Supreme is one of the biggest names in the world, with pretty much everyone having heard of the brand across the globe. Heard of James Jebbia? Perhaps not, but he is the man behind what has undoubtedly become one of the world’s most famous brands. Here we tell you all about Jebbia, his humble upbringing and what you need to know about the mastermind behind Supreme.
Supreme is undoubtedly one of the most hyped brands in the world, but not a lot of people actually know about its origins and how it first began. The man behind it is James Jebbia and he is a pretty big deal. He has essentially set the foundations for streetwear and now has everyone from Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton to the guys at The North Face fighting to work with Supreme.
When did James Jebbia first start Supreme? 1994 was the year ,and Jebbia had no idea that his brand would go on to create such a stir or have as much success at his has done. Supreme has essentially defined what it means to be ‘cool’ and has completely redefined the way that people shop. It’s drops every Thursday each season, and are some of the most hyped events of the week, with people queuing for hours (often over night) to get their hands on the latest goods. Jebbia has essentially created an empire that is based on sell-out products and it doesn’t look as if it is going to change anytime soon.
Jebbia, 54, rarely steps out as the head of the business. He is somewhat elusive and rarely gives interviews, instead letting the brand speak for itself. He started life with humble beginnings. When Jebbia was a teenager he grew up in Crawley, West Sussex and in the eighties he worked at a Duracell factory. Everything he earned went towards clothes. He would spend his spare cash on arranging trips to London to buy clothes and he always went for stores that had a certain elusive trait – much like himself and now his own brand.
Jebbia was born in the United States and his mother is British and his father is American. His father worked in the US Air Force but James and his family eventually moved to Britain when he was just 18 months old, where they settled in Crawley. Aged 19 he ventured back the united States and began living in New York City. “I came over here with $100; it was 1983 and I just ended up staying. New York at that time was very inexpensive and it was very easy to get a job. We lived on Staten Island and you could get cheap rent. It was a good time to be in New York.” he explained to GQ.
Today James’ office in New York is above the old space which housed the shop he worked in when he first arrived. It was a store called Parachute and he has been known to describe it as”futuristic”. It was a step ahead of anything else and it had numerous famous clients, from Michael Jackson to Gary Numan. While this was all great, he wanted more and he decided to leave the shop. It was then that his business goals started to form.
He started a market stall on Broadway and West 4th Street with his then girlfriend, where he sold and made backpacks. From here he went on to open his first store. In 1989 he opened Union on Spring Street in Lower Manhattan. It was here that he started to become happy with his life. Although he was barely working, he was able to pay his rent and do something that he really loved and could invest time in.
Jebbia was trying to get his hands on certain brands to stock at Union, including Stussy. In a chance meeting with Shaun Stussy, the man behind the eponymous brand, Jebbia started to actually work at the Prince Street store. He struck up a strong relationship with Stussy and has described it in the past as the reason he is able to do what he does now. “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without what Shawn has done. He came in and he was really cool and he saw that what we were doing was a little bit new. Shawn was a huge personal influence too, because at the time he was doing such great stuff. He is a unique character and was definitely another mentor for me.”
It was when Shawn Stussy moved on from his brand and sold a large share of it that Jebbia decided to set up Supreme. He liked what was happening in skate wear at the time and thought it was a great time to actually begin his own business properly, honing in on what skaters were doing at the time. It was prior to the Internet and the shop itself was very bare bones. Everybody that Jebbia hired was a skater and he found this to be the key to cementing it as a skate brand. At the time, a lot of young people were getting into skating (this was the Nineties after all) and Supreme became a sort of hangout for them.
The store began to grow in popularity and Jebbia’s decision to stick to using skaters as staff worked in his favour. They were arrogant and cocky, but just the right amount of it. Does James Jebbia skate? No, but what does it even matter. He has created one of the best businesses in the world thanks to his commitment to sticking to a strong aesthetic and vision based on skating, and people love it regardless. Photographers such as Ari Marcopoulous, Kenneth Cappello and Terry Richardson became interested in the brand and what it was doing, and Richardson and Ari’s photography became synonymous with the brand. Today their pictures act as backdrops to the stores and the pair have shot the likes of Lady Gaga and Kate Moss for Supreme campaigns.
James Jebbia is a huge fane of brands like APC, Katharine Hamnett and Jil Sander and under his audience, Supreme now includes tailoring and suiting, as a result of these brands influence on him. In an interview with GQ he explained, “we were one of the first to say, ‘Let’s make a really nice shirt for skaters and let’s make it really well.’ We don’t dumb down for somebody young; we are always trying to do something new.” Unbound by trends, there’s a simple thumping heart at Supreme’s core. The brand remains inspired by moments in time in NY. It’s as simple as that – stimulated by the NY streets, for those streets, and beyond.
Today Supreme is as strong as ever and it is basically all thanks to James Jebbia. He is constantly expanding his brand and Supreme is now a global phenomenon. The Supreme clothing hype is like nothing else and the Supreme community is as big as ever before. Supreme stores have now been opened on Lafayette Street in New York, and in the likes of Tokyo and L.A., to name just a few of the outposts.
Jebbia has stayed true to his word and his main aim when it comes to Supreme is to keep its integrity – and it appears to be working. In an interview with GQ he explained that the vision of Supreme is simple: “we just want to make really great-looking clothes that are well-made, fit well… that you can skate in. It’s just about rebellious youth who are into cool shit.” The Supreme box logo T-shirt is one of the most instantly recognisable pieces of clothing in the world and we reckon its hype will only continue.