By Kellie Ell
with contributions from Nyima Pratten
 on March 14, 2019
Fake Supreme products flood the streets of Seoul.

The Supreme name is traveling further than its owners would like.

The streetwear brand, with its red box logo, has become synonymous with cool — and hard to find.

Consumers routinely wait in lines for hours during a drop to get first dibs at new merchandise. But the supplies don’t last long. And those who do get into stores often buy products only to resell them for double or triple the price to Supreme fans who can’t make it to one of the retailer’s locations in New York City, Los Angeles, London, Paris or Japan.  

But Supreme’s fans are a global bunch. And some are finding alternative ways to get their fix.

Budget savvy Supreme fans in South Korea, for instance, head to the Myeongdong and Hongdae districts in Seoul to get their fix. Except the products aren’t real and the prices are noticeably lower.

Fake Supreme products are easy to find in Seoul.  Kellie Ell / WWD

In Seoul, Supreme-branded T-shirts and fanny packs are priced around 10,000 Korean won, or $10. Canvas bags are just a few dollars. Suitcases and larger bags run up to $50. Almost any Supreme-branded product — from Supreme packaging tape to shower shoes to cigarette holders — can be found in open markets and boutique along the city’s winding streets.  

Young South Koreans walk the streets with the oversize fanny packs and hoodies in tow. 

A store full of fake Supreme products overflow into the streets of Seoul.  Kellie Ell / WWD

Meanwhile, authentic Supreme bags are priced around $158, fanny packs, $88, and baseball caps, $48. On resell sites like StockX, the prices might be double or triple.

There are numerous stores in Seoul selling Supreme-branded products on the cheap, but those stores have various names posted on the outside. Many of them sell other products in addition to Supreme gear.

Inside, store clerks are often the first to point out that the products are not real.

For Supreme, copycats are a fact of life around the world — and the result of its success. “Supreme Italia,” for instance, recently opened up a shop in Shanghai. The two companies are currently embroiled in a legal battle over trademark rights. 

The new Supreme Italia opened in Shanghai this month.  Nyima Pratten / WWD

According to international trademark laws, applicants seeking trademark protection have to apply separately in different countries, since each has its own rules regarding trademark rights. Supreme Italia beat the original Supreme to the draw when filing for trademark registration with different international bodies, and the two labels have been duking it out in courts around the world ever since.

Last week, images of the Supreme Italia Shanghai store launch party were shared locally on social media, and picked up by streetwear publication, Hypebeast. Supreme’s legal counsel have since contacted Hypebeast to clarify that, “The retail store invited bloggers to visit last week — footage of the people queuing outside are paid to look like customers.” They also claim that the store was not officially open when the launch party photos were taken.

“The products inside, including the apparent Rimowa collaborative pieces previewed, are not legally allowed to be sold, as Supreme Italia does not have a trademark registration in China,” the legal counsel told Hypebeast. The legal counsel also added that “Supreme is working with local law enforcement in China to enforce its rights to its trademarks.”

Now open, Supreme Italia’s Shanghai store is in the upmarket Huangpu area of the city, nestled in between international high-street favorites such as Uniqlo, MAC and Nike.

Although the building spans multiple stories, when WWD visited the Supreme Italia store in Shanghai, it still seemed to be half finished. A store assistant did not allow WWD to ascend the staircase to the second story, as there was supposedly nothing on the next floor. The interior looked as though it had been finished in haste, and had the feel of a locally run independent store, rather than a global retailer. In the middle of the small store, was an animal cage covered by a flattened cardboard box, which apparently housed a cat.

In the store, Supreme logo T-shirts were retailing for around 500 renminbi, or $75. When asked if the store was the “real” Supreme brand, the store assistant answered that it was, “Italia.” Although seemingly prepared for a barrage of customers, with a Supreme branded-queue control barrier outside, when WWD visited this week, the store was completely empty, apart from store employees. This was in stark contrast to the opening of popular South Korean sunglasses brand, Gentle Monster, which is situated opposite the Supreme Italia store and regularly saw lengthy queues of Chinese customers waiting outside during its launch.

Supreme declined to comment on its battle against copycats. 

Fake Supreme products at a store in Seoul.  Kellie Ell / WWD

The original Supreme is much more polished than the copycats — and much more tight-lipped. The brand was founded in 1994 by James Jebbia, who built a skate shop into a luxury powerhouse that caught the attention of private equity firm Carlyle, which acquired a 50 percent stake in the firm for $500 million in 2017.