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Supreme’s Secret Sauce Is Collective Grief

Misery loves company.

Supreme Box Logo Hoodies on Rack Photo: Supreme

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Supreme’s long-awaited box logo hoodies released last Thursday. Some people were lucky enough to purchase them, many many more were not. The losers congregated online in the Reddit subforum SupremeClothing and all-caps shouted things like “MY F***ING CART WAS F***ING MISSING FOR EIGHT F***ING MINUTES F**K F**K F**K” into the void.

The specific room where people went to lick their wounds is called the “Salt Thread.” It’s convened weekly, usually to moderate reactions in the neighborhood of 79, 195, or even 624 replies. Last week blew previous entries out of the water, accumulating, as of this writing, 2,028 comments. The most upvoted reply reads: “I am but a grain in this pile of salt.”

The comment is factually correct, but also illuminating of the community aspect something like SupremeClothing, and thus Supreme the brand, cultivates. It’s proof of the old adage misery loves company — people will instinctually gather to air out their grievances, or in other cases tweet profanities in hopes of being one of the many retweeted by Four Pins. It creates a community aspect that is most akin to what we see in sports.

Supreme sets up a win or lose proposition for its customers much in the same way a sports team does. Both are a form of tribalism that rarely results in the ultimate victory — after all, only one team can win a championship each season — but psychologists who study this kind of stuff have found “social identification” (a quality borne out of a group with a common purpose) to be a strong reinforcer, according to The Boston Globe. For Supreme fans, it’s buying that rare item; for sports fans, it’s about capturing the elusive title. Supreme fans even use the same language, often referring to missing out on items as “taking an L” — as in taking a loss.

The Boston Globe is uniquely qualified to talk about a community that stays strong during meager times. The 85-year title drought the Boston Red Sox went through only strengthened its community, according to people whose job it is to know about this stuff. Edwart Hirt, a psychology professor at Indiana University who has studied sports fans, tells CTV that losing is just a part of becoming a more loyal fan. Hirt explains that one of the things common among sports fans is the idea that “you earn the benefits of fanship through loyalty.” You see this in Supreme, too. The payoff of landing an item you desperately want is that much sweeter when you’ve missed out so many times before and you know all the odds are against you. Plus, there’s the idea that hardcore fans are seemingly more deserving of rare gear than the hypebeast or the reseller.

The reseller is the ultimate villain in this scheme, the New York Yankees of the streetwear world, if you will. They are the ones using automated (and supposed-to-be-banned) bots that quickly speed through checkout, making purchases impossible for anyone typing in their own info. This group even has an unofficial name for themselves: Manual Boys. It’s another narrative that is so close to what we see in sports. We love teams that do things the quote-unquote right way, we gobble up stories of perseverance, and revere grit and hard work. Just think about the now-legendary bloody sock worn by Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling during the team’s first title run in more than eight decades.

The Manual Boys, similarly, are the underdogs, the ones doing it the right way. “For a team to be lovable, it helps not to be great or too great, but rather to have a chance to win or get lucky,” Lawrence Wenner, a professor at Loyola Marymount University, told The Boston Globe. There’s a reason we called the only-just-redeemed Chicago Cubs the “lovable losers.” For the few lucky customers who did purchase without a bot, it feels like a massive stroke of luck that only makes them feel more gratified.

Whether Supreme knows what it’s doing or not, it’s creating a community around these same tenets. A community that, like sports teams, can take solace in small victories — it’s not unusual for customers to flock toward other, more widely available items after hard-to-purchase ones sell out — and have constant fodder to discuss, diagnose, and commiserate over.