Los Angelenos don’t usually wait in line. So when I saw folks queuing up outside the private Hollywood social club NeueHouse, I was surprised, perplexed and, being born and bred in LA, a little annoyed to be in a line. “Excuse me, why are we standing here?” I asked a surly Millennial, hiding underneath a tweed flat cap and a piled grandpa cardigan sweater. “Are you serious?” he mumbled, under his breath, indignantly. And then, with a bit more force and a sigh, “It’s the Supra launch party.”
Yes, indeed, it was a line people appeared quite proud to wait in. And, surprisingly, it was a line for Supra, the famed streetwear, skate brand that was founded in Southern California in 2006 by Angel Cabada and a team of pro skateboarders. Pro Chad Muska is rumored to have described Supra as “an underground idea that became a crazy explosion.” And, for a time, it was quite the phenomenon. A series of celebrated shoe releases like Jim Greco’s The Hammer and Muska’s Skytop were accompanied by collaborations with DJ Steve Aoki, Lil Wayne and an eventual takeover by K-Swiss in 2015. What followed, however, was a relatively silent lull.
So the line outside the exclusive NeueHouse and the rooftop deck party it led to, with DJs, a step and repeat, passed hors d’oeuvres and flowing drinks are proof of a loyal Supra base and new fans eagerly eating up the hype, thrilled to have Supra poised, ready and back in action.
Last year, K-Swiss Global Brands named Steve Harden the new president of Supra, overseeing all facets of the business including product, marketing, operations and sales globally. What’s undeniably refreshing about Harden is his candor in combination with his dedication to making the once giant Supra soar again. “On my first day at Supra, I was given a Supra book, a kind of encyclopedia and history of what made Supra Supra,” he says. “It is a virtual library of images that showcased what made Supra special and different. That book is today and is always on the corner of my desk, as a reminder of what Supra can be. In order for retailers to see and feel the brand, they have to feel the brand heat, where consumers are asking for your brand and specific product. This has been a missing ingredient from Supra for the past several years. To best determine where we were as a brand, we reached out to Highsnobiety, Complex and MetricLabs in Europe to listen to our end consumers. We learned more about Supra than we thought we would. The most revealing part was the strength and perception of the Supra brand. Admittedly, our styling and creativity had gone stale. Those changes will be evident starting with our spring 2019 collection with deliveries to our best retailers January 2019.”
Harden understands why the brand was so beloved in the skate and streetwear community and, although frustrated by the nosedive, the name itself has enough love to build momentum once again. “Prior to joining Supra I was able to take a deep dive into skate, fashion and lifestyle brands that compete with Supra. I discovered that the brand was in a funk with respect to design and marketing as in there was next to nothing new and exciting about product, events or things that drive brand awareness, consideration, conversion or loyalty,” Harden says. “However, as I researched, talked with retailers and consumers, I heard over and again about their Supra story, the first time they bought a pair of Supras, why they bought them and how it made them feel. People loved Supra and their corresponding stories were compelling and real. Armed with this data and personal stories from hundreds of consumers that had been raving Supra fans, we went to work reshaping, exploring the archives, meeting with key customers and listening to their stories. It became quickly obvious that what made Supra special in the recent past, drove growth and made people talk about us had gone silent. We had stopped innovating and played it safe for four years.”
That old time Supra energy and risk taking adventurousness feels like it’s very much back in action. “It’s encouraging and exciting to know that every Supra teammate is wide-awake and engaged to help re-create the Supra magic of innovation, edginess and skate-inspired product. Inside Supra, our driving vision is ‘Supra is creating the intersection of Skate and Street Style.’ This is our sweet spot and where consumers and retailers want Supra to be. Playing it safe is not part of our vocabulary today,” Harden says adamantly. “We are doing this with color and materials, unexpected combinations that are crazy, until they’re not. Edgy and outlandish until the right person chooses to wear it, and live it. Don’t worry. We will still have performance products that you can wear every day. And at the same time, we’ll be pushing the boundaries of what is considered safe and doing this every day at Supra.”
Lead designer Brandon Coopman is concentrating on the core skate customer. The style that consumer demands is an added treat. “Everything we create at Supra is intended to be a performance skate shoe first,” says Coopman. “And then we wrap it in fun, expected, and at times unexpected ways to make the consumer see and feel what it means to have street style, in a Supra way.” The pro skater signature series with the likes of Muska, Greco, Spencer Hamilton and Lizard King continues along with inspired retro and forward-thinking creations taken straight from the streets of Tokyo, New York, Paris, Mexico City and, of course, Los Angeles. Giving the kids what they want, Supra promises “Multi-use product, which we internally refer to as all day/all night product,” says Harden. “Something consumers can wear to work, can be dressed up to wear after work. Something that allows our consumer to perform on the board during the day as well as the club at night.”
As the Supra launch party vibe took hold, hipsters, skaters and onlookers alike celebrated the brand’s rebirth, embracing the new Supra catchphrase. “‘Rise & Defy’ is our call to action for everything we do at Supra, and we’re adopting it to use with our athletes, entertainers and influencers,” says Harden, proudly. “Everyone has their own personal ‘Rise & Defy’ story. We want to share ours and our consumers’ ‘Rise & Defy’ moments as we rebuild the Supra brand. ‘Rise & Defy’ as the phoenix rising from the ashes to defy expectations, taking on the challenges of life and defying the odds against all of us. To defy conventional wisdom, buck the trend and dig deeper, doing the right thing for ourselves, our friends, our brand and humanity. Our global summit here at NeueHouse in Hollywood is our coming out celebration, the relaunch of the Supra brand and our ‘Rise & Defy’ tour. At this ‘Rise & Defy’ summit, we have our top professional skaters and iconic entertainers on hand to amplify our message and showcase that Supra is back and ready for fun, starting now!”