James Jebbia is a British-American who moved to New York in his late teens. He began his career as a child actor, starring as Tommy Watson in the Grange Hill early series.
He also worked at a Duracell factory. But he switched paths when he got inspired to become a fashionista. It started when Jebbia went on shopping trips to London clothing stores. He was amazed at the simplicity of those stores. “The cool shops that had the cool clothes that everyone wore–no luxury brand name or anything,” he says.
Treading the Fashion Line
Jebbia ventured into the fashion world as a sales assistant at Parachute–a skate store in SoHo. It sold women's clothes and home decor items. Next, he moved to a nearby flea market, establishing the Union store.
It sold streetwear and showcased a mix of British clothing brands. Under Jebbia, Union excelled well enough to sell clothes styled by Shawn Stussy–a surfer and skateboarder. It did great at this point. Stussy and Jebbia also ran a store together. After Stussy's retirement, Jebbia branched out to establish his own fashion store.
Building a “Supreme” Skate Shop
Manhattan’s Lafayette street set the perfect scene for Jebbia’s new business expedition. It held a quiet lane of antique stores and had an art-scene connection. Jebbia set up the space in an unconventional way. It had cranky music, videos, and good skateboards. His first set of employees included kids. Some were skateboarders, and others were child actors.
Initially, the Supreme store rolled out T-shirts. After that, it brought cotton hoodies, fitted caps, and skateboard decks into its fashion line. In 2019, Supreme had over 12 stores in diverse locations like London, Tokyo, and Paris.
Jebbia targeted icon figures within the skateboarding and fashion space. He brought in Sage Elsesser, a model and pro skater, to feature in Supreme’s lookbook. The low-key fashion brand has also collaborated with Kim Jones, who served as Louis Vuitton’s menswear artistic director. Jebbia enjoyed partnering with Kim to style skateboards, jackets, shirts, and bandannas.
For Jebbia, Supreme’s collaborative effort is not the conventional high-pitched, promotional marketing. “We don’t over connect ourselves but simply show what we do. It’s just like magazines two decades ago,” Jebbia says.
Jebbia could make a gallery showcasing the list of artists he has collaborated with. This includes Damien Hirst, John Baldessari, Christopher Wool, and Mark Flood. He also collaborated with Comme des Garcons. It’s crystal clear how much Jebbia values brand partnership.
This empowered Supreme to spin out a new line of shirts, tees, and shoes.
The Road Ahead
The VF Corporation, a global footwear company, acquired Supreme for $2.1 billion in 2020. Jebbia continues to oversee the company.