Supreme is tightening its global grip.
The skate brand that spawned hordes of imitators and copycats as it staked out its own edgy-cool corner of the luxury world has secured its trademark in China.
The impact appears to have been immediate.
The Chinese Trademark Office officially gave the nod to the mark on Jan. 21, according to public documents. That seems to have led quickly to at least some enforcement actions in the country, including the shuttering of the widely publicized Supreme shop in Shanghai that was set up by another company, as detailed in local media. The trademark covers Supreme-branded shoes, clothing, shirts, belts, jackets, underwear, T-shirts, pants, bandanas and hats.
China was the key piece of Supreme’s global trademark puzzle. It is also the fastest-growing luxury market in the world and right now one of the few that is open while people in the West focus on social distancing.
Supreme can benefit from its own hipness around the world with 251 trademark registrations in 106 jurisdictions, including the U.S., Italy, Spain, Britain, France, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, Russia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, according to one tally.
There is no indication that the company — famously quiet and famously restrained in its growth moves — is going to go on an expansion tear. But solidifying the legal position of its trademark globally will help as the brand taps into new markets and seeks to get the genuine article into the hands of consumers around the world.
Already a powerhouse in popular culture, Supreme is set up to capitalize on that recognition.
The New York-based brand, which was founded by the British-raised James Jebbia in 1994, built street cred with the skate community before launching directly into the style zeitgeist as the most prominent of the suddenly fashionable streetwear brands.
Shortly after the company’s ultra-successful 2017 collaboration with Louis Vuitton, private equity giant Carlyle snatched up a 50 percent stake in the business for $500 million.
At the time, the business was said to be very profitable and very focused, with less than a dozen stores and a web site specializing in drops that sold out almost immediately, supporting a very active secondary market.
And the company has stuck to its knitting and remained deliberate, pushing only purposefully into new markets, such as San Francisco in October. Supreme has stores in Paris, London, Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Japan, where it has several locations.
But given the brand’s knack for collaborations — which extend to Levi’s, Vans, Rimowa and many more — and generating buzz, copycat competitors flourished globally.
Supreme, for instance, has waged a high-profile and extended legal battle with Supreme Italia, which operated the store in Shanghai and sought to register the trademark in some countries for itself. But there have been many others looking to take advantage of Supreme’s cache around the world.
A WWD visit to Seoul last year turned up “Supreme” branded T-shirts and fanny packs that went for around 10,000 Korean won, or $10, while suitcases were $50. Almost any product bearing the brand — from packing tape to shower shoes to cigarette holders — could be had in the city’s open markets and boutiques.
And research by online marketing firm SEMRush comparing searches for fake or replica fashion brands and the genuine article found Supreme on top for the third time in a row last year.
Supreme took the lead spot in copycat searches in the U.S. and globally, according to SEMRush.
But by tightening legal control of its brand around the world, Supreme will be better able to fight back. In addition to buttoning up its trademark in China — a six-year effort — the brand has been solidifying its position elsewhere as well.
In November, the brand won an appeal with the European Union’s Intellectual Property Office, which recognized Supreme’s brand as distinct and eligible to pursue an EU trademark. The court ruled: “It has been widely demonstrated that the sign is used as a brand” and in some cases seen as “‘cult’ in the field of streetwear.”
That tees up the company to secure its trademark across the region.
Complete victory over fakes does seem to be impossible in fashion — hot brands are always copied no matter how much they fight it. But now Supreme, Chinese trademark in hand, is much better set up to solidify its position in the global market.