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VF Corporation Acquires Supreme For $2 Billion


Supreme is a fashion brand. People wait in line for hours hoping to score the latest T-shirt or jacket. Some spend hundreds on the secondary market for the hoodie that got away. Well, now the underdog, New York City skate and streetwear shop, has sold for $2 billion to the VF Corporation. NPR's Andrew Limbong reports on how the company will try to stay cool as it sizes up.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Superfan Brandon Danowsky's first Supreme purchase was a beanie with a patch of an eagle on it flying over some mountains.

BRANDON DANOWSKY: And it says Supreme on the top, real subdued, real subtle, and then, for God and country.

LIMBONG: It was patriotic but with the winking irony the brand is known for.

DANOWSKY: It caught my eye, and I had to have it.

LIMBONG: Danowsky's been fascinated by the brand's graphic designs for over a decade now. He still checks out the Supreme website every time there's a drop and picks up stuff that catches his eye if it's available. So when Danowsky heard about Supreme's acquisition by VF, the parent company, to mass-produce brands like Vans, Jansport, The North Face and more, he was concerned.

DANOWSKY: You never want something you like to be diluted in value, something that feels exclusive. Nobody wants that.

LIMBONG: And while that's been a worry shared by hypebeasts and streetwear enthusiasts all over the Internet, it's a fear that's unfounded, says Jian DeLeon, men's fashion editorial director at Nordstrom.

JIAN DELEON: The thing that people are missing about Supreme is that it is like the original billion-dollar DTC Unicorn.

LIMBONG: DTC - direct to consumer, like your Everlanes or your Bonobos; companies that, quote-unquote, "disrupted the fashion marketplace" - except Supreme has been around since 1994. DeLeon says they've long cultivated the groundwork for a cult following by making, say, just 300 of a thing knowing they could sell 500. And DeLeon says VF is unlikely to mess with that so-called scarcity strategy.

DELEON: Well, I think what VF has done - and the way that I've seen how they treat other brands, which is atypical of corporations, is they're sort of stewards of the brands that they carry.

LIMBONG: For example, The North Face has mass appeal but still makes technical gear if you need to climb a mountain. Vans still make shoes actual skateboarders wear. Both brands, by the way, have collaborated with Supreme in the past. Jessica Ramirez, who's a retail research analyst at Jane Hali and Associates, says Supreme's model of scarcity has been an advantage. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated that as it's thrown a wrench into the supply chains of bigger brands.

JESSICA RAMIREZ: They had to stop and figure out what they were going to do with all their inventory. Could they put it back? Could they put it forward and kind of really put a halt to it? - where Supreme - obviously, because it's a drop model, it's much smaller. There's not that much inventory.

LIMBONG: The brand's philosophy extends to their physical spaces, too. Supreme has just 12 stores worldwide. VF brings a global infrastructure. Should the brand's founder James Jebbia choose to grow, however slowly, into, say, China - Ramirez says that's now a little easier. As for Danowsky, he'll stick with the brand as long as it maintains its aesthetics and its quirky collaborations.

DANOWSKY: On a big grand scale, they're curating culture in a way. I want to continue to see that.

LIMBONG: Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong
Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.