Tremaine Emory Exits Supreme, Alleging ‘Systematic Racism’


Supreme creative director Tremaine Emory is exiting the streetwear giant after a year and a half in the role over allegations that “systematic racism was at play within the structure of Supreme,” according to a letter of resignation seen by BoF. A representative for Supreme confirmed the departure.

Emory was Supreme’s first-ever creative director and first major appointment since it was acquired by North Face-owner VF Corp in 2020 in a deal that valued the streetwear brand at $2.1 billion. Previously creative decision-making was steered primarily by founder James Jebbia. The news that Emory is leaving the label was first reported by streetwear title Complex, citing anonymous sources.

Emory’s decision to leave Supreme centred around senior management’s “inability to communicate” with him about the “cancellation” of a long-planned fashion collaboration with major Black American artist Arthur Jafa and offer “full visibility for the reasons behind it,” according to Emory’s resignation letter. “This caused me a great amount of distress as well as the belief that systematic racism was at play within the structure of Supreme.” The company said the collaboration hasn’t been cancelled, though it has yet to be released.

“While we take these concerns seriously, we strongly disagree with Tremaine’s characterisation of our company and the handling of the Arthur Jafa project, which has not been cancelled,” Supreme said in a statement. “This was the first time in 30 years where the company brought in a creative director. We are disappointed it did not work out with Tremaine and wish him the best of luck going forward.”

Emory — a creative polymath who worked with Ye and the late Virgil Abloh, and is the founder of Denim Tears — has sought to use what he has called the “cultural vein” of fashion to educate consumers on the Black experience and “drench them in the Black gaze.” Jafa’s work primarily deals with America’s relationship with Blackness and has incorporated graphic depictions of slavery and lynchings.

Supreme, for its part, is no stranger to Black culture: the brand took its name from John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and has issued T-shirts and hoodies featuring everyone from Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon to Malcolm X, though Supreme has, at times, been criticised for capitalising on Black communities.

Emory’s departure comes amid sliding sales at Supreme. The brand generated revenues of $523.1 million in the year ended March 2023, down from $561.5 million the year before, according to VF Corp, which also owns Vans, Timberland and Dickies.

VF Corp’s 2020 acquisition cemented Supreme’s position in fashion’s mainstream, but raised questions about whether it could scale while preserving the counterculture credibility that helped power its rise. In recent years, the brand has also had to contend with the rise of new, cutting-edge streetwear labels.

Supreme started in 1994 as a single store on New York’s Lafayette Street, serving the local skater community, but rapidly became a global fashion cult, earning it the label “the Chanel of streetwear” and, later, private equity backing.

Jebbia proved adept at maintaining a delicate balance between street “cred” and corporate success, leveraging an innovative model rooted in releasing products in tightly controlled drops to create a sense of exclusivity around accessibly-priced products even as sales grew.

“We see no upside limitation on the brand. We see a clear line of sight to a billion dollars,” VF Corp’s then chief financial officer Scott Roe told investors when the acquisition was announced.

Since then, Supreme has opened new outposts in Milan, Berlin, Chicago and Seoul, bringing its retail footprint to 16 stores. Last year, it made a long-awaited first push into China with a shop-in-shop at Dover Street Market’s new Beijing store. But sales have struggled to keep pace with targets as demand for luxury streetwear cools.

Additional reporting by Daniel-Yaw Miller.

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