Supreme, often referred to as “the Chanel of streetwear”, has inched its way to the top as one of the most influential brands in the industry. A-list celebs, skaters, cool kids, hip-hop legends and hypebeasts alike can be seen donning the infamous red-and-white logo. So, how did a small skate shop on Lafayette Street in downtown Manhattan turn into a complete fashion powerhouse? Ask savvy entrepreneur, James Jebbia—the founder of Supreme.
Jebbia was a teen in the ‘80s growing up in Crawley, West Sussex, England. He used his spare money to travel to London and shop at a hidden store, which would eventually mold Supreme’s business model. By age 19, he moved to the United States and started working as a sales assistant at a store in SoHo, before eventually opening Supreme in New York.
While you probably won’t be able to replicate Jebbia’s secret business sauce, we’ve listed some valuable lessons in Supreme’s rise that can be used to help shape your company:
Do Your Research
James Jebbia learned about the retail industry when working at Parachute in SoHo. Before opening Supreme in 1994, he actually opened a different streetwear brand, Union NYC (now closed), in 1989. All this to say, he had a bit of experience in the retail industry before starting a wildly successful company.
Wanting to start your own brand can be exciting, but always make sure you research the industry before diving head first into the unknown. Some basic things you should know:
- Where to find quality, wholesale apparel and products
- How to price your products competitively
- Ways to sell your items
Beyond just researching how the industry works, know your target audience and what matters to them. By 2020, Millennials will make up 30 percent of total retail sales in the U.S., and Gen Z will make up 40 percent of all consumers. Studies have shown that both Millennials and Gen Z consider environmental issues in their purchasing decisions. So, if you’re looking to sell graphic tees, considering water-based, eco-friendly ink choices may be a unique selling point.
Get Scrappy With Your Hustle (And Build Street Cred)
Supreme is infamous for giving fashion the middle finger—proven by several cease-and-desist letters. It’s also known for encouraging its employees and consumers to add their red-and-white logo stickers on posters and products as a “stamp of approval”. For example, they slapped their logo sticker on the front of a Kate Moss Calvin Klein poster in 1994, and printed Louis Vuitton’s double monogram on their skateboards in 2000 (though they eventually collaborated). Jebbia’s willingness to ruffle a few feathers in the name of creativity built credibility with niche, influential cool kids and it payed off.
Now, we’re not saying to start copyrighting a bunch of artwork, but there is something to be said about Supreme’s hustle and scrappiness. Some ways you can spread the word about your company on a smaller budget include:
- Partnering with micro-influencers who are willing to promote your brand for a small cost, or exchange promoted posts for free swag
- Creating short promo videos to post across social media
- Reaching out to small businesses (relevant to your target audience) to see if you can leave promo cards at the counter
Realize that Culture Shapes Trends, Especially Youth Culture
Almost every piece from a Supreme drop has ties to art or culture. They have a way of partnering with brands like Nike and infusing their vibe to create a totally unique outfit for the young fashion consumer.
Art and culture always find their way into what we wear and how we represent ourselves, leading to a shared sense of influence. By continually having a pulse on what’s going on in the community, Supreme is able to present apparel and products that are desirable. When thinking of new designs, look to what’s going on in your community for creative inspiration. However, always remember to remain authentic to your brand.
Know the Power of Supply-and-Demand
Supreme is good at many things, and utilizing basic economics to its advantage is no exception. James Jebbia was once quoted saying, “…if we can sell 600, I make 400.” The demand for product always exceeds the supply, thus driving up the value. Though, in Supreme’s case, they take it a step further by almost never restocking a dropped collection once it’s sold out (hence the huge resell market).
If you’re just starting out, your demand for product is likely low so this may not be a tactic you can use right away. However, educating yourself on supply-and-demand economics will ultimately help you make strategic business decisions in the long run, particularly as your business grows and competition rises.
Which business lesson from Supreme was the most helpful or interesting? Let us know in the comments!