The Cult of Supreme: Everything I Learned From the Kids in Line


hy do people love Supreme so much? I’m not asking because I’m against the hype — I’m generally pro-hype when it comes to streetwear — I’m more so asking in amazement. Even if you’re not a fan of the brand, its success is arguably impossible to miss. Take its recent New York Post cover takeover as evidence; newsstands sold out of copies within hours, defying the notion that print is dead.

In my eyes, defiance, or perhaps rebellion, is so much of what Supreme is about. According to its website, the brand opened its doors in 1994 as a hub for skaters, but eventually grew to cater to other counterculture movements, like “punks,” “hip-hop heads,” and downtown kids.

Supreme’s business strategy reflects its unorthodox roots. The brand’s decision to release product in highly controlled limited releases (a.k.a. “drops”) strays far from the traditional retail approach. And while most brands seek to maximize their target audiences to in turn maximize profit, Supreme doesn’t seem too worried about losing customers along the way. In fact, I’ll take this moment to share that I am currently blocked by Supreme on Instagram. Sadly there’s no juicy explanation; I can’t for the life of me recall what provoked this. Nevertheless, since I’m not an internet troll or a spewer of hate speech, this act proves my point: Supreme doesn’t give a fuck about rules or the status quo. And to be honest, it’s working: The only two Supreme pieces I own were purchased after I was blocked.

“At the core of Supreme’s power to drive demand for its products is its ability to cultivate a community,” Business of Fashion wrote of the Supreme phenomenon. “It’s the critical ingredient that turns drops into rituals, and T-shirts into trophies.”

I’m increasingly intrigued by Supreme, and have no doubt I share this sentiment with the customers who line up down the block every week in the hope of buying something from one of its highly anticipated drops, in which certain pieces sell out in minutes. Through denying people access and defying traditional rules of retail, Supreme has created a loyal customer base that is hooked on the chase.

To gain a better understanding of how Supreme has established such unfailing prominence, I decided to speak to its biggest fans right at their mecca: the Supreme Soho store, minutes before the next drop. Continue below for the five most striking things I learned from those keeping the hype alive.

1. Supreme Isn’t Shy About Playing Hard to Get

“Supreme has always been a thing that you have to know. They don’t spend any money on advertising, they don’t do photoshoots and exposés — maybe every once in a while in a skate magazine or something raunchy like that — but they don’t really publicize the brand at all. You kinda have to know the brand to know what’s going on. The fact that it isn’t so publicized is what [brings] a lot of people here. Even though you have to wait in these stupid long lines, it was almost like a privilege to do so because you know people didn’t know about it and people aren’t able to do it. Even though more and more people know about Supreme, that ‘people aren’t able to do it’ aspect is very heavy. There’s still such a demand because it’s still such a privilege to go in there and shop. They’ve turned it into a real thing; it’s an honor to get that spot, it’s coveted just to be able to go in there and buy the items.” – Andre, @solestreetsneakerco, 35

“Shopping wise it’s okay, but sometimes the workers inside assume you’re a reseller and sometimes don’t give customers stuff.” – Tony, 26

2. Further, Customer Service Seems Not to Be of Much Concern

“You gotta figure 80% of the line is tourists and this a thing. People come on vacation and one of the things on their checklist is ‘visit the Supreme store.’ The coveted item of Supreme is a box logo tee. A plain T-shirt with the logo on it; it’s the simplest thing and nobody understands why it goes for so much money. [Ed note: Supreme box logo T-shirts are not sold on the Supreme site; if you want to purchase from a reseller it will put you back anywhere between $650 and $2000.] It’s just because it’s that core item. These tourists don’t know much, so 800 people walk through that door on a regular day and 450 of them ask for a box logo T-shirt, which is never there. So I know [the employees] get frustrated working there and having to deal with it all the time, so they’re a little brash. That is what Supreme is. I wouldn’t want to walk in there and have employees that are like ‘Hey, welcome to Supreme! How may I help you?’ That’s not what this place is, that’s not what this place has ever been. The employees sorta act the way they act.” – Andre, @solestreetsneakerco, 35

“I don’t really like going into the store, they’re kind of rude to you. When I was younger, I was very naive and scared, but you get used to it. They’re not nice to most customers that go there, but they recognize that almost every single person goes there multiple times a week and [the employees] realize they’re just buying the same thing to sell. So, it’s understandable.” – Edison, 19

“They’re not nice, but they’re really cool. I admire them. They have personality. No other store can have an employee like this; if employee had this attitude at other stores they’d get fired. They’re dope, they’re special.” – Lox, @iamyourshoes, 21

3. Some Customers Have Turned Shopping at Supreme Into a Business

“It’s a business. I mean, I am a fan as well, that’s what started the whole thing, but it’s primarily a business at this point for me. I was always interested in sneakers, one of my first jobs was at FootAction. I wanted to be a manager, I caught the bug, it stuck. The first time I discovered Supreme was when they released a [Nike] Dunk Low, I think it was 2010-ish, maybe 2009. It was only available at Supreme and I wanted it of course because I was interested in the sneaker aspect of it. So that was my first time coming down here and finding out where the place was. Once I discovered the sneaker and I went in the store and saw everything, I started doing more research. At the same time, my son is kind of into skateboarding and knew about the brand and he thought it was cool that I had something Supreme. I started coming down here a bit more often and following more of the stuff they were releasing. At first it was just for me, but then it started growing. I was always able to sell sneakers casually; buy two pairs or three pairs to help pay for my pair of it. That started growing coinciding with me finding out about Supreme.

Then Complex did a documentary that I was involved with a couple years ago and that blew me up… When it aired, [Supreme was] banning me [from] buying [anything but] size XLs. There were times when I’d go in there and be like ‘Can I get that black t-shirt?’ they’d be like ‘Nah it’s sold out,’ then three guys behind me got the black T-shirt in their hand. I had to eat shit for a while to get back in good graces. But that [documentary] took me from 5,000 followers to 50,000 followers. It legitimized me in the eyes of a lot of buyers, it did more good than bad in the long run. – Andre @solestreetsneakerco, 35

“Nothing, I just like the money.” [Ed note: In response to “why do you like Supreme?”] – Jalen, 18

“I would honestly say [I own] upwards of 400 pieces. It’s like moving inventory. For a while in high school I was working for Grailed (I was a moderator), that was my thing, collecting old Supreme, early 2000s/90s Supreme. But that’s a big part of it, keeping some stuff, selling some stuff — I have some stuff in my house that hopefully in a couple of years will be worth something.” – Edison, 19

“When I was in high school, I used to wear skate shoes like Nike SBs, and I wanted to wear Supreme and the SBs together because that was the trend, so that’s how I got started. What I don’t like, I’ll sell; if I like stuff, I’ll keep it myself. Like, see this bag? [Points at camo Supreme duffle bag.] It’s 2005, no one has it. This is a very rare bag, but if I wanna resell it’ll probably go for $500. But I like keeping stuff for myself. “ – Tony, 26

“We usually resell so that we can get more stuff. I like to buy the bags, the tees, the sweatpants, and the decks also.” – Ericson, 16

4. …While Others Truly Cherish the Sentimentality

“There’s kids like [Jalen] now who come and buy everything, so I gotta go and figure out how to get it. I go in and just buy stuff for myself. The brand has always been cool, even in 2006, this shit was always known as the dope brand.” – Jimmy, 28

“I like the culture around it… that you have to wake up early to try to get everything, how many people you can meet on the line — it’s really cool. It’s in New York and most times in New York you don’t get a collection of people standing around waiting for one thing because everybody’s so busy.” – Gregory, 17

5. Regardless, Many Customers Aren’t Ashamed to Admit That They’re In It for the Hype

“I thought it was a cool brand — I thought cool people had the brand. I was pretty into Odd Future at the time too; Tyler, the Creator is very cool and he wears Supreme. Then a lot of kids at my middle school and high school wore it too, so it kinda pushed me further into wearing it.” – Edison, 19

“I started shopping at Supreme three and a half years ago. I got into it from my boy. He told me ‘Yo, just stop by, come with us to Supreme.’ We used to camp out from like Monday to Thursday.” – Zane, 25

“Just the limited quantity and how you have to line up and everything.” [In response to “Why do you like Supreme?”] – Max, 14

“Through the vibe.” [In response to “How did you discover Supreme?”]  – Miguel, 13

“This is the second time I went, the first time was two days ago — but I obviously know what it is. Everyone is hyping it up.” – Alexis, 15

“I just find it super trendy and I love the idea of items you can purchase online that are hella limited and once they’re gone they’re gone. It’s really an indescribable feeling, like you’re one of the few that were able to get this.” – Zach, 17

Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.

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