Why this tee killed it and yours sucks.
Supreme Subcultures: A Close Reading of the Supreme x Hanes Tee
At first glance this plain black Supreme x Hanes t-shirt offers little no visual interest to its potential wearer. However it is this very t-shirt - a collaboration between trusted brand Hanes and holy grail of streetwear brands, Supreme - that can be found on Ebay going for nearly triple it’s original retail price. Though the perfect black tee is hard to come by, it seems hard to justify why this particular version sold out in a matter of hours during Supreme’s S/S 13 launch this past March. Fear not, I’m here to teach you.
The devil is in the details. Though its appearance is quite unassuming - all black save for the small red box logo screen printed in the bottom right corner - this t-shirt offers more to its owner than meets the eye. By partnering with Hanes, Supreme has roped in the very best in terms of basics; founded in 1901 they have had over a century to perfect their practice. Upon touching it you realize that the Hanes’ so-called “Comfort Soft T-shirts – now softer” claim on the back of its packaging is actually quite accurate. After over a century it seems that Hanes has established the supreme (for lack of a better word) equation for creating basic 100% cotton T’s. Though their corporate website offers no explanation as to what this mystical equation entails, I have pulled the ignorance is bliss card and firmly believe that there is no need for anyone to know. Luckily I have had the privilege of wearing this t-shirt and am quite happy to impart my insider’s knowledge onto you– it is extremely comfortable. Just as expected, the cotton is soft to the skin, the cut of the neckline sits happily on the collarbones and the sleeves, though long on me, would hit a man of a medium build in the perfect spot. Based upon original retail numbers, at 28$ for a 3 pack this t-shirt ranks well above its fellow contestants in this price bracket that may include H&M - infamous for shrinkage and speedy deterioration - or Zara - infamous for ill-fit. This collaboration comes out on top, being both pre-shrunk and well drafted.
Though now capitalizing on the reputation it has created, understanding where the root of Supreme’s hype built from is something that remains a mystery to the majority of the fashion industry. While the cut and above-average comfort-level are enough to sell a good black t-shirt, these qualities are not enough to make it sell out. That can only be understood in the context that surrounds Supreme and it’s history. Since James Jebbia launched the first Supreme store in 1994 on Lafayette Street it has developed a cult-like following which, stylist Andrew Richardson proudly explains, “the fashion industry doesn’t understand,”. While it’s selectivity and exclusivity are traits commonly found amongst the elite luxury brands, it is the attitude and authenticity surrounding the brand that separates it from the flock of other streetwear labels. As a store that found it’s beginnings selling hard goods for skateboarding - trucks, wheels and decks. Supreme’s take on defining a style and a business mantra are parallel with the sport it caters to. In Becky Beal’s study, the participants (skateboarders all around age 16) agreed “skateboarding was a lifestyle, as apposed to a separate realm of one’s life … This consistent commitment to subcultural norms … was also an identification of authenticity for skateboarders”. Jebbia understood this and made clothes that fit well while remaining synonymous with that lifestyle explaining that the “18-24 year old kid … wouldn’t wear the [skate] clothing because it would fit badly and was bad quality, and skaters wanted to look good and pick up girls.”
As Beale deduced in her study, being accepted as authentic is crucial within skateboarding culture (and most others). However, receiving the nod proves to be easier said than done. It relies on a combination of factors that escape definition - a je ne sais quoi – a subtle something that permeates your aura reflecting to those around you that you know without having to flaunt it. These values are similarly reflected in the simple Supreme x Hanes tee that goes flying off the shelves every drop. Not overbearing or loud, the all black shirt asserts itself with the small and simple red box logo practically indistinguishable to those who don’t know, but very obvious to those who do.
Upon the ending of Fashion Week, and the subsequent preparation for the release of the collections into the wild (public consumption) I found my appreciation for the industry shifting – once fixated on the behind the scenes, shunning the glamour and glitz, now on the beauty and the art of fashion. However, that’s not to say I got swept up in it all but I did find myself in a humbling moment of reflection – realizing the true roots of my appreciation for fashion and why I decided to study this awful/beautiful industry in the first place. It was for the art of it. Whilst “working” at my internship, I ogled the craftsmanship, the process, the inspiration of the hundreds of collections that had been churned out during Fashion Month (all four weeks together).
However, in the midst of my epiphanic clarity in my barren cubicle in the back of the office I realized that … I may be the only one experiencing this. That who else, but a lowly intern, has time to literally click through every. single. look. from 90% of the collections released that month – probably no one. A heartbreaking thought - if you think about it. Magazines work at least 2 months in advance and websites need to be instantaneous in their coverage. They don’t have time to ogle – they have to filter through, simplify, and condense all of fashion week into bite-sized pieces – preferably 140 characters or less – that we can eat up and shit out for everyone else to see.
I want to address the ways in which the fashion industry has become a self-destructive cannibalizing machine. How this industry, that the majority of us hope to one day call home, is a distorted carnival mirror – a looking glass that is preventing those inside from accurately seeing out, and those outside from accurately seeing in. And lastly how this has affected my personal view and how I hope it will affect yours as well.
Unless you go to TRSM (Ted Rogers School of Management), no offence, I doubt you decided to enter fashion with the sole idea of making money. It is not the easy way to go. So I am reasoning that the majority of us here have at least a minor passion for the art of it all - the beauty, the expression and creativity. However, through excellent marketing in the 21st century we have developed an appetite for mass consumption. As I mentioned before, fashion magazines work at least 2-3 months in advance and fashion blogs have to be updated countless times a day in order to stay relevant and on trend. No matter how many interns you hire (hire? “hire”) it is impossible to stay on top of everything – especially during the important times aka Fashion week (which, by the way I’ve always thought was an incredible example of poor planning WHY SO CLOSE 2GETHER FASHUN? This isn’t Iron Man). So in short, because of our taste for mass consumption and the overall societal ADD that we have developed – we expect things to be at our finger tips faster, so we can consume it faster, therefore the designers are expected to create faster – putting a damper on the whole idea of letting the creative juices flooooww – more like go straight to a main artery and pump.
And in terms of commodification, I think we know once something can be bought & sold – it works out for the 1% and not quite so for the other 99%. With all the hype surrounding Banksy’s presence in NYC he is an excellent example to explain this phenomenon. The more successful an artist becomes – the more expensive their work becomes. Banksy is a graffiti artist, he literally makes his art by devaluing things – though his work can sell for upwards of 100,000$ he berates those who purchase it, accurately explained in a CreativeTime : “Art’s radical social ambitions chafe against its economic realities”. Pretty much saying that once an art becomes profitable, it is hard to still recognize the social power behind it. Another perfect example would be Muiccia Prada’s Spring/Summer 14 collection that was attempt to make a honest and noble feminist statement to inspire women to struggle and fight for equality. However, being at the reigns of a highly successful luxury brand, Muiccia Prada is sitting at a comfortable net worth of 12.4 billion. That’s enough money to muffle her honest attempt to inspire a struggle.
This is where the perspective is skewed. Inside the bubble of the fashion industry the designers, who are still artists themselves, see their work as expressive statements of their creativity. However, think about where the majority of these collections are directed, the upper echelon, the elite – you wouldn’t be showing at the fashion weeks if you were aiming at little old Sydney-Student-Debt because I don’t think Milan airways accept my ‘knowledge’ as a viable form of payment. These artistic statements though accessible through the wonderful world wide web are not truly accessible to all. I can see photos, read reviews, even watch videos (all in real time THNX STYLE.COM) however I don’t get to see the clothes, interact with them, touch them, try them on and consider owning them in any other place than my dreams. I’m sorry Miuccia Prada but your 2100$ handbag will cost me 2100 days of my life to afford. Please understand me that I know there are complexities to these things but don’t let that muddy the main issue here – the industry doesn’t want fashion to be more accessible to us.
That being said I’m still here. I’m still in this program, I’m still working/interning at two huge companies within this industry. And I’m still considering how I will “make it” in fashion. However, that doesn’t mean that I will become complacent. I’m looking for a way to affect the industry and explain it to others.
Now be prepared guys, I’m going to do some major quoting in this next little bit (hard core journalism).
My roommate Alex, brilliant girl by the way, explained that once you understand the system and how it affects you and how it is trying to categorize you then you know how to avoid it. This applies to anything, but in Fashion – I know that it is an elitist’s game and I’m sitting at a disadvantage – like, if Drake “started from the bottom” I’m below sea level. However, I know at its core all fashion is artists and art appreciators – at varying depths and levels of appreciation of course, but nonetheless. So I maintain that since I am both an artist and an art appreciator, I can find a way into this game that doesn’t perpetuate the destructive cyclical nature of this beast. Another magnificent quote pulled from the depths of my twitter feed was by @Zaksmithsabbath who explained that revolutionary artists throughout time have proven to the critics and to the public that they don’t need what you think they need to be artistic. He continues rattling off a list of examples: Picasso didn’t need recognizability, Pollock didn’t need shapes or space … then making his way to Banksy who is “proving the hardest pill to swallow: you don’t need the gallery or the critics.” A perfect example of how understanding the system can allow you to transcend the barriers that it imposes on you. So, I implore to all of you to find your niche and explore all corners. Understand what draws you there but also understand how it works, for you and against you. I wish you all the best of luck.
Brooklyn Bridge & the view from it