At first, you notice the long line of kids, mostly boys, along the sidewalk, and you wonder: “What is it again that they’re waiting for, ice cream, hot dogs, cookies… ?”. Kids in this country love to line up, not at the boring bank or at the post office, but for trendy food and anything branded “cool”. And considering the swag of these particular kids, there is a clue here that we are in the coolest corner of the cool zone. African Americans, Latinos, Asians, a few Whites… “United Colors of Supreme cool”, they could call it.
The underground world’s red brand is stamped on every white plastic bag the kids carry when they exit the store located on Fairfax avenue, in L.A. That’s when they look ecstatic, after long hours of waiting. Some other kids look into the bags and check out the fresh catch of the day. Then, there’s cash going from hand to hand, in exchange for a T-shirt, a hat, or a jacket. Like they were dealing drugs on a corner, but this time it’s just highly rated clothes that apparently make people happy.
“They’re popular, says Henry, 19 years old, who came from Palm Springs the night before. They make very small quantities so it makes people feel unique”.
Supreme launches new lines every week during 16 weeks, on Thursdays, he explains, and the rarity of every item is what raises their value in the secondary market. Smart marketing strategy.
As a result, the weekly ritual goes on. Every one seems to be used to it. Four security guards deal with the young crowd so that every thing is kept under control.
In a café next to the store, a group of teenage boys chills, contemplating and commenting their catch. A mom is sitting with them, apparently supervising the business operation. Henry isn’t one of them. He came alone, with his skateboard, and is about to go back home after spending 656,85 dollars and the night outside.
“I got here at 7 PM, brought a camping chair and slept a bit”, he says. In a street that can happen to be sketchy after dark, he was not afraid. “I’ve been homeless before, so I’m not scared”.
Now, Henry has a little bit of money, just enough to buy these clothes in order to resell them right away. But unlike those who deal in the street, he’ll do it online, on eBay. That way, he hopes to make a 200 dollar profit. It represents a nice little extra money aside from his two jobs, one working in a sandwich shop and the other as busser in a restaurant. At the end of the new collection period, it could help him buy a car, instead of depending on the pretty exasperating bus system. But the true reason for which he does that, though, isn’t money.
“I’m an adventurous guy”, he says in a tone that’s 100% likeable and open-minded. Henry also loves to come in the big city to try many different kinds of food. The funny thing is, he’s not really into Supreme clothes himself. He wears a balck and red checked shirt, and black jeans. He shows me the different clothes he chose to offer faraway customers : “Pink tees are popular now, even for guys”. A tee-shirt that cost him 44 dollars, he hopes to resell it for 70.
Randall, 25, is more ambitious, in terms of investment return. “I can resell them for three times the price”, he says. But he doesn’t feel he’s scamming anyone.
“My customers pay for my time. I drove all the way here from Santa Ana, I’ve waited for hours to buy them”, he says. Randall has a small car but he wouldn’t be against getting a new one, as well.
As a security guard, he makes about 800 dollars a week. “Sometimes, I make more money out of the Supreme business”, he confides. Like Henry, he also uses online platforms like Instagram or Craigslist to advertise his items.
“I even ship them overseas”, he adds. The demand is high everywhere, especially in Japan, where the urban brand opened several stores.
Since its creation in New York in 1994, the skateboard, punk and hip-hop culture brand only added nine locations in the world. The L.A. store was the second one to open, in 2004, and is almost twice the size of the original one, with a riding bowl built inside of it. Supreme cultivates rarity of locations and of production, manufacturing accessories and clothes in small quantities. These two policies creates this big secondary market that can be witnessed on Fairfax avenue.
At the far end of the chain, consumers pay a high price, not to cover labor costs but for a name. After all, a name that contains it itself the message, by using for its logo Barbara Kruger’s art style, “I shop, therefore I am”.