The end of niche: How Supreme went from being cult to conglomerate
13 Nov 2020
Supreme, the once local skate wear brand that operated largely under fashion’s radar, is no more. For aficionados who would queue hours for a t-shirt, jacket, board or even a sticker outside its New York store they no longer need to queue. Supreme is now fully owned by a conglomerate and destined for growth.
Whoever says a two billion dollar brand can keep its subculture cachet is fibbing. The end was nigh long ago when its collabs became insta catwalk worthy, i.e. with Louis Vuitton and Rimowa luggage. Back in 1998, when Supreme collaborated with Brooklyn Machine Works on a rare bicycle, only 36 units were produced and celebrities had to buy them. Unlike today, with pr teams strategically deciding who should wear the product, when and where.
The draw of independent brands is their exclusivity and sense of community they inspire. Traveling to New York to see the store, was, for some fans, like visiting Mecca. Even Tokyo felt special and off the grid, although today there are three stores in Japan’s capital, some walking distance from each other. Many more will soon be opened, with Berlin, Milan and San Francisco already in the planning.
With success comes expansion and expectation
“With success comes expansion”, wrote Highsnobiety. But really, with success comes metrics and sales targets and growth and investors to please. The cool factor, however defined, can no longer be attributed to Supreme as being a niche brand. To be sure, mass market cool, in the way Nike or Adidas is, is not a negative connotation per se, but it is not the same.
Ultimately, if Supreme shies away from opening in every mall in every city, a feeling of exclusivity can remain in its existing markets if it were to launch select stores around the world and focus on e-commerce. But digital expansion may be limited, as according to Quartz Supreme’s online business accounts for 60 percent of turnover, which is already high. A sales model based on scarcity is difficult to maintain when aggressive retail expansion comes into play.
While analysts are upbeat about the deal when it comes to parent company VF Corp - its shares surged on the news of its acquisition - fashion insiders will be questioning if Supreme’s loyal following will remain loyal as it groomed for growth.
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