To Lafayette and Beyond: The future of Supreme’s global empire

Early last week, the online publication Business of Fashion had the privilege of speaking to Supreme founder, James Jebbia, to discuss the brand’s opening of a new boutique in Paris.  The store marks the first entry for Supreme in France, with their other stores primarily scattered across New York, Los Angeles, London, and Tokyo. The often-reclusive founder discussed the global expansion of the brand, saying, “Yeah, we’re a New York brand, but we’re a world brand now, too. It’s no different than Levi’s being from San Francisco.”

With the brands entrance into the French market, and the growth of their brand’s turnover through the ever-prominent resale world, the question must be prompted:  Will Supreme ever not be cool?  It’s a difficult question to answer, given that the brand’s strategy is to create scarcity for even their most popular items, which increases the economic value and cultural cache of any Supreme piece.

We have seen time and time again that brands that don’t grow carefully, can be come memories of streetwear past.  For example, brands like 10.DEEP and LRG have faded due to the over-saturation of their product.  They focused more on the segmentation of the business, price lines, and retail partners than the products’ design and relevance.  Emphasizing their business principles is what transitioned these brands into the subculture’s doghouse, and they would be hard-pressed to find a way out in the near future.

On the other hand, some brands have been able to mimic the genuineness that Supreme leverages, which have been maintained their status as Hypebeast-darlings.  Brands like Babylon and Palace rest on their skate origin laurels and continue to provide an authentic consumer experience, one that is controlled and limited.

Supreme’s first store opened up on Lafayette Street in New York, and it grew to become the cornerstore of the Gen Y culture of intersections.  The homogenization of punk, skate, hip-hop, and grime culture created a cultural lexicon that only Supreme could tap.  And this attracted some of the city’s best skaters, artists, musicians, and luminaries. The authentic narrative built around this intersection has become Supreme’s biggest asset.

For streetwear purists, Supreme has always been the cool older brother, who released the most select items, minimizing on volumes and maximizing on cultural impact.  However, with the growth in the re-sale market for Supreme through channels like eBay, Grailed, and independent Instagram hustlers, the once sacred Supreme experience is being eroded for customers.

In the article, Jebbia also mentions, “People think whatever we do, it sells out. But it’s not like that.  We can’t explain it, other than we have some really cool shit.”  The solution comes down to whom Supreme views as their customer.  If the brand believes that the core customer is the kid standing outside 274 Lafayette at 3 o’clock in the morning is their true customer, then business should proceed as usual.  But if Jebbia believes that the brand’s core customer should be for the people who vibe with the brand’s core values, then reaching those consumers through guerilla marketing tactics and a decentralized, localized targeting push is the way to go.

By: Amit Kalra

Let us know your thoughts on the direction of the brand.  Is the brand too big to fail, or is Supreme just another in a sea of brands clinging to their success?  Let us know in the comments, or on twitter @TPGStyle.

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