By now you’ll probably have heard about the furore that kicked off a fortnight ago between Morrissey and self-consciously cool skateboarding and streetwear brand, Supreme.
Each Supreme season launches with a celeb shot in one of the brand’s box logo tees. On the heels of the likes of Raekwon and Lou Reed came Morrissey, whose image – shot by Terry Richardson – popped up on posters around New York and London. Everyone presumed that the collaboration was going swimmingly and dug out their camping chairs. But Morrissey being Morrissey, things weren’t as simple as they looked.
The singer, who’s so vegan he’s previously cancelled shows in venues that serve meat, posted a missive online about how he’d modelled for Supreme and then regretted it, issuing the brand with a legal caution and accusing them of collaborating with the “beef sandwich pharoah”, aka hamburger chain White Castle.
Tit-for-tat ensued with each accusing the other of double standards and the press duly wrote up the fracas. Was the campaign pulled? No. But the whole thing generated column inches ahead of the brand’s Spring/Summer 2016 collection launch.
Chaos reigned supreme in London last week, where security issues and overcrowding meant that hundreds of customers left disappointed, and empty-handed, after queuing for hours outside Supreme’s Soho store. The post-cop devastation, with discarded tents and chairs littering Soho, looked more like the Calais Jungle than a orgy of consumerism.
Yesterday saw the first online drop of the season. Despite customers being a lot warmer and drier than they were last week, many were left equally disappointed after the now commonplace use of bot programs to buy Supreme. A bot allows the user to set a search term and once it’s been turned on, refreshes the page looking for that product and checking out many times faster than any human would be able to.
I managed to manually buy the one item that I was after, but after navigating back to the main page, a leisurely 60 seconds after putting the purchase through, I saw that those pieces of code had ravaged the store like digital locusts. Almost the entire product line had sold out. In all colours. And sizes.
I first started to think that this practice was becoming ridiculous when I stumbled across a Reddit streetwear discussion in the off-season that taught users to write their own bot in order to quickly and efficiently buy limited releases like Supreme and Yeezys online. Depressing. Although say what you like about Kanye, at least he’s inadvertently teaching kids to code.
It’s difficult to see the situation improving. When you look at the cultural cachet that Supreme holds, then toss in the publicity machine that is Steven Patrick Morrissey, the result is a release whereby decisions that involve spending significant amounts of money have to be made in seconds. And hypebeasts aren’t fighter pilots.
Reading through forum threads and Facebook discussion groups minutes after the drop is a sea of disappointment – kids who missed out on picking up the one piece that they could afford, or people bemoaning the fact that popular items that they had their eye on were snapped up by savvy, bot-equipped resellers, who instantly put them on Instagram, Grailed or eBay at a significant mark-up.
So what can be done? Supreme did make a small inroad on this drop by creating product page urls with a series of random letters and numbers. This stops low-level bots that simply crawl for set URLs, but did nothing to stop slightly more advanced programs that simply search for keyword combinations on the site.
A step towards introducing a fairer system might be a feature whereby once you’ve got an item into your cart, you’ve got a few minutes to check out until it’s released to another customer. Under Supreme’s current system, buyers can be ‘cart-jacked’; it looks like they’re about to checkout, but someone else has actually purchased the item while they were busy filling in their credit card details.
Supreme is clearly aware that it’s an issue, but apart from some customers being pissed off, it’s not really going to hurt the brand and therefore there’s very little incentive for it to put in measures to prevent it. For a niche brand built off hype, one that made headlines in mainstream media due to the Morrissey spat, this is all fuel for the fire.
Perhaps the only thing to end this biannual bunfight are the authorities. Locals are unsurprisingly not on board with teenagers fighting in the street over hoodies – rumours are circulating that, after the issues around the most recent drop, Supreme’s London store risks closure down unless the brand can work out a way to manage its queue, without it looking like the pissed-up, punched-up line for a Friday night cab rank.
But ultimately, it’s the fans that suffer. The current cycle is set up to benefit resellers who are prepared to code (or pay) for advanced bot programs to do the hard work for them. They then pass these items onto a well-established reselling market, where buyers are perfectly willing to pay over the odds for an item that is no longer available at the original retail price.
Supreme sells out all its product, meaning very little wasted inventory, and retains its desirability due to the dedication, speed and luck required to buy their products. The brand released a T-shirt last summer emblazoned with the motto: “fuck you we do what we want”. It’s very difficult to see that changing anytime soon.