Could Kith wrestle the premium streetwear crown from Supreme?
Supreme seems to have found a worthy challenger to its dominance in premium, uber-trendy streetwear, with New York label Kith emerging as an increasingly serious competitor. The first Kith store opened in Manhattan in 2011, and soon became a magnet for ultra-directional shoe aficionados, thanks to the efforts of its founder, Ronnie Fieg, 35, who worked in shoe retailing for 22 years and earned his stripes by designing sneakers.
In the course of five years, the store spawned a small offspring: There are now four Kith stores in the USA, plus a recently inaugurated, kids-only store, as well as shop-in-shops at Bergdorf Goodman and multibrand retailer Hirshleifers. Above all, Kith fostered an eponymous label, with a pared-down streetwear style and a growing reputation. After a spate of collaborations with major streetwear and sport-lifestyle names such as Adidas, Puma and Nike, not to mention Off-White, Timberland and Columbia, Kith has become a household name on the US market. In the last few days, it reached a further milestone, launching collaborations with Italian premium sportswear label Moncler (featuring down-jackets, shoes and a tripartite effort between Kith, Moncler and Asics, out this week) and with Japanese label Nonnative, renowned for its premium military style. In other words, Kith is going luxe, and doing it globally.
A path not dissimilar from that followed by Supreme, which led the red-logoed New York label to become a must-have in just a few years. Supreme too launched as a store in 1994, on Lafayette Street, initially attracting streetwear brands and sneaker specialists. It soon became a sought-after partner thanks to its edgy vibe, as founder James Jebbia, skilful in surrounding himself with talented designers and marketers, began to sign capsule collections first with ready-to-wear and then with luxury labels. For them, Supreme's signature traits - the giant logo, quirky choice of materials and in-your-face colours - became an alluring passport into streetwear.
The pinnacle for Supreme was the launch of a line with Louis Vuitton in early 2017. The list of brands collaborating with Supreme is still growing, and the label's reputation and potential whetted the appetite of several investment funds. It was eventually US fund Carlyle which made a move, reportedly buying 50% of the brand, valuing it at over €1 billion.
Is this going too far? The Thursday queues waiting for new product launches outside Supreme stores are still there. But, after so many different collaborations and with such a powerful shareholder on board, doesn't the label risk losing its street aura?
Kith may stand to gain from such a backlash. Ronnie Fieg's reputation and his strong connections with the sector's signature influencers and media, for example Hypebeast and Highsnobiety, have boosted his standing with Millennials and the generations that follow. Besides, the straightforward, pared-down style of Kith's collections, the polar opposite from Supreme's, is a powerful argument for attracting luxury labels. As an independent label, Kith must still prove its international worth however.
Despite toeing foreign waters with a pop-up store with Puma in Paris in 2014, or a temporary initiative in Tokyo this summer, Kith's retail experience is exclusively US-based. Supreme on the other hand is present in the USA, but also in Europe and Asia, with 11 stores. In the same segment, Japanese label Bape, owned by Hong Kong group IT, is also going places. It already operates 33 stores worldwide and recently opened one in Paris, with more developments on the cards. Clearly, Bape is another pretender for the premium streetwear crown.
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