No longer the well-kept secret of cool, in-the-know New York kids, Supreme is becoming a household name. Thanks to the likes of influencers and celebrities, and big-name luxury goods collaborators, such as Louis Vuitton and Rimowa, the cult brand has become visible to the average Instagram user, who very well may nothave heard of the James Jebbia-founded brand until relatively recently. The result of such growing brand awareness has come a surge in demand, something Supreme has been courting consistently since it got its start in downtown Manhattan nearly 25 years ago.
As creative strategist Max Doblin wrote a few years ago, when he took on the topic of what might be the world’s most in-demand streetwear brand, “Since [Supreme has] avoided becoming a sellout, their products always sell out.” In particular, Doblin notes that Supreme is, at least in theory, a brand that is “not corporate or built for the masses.” It is, instead, aimed at “the niche, cool-kid consumer.”
In reality, this means that Supreme maintains a business model that is deeply rooted in the manipulation of the supply vs. demand equation. In order to create demand, Supreme strictly limits its supply, and rarely – if ever – increases supply to meet the ever-mounting demand. “If we can sell 600, I'll make 400. We’ve always been like that,” Jebbia said in a discussion with Glenn O'Brien for Interview magazine in 2009.
As Doblin aptly notes, “While other brands re-stock products if they sell well, Supreme never re-stocks anything. That means if you missed out on a new release, you’re not going to be able to walk into Supreme next month and expect it to be sitting on the shelf.”
The upside of Supreme’s strictly limited edition model is that it is a machine for hype, and the tangible result takes the form of the lines that routinely form at its brick-and-mortar outposts, and the sky-rocketing of the cost and value of the brand’s products – whether it be screen-printed t-shirts or a logo-ed catcher’s mask.
The potential downsides involve profit losses, including by way a secondary market. “The demand for Supreme is so high and the supply is so low that a second market has been created, naturally,” says Doblin. The resale market for Supreme wares is well-known, with garments and accessories flooding a slew of relatively newly-created resale platforms, such as StockX, Stadium Goods, and even The RealReal.
The surge in demand and resulting scarcity of these largely unattainable goods has also given rise to profit losses by way of a thriving market for counterfeits. In their successful attempts to court limited-edition relevance, brands are actually driving a rise in the purchase of counterfeits amongst consumers who want access to these products, which are notoriously impossible to get when they hit the market due to their small-runs and often prohibitively expensive at resale.
Digital marketing platform provider SEMrush confirmed this week that this is the case when it comes to Supreme, as in 2017, it was the most highly searched-for brand amongst consumers who were actively seeking out fakes on a global scale.
Could Supreme relatively easily cut down on the demand for fakes by increasing their supply? Probably. Is it working to inject more of itself and its wares into the market? It seems so.
Given that Supreme sold a reported 50 percent stake in its business to private equity giant Carlyle for $500 million, growth is on the horizon. First up: A store in San Francisco, per WWD. Supreme is said to be "staking out a space at 1011 Market Street in San Francisco."
Expansion in Asia is expected to follow. Keith Tran, the co-owner of Black Market, told WWD in the immediate wake of the Carlyle investment, "One of the biggest things I noticed is in Japan, they have six or seven stores, it does well, sells out every day, but if you go to Hong Kong, maybe a bigger market than Tokyo you have zero stores there, zero stores in Korea, Mainland China." These are "huge marketplaces for the Supreme customer."
As for whether such expansion, which will serve to further increase visibility for the cult brand in the Far East, will cut down on the demand for counterfeits, it seems unlikely. There has, after all, not been any talk of upping the ante in terms of the quantities of the goods, themselves.