Lifestyle

SUPREME: the balance between luck and genius

BY JESSE CECCHETTO

In September 2016, skateboarding and clothing brand Supreme releases something that shocks the world. It starts at a modest retail price of $30. 

Shortly after, on eBay, a completely basic clay red brick with the Supreme logo subtly etched in it sells almost immediately for the highest bidder at close to $1,000.

If you’d like to know how a simple skateboard shop turned into an immensely successful fashion brand that managed to brand a red brick that would go on to sell for over 30 times its original price, well, so does the rest of the world.

To really understand this story, we look to a man by the name of James Jebbia, who, back in 1994, created the Manhattan-based company that would go on to take over the world of fashion, skating, and marketing.

(Photo from Devon Jarvis)

Jebbia, an extremely successful and wealthy businessman, now 55, is often found wearing plain black jeans, low-cut black skate shoes, a plain white t-shirt and a basic navy or black jean jacket. The simplicity of his daily fashion choices speaks volumes for the success Supreme.

Jebbia opened the first Supreme shop on Lafayette Street in midtown Manhattan. At the time, there was a significant skating and art scene in the neighbourhood. Jebbia’s goal with Supreme was to start a skate shop where cool people would shop. It was more of a feeling in mind than specific clothing.

“The cool, cool shop,” he called it in an interview with Vogue. Jebbia wanted to sell affordable clothing to people he thought were really cool, with the hopes that everyone would follow this cool wave of fashion and skate trend. He loved the skateboarding scene and the fact that most skateboarders were really opinionated.

“The shop that carries the cool stuff that everybody was wearing—no big brands or anything,” Jebbia says.

To attract people into his store, he played loud music and screened things like Taxi Driver and Muhammed Ali fights to attract that kind of edgy skateboarders and customers that he wanted in his shop. Jebbia wanted it to feel like a cool hangout spot instead of a store. He hired local skateboarders to work at the shop to make it feel less like a store, and more like an edgy gathering spot for skaters.

At first, Supreme sold a select number of popular skateboarding clothing brands. Then one day, Jebbia realized that skaters might be willing to pay higher prices for higher quality clothing, such as brands like Gucci were doing at the time. He started with basic plain white and black t-shirts with the red block Supreme logo that’s so iconic today. The t-shirts sold well, so Supreme went on to sell sweatshirts, hoodies and hats.

Fast-forward to today, and you can find Supreme bricks, fire extinguishers, crowbars, hammers, salt and pepper shakers and many more items you wouldn’t expect a skateboarding brand to sell. All of these items, as you might imagine, sell for prices well above what any rational person would pay for a similar regular brand item.

(Photo from Supremenewyork.com)

The key to Supreme’s global success? A common marketing tactic called scarcity, and much like Jebbia’s choice of attire, simplicity. 

Supreme releases small amounts of their clothing at a time, allowing it to charge high prices due to insanely high demand. With such a small supply, items just like their red clay brick often sell for higher than the original retail value on the after market.

There’s something to be said about simplicity in a world that can feel so complicated at times. Supreme owes much of its success to that aesthetic. The clothing is minimalist in nature. Much of its fashion catalogue features clothing with virtually just a basic block logo on the front.

It doesn’t look like anything special, and on the surface, it really isn’t.

Supreme is just a skateboarding brand that has managed to develop a cult following, and huge amount of influence in the fashion and art community because of the ideology it was founded upon. It represents what Jebbia thinks is cool. Skaters, edgy people who watch cool movies and listen to cool music. Opinionated people who don’t care what the public thinks. Young people, rebellious in nature, but open-minded as well.  

“There are always critics that don’t understand that young people can be into Bob Dylan but also into the Wu-Tang Clan and Coltrane and Social Distortion. Young people—and skaters—are very, very open-minded . . . to music, to art, to many things, and that allowed us to make things with an open mind,” Jebbia says.

Supreme’s success could be rendered down to smart marketing and simplistic design, but there’s something special about James Jebbia’s skateboard brand that nobody can decipher. 

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