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Can Supreme survive the sale of the century?

Written by Adam Bryce

The sale of Supreme may well end in tears for diehard fans of the streetwear superbrand.

In 2017, the fashion world began to question the future of Supreme. The Carlyle Group had announced made a significant investment (US$500m) in the streetwear superpower and it sounded like it was the beginning of the end of Supreme. How could a skate brand, whose entire ethos was heaped in anti-corporate angst, continue in the same manner while being half-owned by one of the world’s biggest investment firms?

Renowned for investing in thriving companies, The Carlyle Group have a reputation of creating quick and substantial growth with the intention of a just-as-quick sale, maximising a fast-turnaround investment.

Those who doubted Supreme’s post-2017 survival were been proven wrong and, while the brand has achieved an increase in valuation of over 200 per cent in three years and recorded sales of over US$500m in the last year alone, the growth hasn’t come at the cost of the brand’s reputation. 

Without knowing the finer details of the financial growth, it’s likely that the majority has come from an increase in online sales and numbers in production — both of which could have easily occurred without reaching a point where supply exceeds demand. 

To achieve The Carlyle Group’s desired growth, Supreme fans were concerned that the garments would become available at locations outside of their own stores via wholesale. Which posed quite the problem as much of Supreme’s perceived value is based on its accessibility, or lack thereof. But that didn’t happen and the investment was mostly considered an inconsequential transaction to consumers.

But 2020 has thrown another quandary at Supreme fans, with the recent announcement that the brand will be sold to VF Corporation for a tidy US$2.1 billion. When James Jebbia founded the New York brand in 1994, an independent attitude was at the core of its appeal and the sale conjures up a whole new bunch of questions over the future of Supreme. 

Large investments often propel companies into brand-protection mode however, it’s a different story when ownership changes hands. Jebbia has been quick to calm the nerves of Supreme fans, prempting potential concerns over brand disruption. His statement made to WWD reads… 

“We are proud to join VF, a world-class company that is home to great brands we’ve worked with for years including The North Face, Vans and Timberland. This partnership will maintain our unique culture and independence, while allowing us to grow on the same path we’ve been on since 1994.”

Will VF Corporation be interested in investing in the longterm growth of Supreme, opening new stores in new regions at a steady rate and keeping the brand in a place in tune with its unique ethos, or will a desire to see a bigger and faster return see the demise of Supreme, as we know it?

Originally conceived for New York’s Lower East Side cool guys and skaters, the now-global streetwear brand is no longer seen as a symbol of cool amongst the leading edge of fashion. It already sits in a more mainstream and younger space and, entering into what can be considered as its third life, I wonder if Supreme can afford to navigate through an even more mainstream market?

James Jebbia opening the doors of Supreme in 1994.

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