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Strategy: I waited in line to go to a mysterious cult-favorite skater store worth $1 billion to see why teens are so obsessed
PublishedBy: in Business Insider/StrategyApril 10, 2018

The entrance to Supreme's Manhattan store.

Teens love Supreme. I went to a store to see why.

  • Supreme is a streetwear brand founded in 1994.
  • It has risen from cult status to more mainstream acceptance and is particularly popular with teens.
  • I visited one of Supreme's New York stores to see why it's so popular.

Supreme is red-hot.

The streetwear-apparel brand had an amazing 2017, with a roughly $500 million cash infusion from the Carlyle Group valuing it at $1 billion. Adding to the good news for the company is a primo ranking on Piper Jaffray's semiannual "Taking Stock of Teens" survey, which indicates teens are eating it up — or at least desiring it — like never before.

It first appeared in the fall 2017 version of the survey as the 10th most desirable brand for upper-income teens. By spring 2018, it had moved up the rankings to become the seventh.

Supreme was founded in 1994 by James Jebbia and is catered to skaters. There's an air of mystery about the brand, and Jebbia gives few media interviews.

Now, celebrities including Justin Bieber and Milo Yiannopoulous have been seen wearing Supreme's clothing, and its cachet only seems to grow. It operates 11 stores around the world.

I went to Supreme's store on Lafayette Street in New York City to see how the brand became the phenomenon it is today.

Every journey to Supreme starts with standing in line. It doesn't matter when you go — there will be a line. The store allows only about a dozen customers inside at any time, and it's relatively tight inside.

But if you're new to the experience, there's nothing there to explain the process to you. There was an empty set of ropes in front of the door, so I tried to walk into the store as I would any other. I was blocked. I was told the line started around the block.

Around the block, I found another set of empty ropes, and a family of four entered right in front of me. I got my hand stamped in one line, was held for 30 seconds, then moved to the other line and got my hand stamped again.

Only with both stamps are you allowed to enter the store. After the bizarre ritual, I was finally inside.

Inside the store, the energy is palpable. There's a lot of excitement. Foreign tourists and teens with their families were buzzing around the place, looking for something to purchase.

The clothes, however, were less exciting. Supreme's designs range from garish to muted. Some items use bold patterns or large block letters in the same font as Supreme's famous logo. Shirts go for about $120.

But there are also less exciting items, like sweatshirts with only a small Supreme logo on the chest, or Hanes shirts with the logo. Sweatshirts like these usually go for $148.

Collaborations are what everybody wants, though. Supreme has collaborated with everyone from Louis Vuitton and Nike to Playboy and The North Face, and the products sell out nearly immediately.

Supreme has also sold things like branded Kidde fire extinguishers, Hardcore Hammers, Everlast punching bags, and even bricks.

Nike, Adidas, and Vans are all well represented in the shoe rack. These are the three most popular brands among younger consumers, and it's further evidence that Supreme is plugged into what's hot.

The shop also sells skate gear like decks and trucks — an obvious nod to its roots serving skateboarders.

Product rotates quickly, and it's refreshed every Thursday. On those days, the line outside the store can stretch far back, and the sought-after, limited-supply products sell out immediately. They can then go for much more than the already high retail price on resale sites like eBay.

Much of the brand's cachet is due to how limited each drop is, and it's difficult to get your hands on your size. Hats like these go for about $45.

The experience of shopping in Supreme kind of feels more like a parody of a store, and I can't help but feel that's by design. There's no way to tell who is in on the joke, but with Supreme's new $1 billion valuation, it no longer matters — Supreme is demanding to be taken seriously.

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