram canvas after being acquired, there’s no indication Supreme will either.
Supreme is no match for Donatella’s power, though. Despite solid precedent of fashion brands constantly changing hands, the Chanel of streetwear sits on a tight balance. Grow too little and the deal with VF makes no sense; Grow too much and the brand’s counterculture ethos withers away.
Who knows though, maybe you’ll finally be able to score last season’s bogo at Saks Off Fifth now that Supreme went corporate.END
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