Supreme – Where Does the Hype Come From?

It’s a Thursday like any other. People all over the world drive to work by car or bike, while others sit comfortably in a café and enjoy their coffee. Some are still at home getting their kids ready for school and others have been standing in front of a shop for 12, 16, or 24 hours waiting for it to open. But, what has hours of waiting in front of a shop got to do with a normal Thursday? 

In the world of Supreme, it’s everything. This is because every Thursday, young men in America, Europe and Japan, sit on the ground with their feet up their stomachs waiting for the latest drop of Supreme. This involves the sale of new items from the latest collection. And, it’s definitely worth being early, because the coveted t-shirts, hoodies, underpants, etc. are sold out almost as soon as they drop. 

One of these guys is 17-year-old Omer. He has been standing in the queue for 6 hours already and will be spending about 300 € today, even though he “doesn’t even really like the stuff.” The boys standing in line show themselves in their best Supreme clothes, because others around them know which shoes and hoodies they are wearing. And, the ones wearing them really do enjoy the recognition of others. These kids are called “hypebeasts”. But, what’s the point? Well, it’s obviously to be able to buy even more accessories and clothes from the famous brand with the box logo. However, why is Supreme so attractive to people anyway?

Supreme New York

Supreme was founded by James Jebbia. He returned to America in 1983 at the age of 19 and started working at the skateshop Parachute in New York City. Four years later, he opened his first shop, “Union NYC” and sold clothes there that we would now classify as streetwear today. He has also worked with experimental brands like Stüssy, for example. 

In 1994, James founded his brand Supreme with his first shop on Lafayette Street in Manhattan, New York. It started out as a shop from one skater to feature other skaters, which you can also see in the design of the shop. The clothes and boards were arranged on the sides of the room with a large open space in the middle. This is for the purpose of allowing you to come in riding your skateboard without having to get off of it. Hence, Supreme became a brand that radiated authenticity right from the beginning and that’s exactly what the fans like about it.

In its beginning, Supreme was a streetwear brand much like others during that time, for example, Stüssy or UNDFTD. But, the collaboration with well-known brands and designers who delivered timeless designs, combined with well-known personalities who wear the t-shirts and are pictured on them, has helped the brand Supreme reach a whole new level of awareness. It was so well-known, in fact, that Supreme was then estimated to be worth $1 billion by 2017.

But, that alone is not the reason why Supreme is so coveted.

Supply and Demand

Supreme has mastered two principles of the market economy like no other brand. Supreme produces each of its pieces as unique specimens and only in small quantities. According to James, he does not do this so that his appearances will seem “limited”, but so that he doesn’t get stuck on stuff that nobody wants. Considering the fact that everything in a new collection that comes online is usually sold out within seconds, with people queueing up for hours to get their hands on a desirable piece, it is unlikely that they will just sit on merchandise. 

The concept of how he brings out new stuff always follows the same pattern: he calls it “drops”. Every Thursday, new collections are sold in stores all over the world. But, why is the demand for Supreme things so high? When famous people are seen wearing the clothes, a brand that hasn’t been heard of before immediately grabs the public eye. Stars like Drake and Kanye West show up in Supreme shirts and bring the brand into the consciousness of their fans.

Similarly, Supreme collaborates with brands like Louis Vuitton and has even featured artists such as Kate Moss, Wu Tang’s Raekwon, and even Kermit the Frog on its t-shirts.

Owning a Supreme item, whether it’s sneakers, tees, or hoodies, carries its own prestige to it. You become part of your own subculture and the garment or accessory is the badge that proves it. It has to be said that a lot of the Supreme stuff just looks cool and therefore not only appeals to hypebeasts but also to people who are interested in the brand’s particular style.

Overall, those who buy Supreme can be divided into three categories.

The Three Types of Supreme Buyers

The Hypebeast

These types of buyers are probably the figurehead of Supreme followers and the term has certainly been heard by everyone. A hypebeast, mostly young men between 16 to 25 years old, is someone who follows the hype around a brand in order to be on the same level as other hypebeasts. A hypebeast often buys clothes from brands simply because they are “hyped”. Perhaps the hypebeast doesn’t like the style at all, but that doesn’t matter either, because his main concern is simply to own those limited items.

He buys things from Supreme for the reason alone that he can show others what exclusive things he has acquired. It doesn’t matter if he pays for the items himself or not (usually he doesn’t pay for them himself), those he wants to impress are not just normal people walking on the street. Those people do not understand the value of the Supreme item at all, because they have no idea how valuable it is. A hypebeast wants to impress people with his stuff, and they are also fellow hypebeasts who are as deep into the hype as he is. So, it’s really about the recognition from members of a subculture that he’s after.

The Collector

Just as there are stamp collectors or collectors of Yu-Gi-Oh cards, there are also collectors of Supreme items. And, Supreme makes it easy to fall into collector mode, because there are countless many different “Supremesneakers”, “Supremehoodies”, “Supremetshirts”, “Supremeboards”, and many more goodies from all kinds of areas.

But, the way towards the life of a collector is not always the same. Some people just acquire some Supremes and think, “Oh, now I have the jacket here in red, then I’ll get it in blue as well.” Then, after they get to have the blue one, they think, “Well, there are only those three colours in red, blue, and yellow. I already have two of them, so I might as well get the third.” And so it begins slowly.

The urge to collect is nothing new and deeply rooted in us. Right from the start when we were hunters and gatherers, we collected things to distinguish ourselves from other tribes and tribal members. On the one hand, we could express ourselves more and on the other hand, we became more attractive for mating partners. 

Another reason why collecting Supreme items is so common is their non-existent decline in value. Because of the small circulation, Supreme items are not only stable in price, but become worth more the original price many times over even after several years. So, some collectors see Supreme Items as a kind of investment, very much like gold or real estate.

The Fashion-Conscious

Let’s face it. Maybe not every Supreme article looks awesome, but some of them have a mega-distinctive style, just like the Supreme x The North Face Mountain Baltoro jacket to name just one out of many other examples.

Enough people buy a Supreme item just to complement their personal fashion style. It does not even have to be something worth 1,000 €.

For some people, it might just be a simple white t-shirt with a red box logo, which complements their personal clothing collection. However, the percentage of buyers who buy a Supreme item because they like it is so much smaller than the actual percentage of hypebeasts and collectors.

But, actually there is actually a fourth category of buyers. And, this will probably be the most hated category. All the categories mentioned above probably equally hate this category:

The Supreme Product Reseller Market

The last category of buyers, which makes up a considerable part, are the resellers. Due to the shortage of supply, a constant demand for Supreme products is guaranteed and this drives up the price even more.

Simple t-shirts with the box logo can be worth 10 to 40 times the original price on the resale market. This makes sneakers also very suitable for resale.

Of course, Supreme knows about this secondary market and reserves the right to kick anyone out of the shop or the queue in front of the shop—those who happen to give the impression that he is just here to resell the stuff. Nevertheless, one would also argue that this secondary market is simply for the benefit of Supreme.

It creates an image of a product that is so sought-after that it is sold on the secondary market for hundreds or thousands of euros. This increases the exclusivity and more hypebeasts think that there must be something special about this brand, so they end up wanting to buy even more.

The resale market is now a market worth millions, where not only Supreme hoodies and sneakers are sold but also Metro cards with the Supreme Logo, newspapers, axes, or probably the biggest joke of all time—a brick with the Supreme logo. The so-called Supreme brick was sold for $30 at the store and was sold online at a price between $100 to $1000. It does not come with a hidden lightsaber. In fact, it really is just a brick with a box logo.

From small skateshop to the most hyped brand in the world

Supreme has developed and created a demand that very few brands can match. James Jebbia hit the ravages of time in the ’90s and made streetwear a highly coveted fashion these days. 

Many things have come together at Supreme as well: artists and famous personalities who have modeled their t-shirts, great designers who have created timeless designs, and other famous people who have worn those t-shirts. 

But, the most important point of success is probably its non-limited-but-limited strategy. Because each item is produced only once with a small number of pieces, the demand is always higher than the supply. And, what they can’t have is all the more desirable in the eyes of most people.

James Jebbia has ultimately created a hype that other brands can only dream of. Supreme is a case in point and is likely to maintain this status for a long time to come.