Fashion

Streetwear brand Supreme to be sold to Timberland owner VF for $2.1bn


Supreme, the cult streetwear brand, is being sold to VF Corporation, the Denver-based parent company of Vans, The North Face and Timberland, in a deal valued at $2.1bn.

Founded by James Jebbia, a UK-raised child actor turned skateboarder who created the brand at a small downtown New York store in 1989, Supreme has been at the forefront of a streetwear revolution that, in terms of marketing and exclusivity, has turned the fashion industry on its head.

Sometimes called “the Chanel of streetwear”, Supreme – named for John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme – has maintained its appeal with tightly controlled product releases, known as “drops”, that often have fans queueing around the block at its 12 global locations.

The brand has maintained its status among youth counter-culture with limited edition collaborations with contemporary artists, actors and musicians – among them Lou Reed and Chloe Sevigny, who both served as brand ambassadors, Kaws, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami and Richard Prince, as well as bands including the Clash and the Misfits.

Alongside clothing and accessories, Supreme has also released Supreme calendars, shot by photographers including the Kids director Larry Clark, and skateboard decks featuring the work of New York art stars such as Jeff Koons and Nate Lowman.

According to VF, Supreme currently generates more than $500m in annual revenues, up from around $200m in 2017. According to VF, more than 60% of Supreme’s revenue comes from online orders. The company said it expects revenues to grow 8-10% over the next three years.

VF’s chief executive, Steve Rendle, said the company would take a hands-off approach to managing Supreme. “We are not coming in to make changes. We’re here to support and enable … a high performing business,” he said.

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VF said that Jebbia and the senior leadership team will stay on at the company.

In a note to clients, Wells Fargo Securities said Supreme “needs to be careful about driving growth without losing the brand’s ‘secret sauce’.”

Supreme’s resale market suggests that is yet to happen: its T-shirts and hoodies often sell out immediately and can later be found being resold for multiples of their purchase price. In the past, Jebbia has sought to reassure fans that expansion does not necessarily mean Supreme is going mass market.

“I think a lot of people still want us to be this exclusive, precious brand, but we’re not at all,” said Jebbia told Business of Fashion in a rare interview when Supreme opened a store in Paris in 2016.

“We’re a brand for the people,” he added. “I’m not really concerned if people have this purist view of the New York Supreme thing,” he added. “If they think opening our shop in Paris is going to harm our brand, then we can’t really be that strong of a brand.”

The deal also marks an end to Supreme’s relationship with the Carlyle Group, which acquired a majority stake in the brand for a reported $500m in 2017 that valued it at $1bn.

With Carlyle’s backing, Supreme entered into a tie-up with names like Levis and Louis Vuitton.

“In the trends we see today, in this Covid environment of casualization and consumers really looking to and engaging with authentic brands with great meaning, that positions Supreme to be very, very strong,” VF’s Rendle added in a call with investors.

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But there remains the question whether Supreme can continue to grow as fast as investors would like and maintain its street appeal.

“We see no upside limitation on the brand. We see a clear line of sight to a billion dollars,” said VF’s financial officer, Scott Roe. “Could it be bigger over time? Sure. But we’re also not trying to get ahead of ourselves. This very careful growth has … worked really well for the brand, and we’re not trying to push it.”



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