Sarah Hansen
Metro Retail

Streetwear Goes Corporate, Draws Crowds in Williamsburg and SoHo

A group of shoppers stood anxiously in line on a recent October morning, waiting for the doors to open at the new Williamsburg location of the cult streetwear brand Supreme. Just a day after the store opened on October 5, private equity firm The Carlyle Group, which manages $170 million in global assets, announced it would buy a 50 percent stake in the retailer. Although specifics of the deal were not disclosed, sources cited in The Business of Fashion said the deal valued Supreme at more than $1 billion. The company has declined to comment.

In New York City, streetwear storefronts have become major attractions over the last decade. Supreme’s SoHo location, for instance, is known to regularly line up customers across three city blocks. Its exclusive logo T-shirt that was released in celebration of the new opening is now selling on eBay for more than $1000.

SoHo, a neighborhood experiencing high retail vacancy rates and a proliferation of big box stores, has come to rely on exclusive product releases to help generate excitement and exclusivity the same way that limited pop-up stores and events do. Limited streetwear releases, called “drops,” draw visitors from all over the world to SoHo and now Williamsburg. Brands like A Bathing Ape (‘Bape’), Supreme, Palace, Flight Club, and Kith have developed devoted global followings. New product drops generate massive buzz and sell out rapidly both in stores and online, which creates a robust secondhand market on social media and through retail services like Grailed.

One shopper in line at Bape on a recent weekend came to New York from North Carolina especially to shop at the streetwear stores in the neighborhood since he said the brands that he follows are difficult to find at home.

Meanwhile, two fans from Paris waited near the storefront, knowing they likely wouldn’t buy anything but hoping for a glimpse inside. One wore a Bape hoodie that he said was worth about $500.

Jake McCabe, a creative director at an advertising and design firm,also waited outside with his two sons. His eldest, 13, is a fan of the brand and was no stranger to waiting in a long line, having once waited six hours at Kith, another popular streetwear brand, for the release of a merchandise collaboration with Coca Cola. A pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers from that collaboration was recently listed on eBay for $575.

At Supreme, on nearby Lafayette Street, Amy Horton-Newell and her son Josh, 14, waited outside behind a metal barricade. Josh runs his own Instagram account dedicated to selling the merchandise secondhand and was looking to buy anything he could sell later. The mother and son pair from Washington, D.C. made a special trip to the SoHo storefront while visiting family in New Jersey.

“I think he’s got an entrepreneurial spirit, and he comes to these kinds of stores because other kids across the country can’t,” Horton-Newell said. “He buys and then he ships to them.”

As an advertising professional, McCabe said that he is following the streetwear business model closely. Despite SoHo’s well-publicized empty storefronts and vacancy signs, he said, “there’s a line here, there’s a line at Palace, there’s a line at Kith. Kids are waiting six hours and then they’re going in and they’re spending money. I think it’s an amazing thing.”