Brents Sportswear Supreme Sample Archive Sale
- Words Grailed Team
- Date December 04, 2017
It’s not a secret that Supreme is one of the most valuable labels in streetwear (and, for that matter, clothing in general). Valuations from the Carlyle Group aside, the brand’s ability to expand from branded skater-centric gear into a full on lifestyle and apparel giant is a feat unto itself, and frankly, damn near unparalleled. Of course, to create its staggeringly diverse roster of garments, the Supreme team relies on a select group of suppliers and outfitters to bring its designs to life. One of Supreme’s earliest manufacturing partners—Brents Sportswear Inc.—has stepped into the spotlight as interest around the label and its history has swelled. But even with all the hype that swirls around Supreme, back during the brand’s early years, working with the now-infamous bogo was hardly something to brag about.
“Brents was in the trenches making goods for Supreme, there was not notoriety in the early-to-mid-‘90s being a manufacturer for Supreme. It was just hard work,” notes Brents co-owner Aaron Brents.
However it was Brents combination of good taste, high quality and good luck that aligned them with Supreme founder James Jebbia. It was Jebbia, following a chance meeting in 1993 at New York’s Stussy store (which Jebbia was managing at the time) who would go on to tap Brents’ expertise in crafting US-made vintage reproductions and military surplus-style garments for his then-young brand. Brents’ ability to create items to Jebbia’s strict and exacting standards made for a fruitful, years-long relationship, ultimately ensuring that the humble Arkasas-based sportswear company would secure a spot in the history of one our culture’s most iconic companies.
To shine a light on some of Brents’ earliest productions for Supreme, Grailed is teaming with Brents Sports Inc. to offer up some rare samples and ‘90s era Supreme. For more on Brents Sportswear Inc. and its history with Supreme, read our interview with the company down below.
Can you break down how we get to the beginning of Brents Sportswear Inc.?
Our founder Stephen Brents began his career at Shreveport Garment Manufacturers [in Shreveport, Louisiana] in 1973, working on the sewing floor doing time and motion study for 2 years. For context, Shreveport Garment had 3 sewing factories in Shreveport and made core workwear under the Red-White-Blue Brand. [This label] competed with Dickie’s, Wall’s and Key Industries. The big break came when Ray Morris, owner of Shreveport Garment, took Stephen under his wing and taught him the interworkings of how to run an apparel manufacturing business. He ultimately came to run the Ragtime Division. Ragtime was the originator of the super low rise 3 snap closure 30 inch bell bottoms or “elephant ear” bell bottom. Ray Morris sold Shreveport Garment to Key Industries in 1979. Eventually Stephen moved to Dallas and partnered with Burk Manufacturing and created the Gung Ho brand of military, outdoor and hunting apparel that same year. Stephen left Gung Ho in 1983 to start Steve Brents Company, Inc.; he opened a sewing factory in Shreveport making pants and shirts and contracted out the items we did not or could not make in house. They made and sold primarily camouflage and hunting related apparel. The brand sold to Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shop, JCPenney, Academy Sporting Goods, Banana Republic and a ton of Mom and Pop’s. In 1998 Buck Knives acquired Steve Brents Company, Inc. and Stephen moved to La Jolla, California to acclimate Buck into the apparel business. In 1999 he bought Surf Wear Manufacturing in San Diego, California. The proprietary brand was Marine Biology. Surf Wear Mfg. had cut and sew, screen printing and embroidery capabilities all under one roof. This company did work for Gordon and Smith, Rusty’s, Surfer’s Alliance, Billabong, Rip Curl, Catchit, Hang Ten and a handful of lesser known brands. Stephen sold Surf Wear Mfg. after two years because his non-compete with Buck Knives had expired and wanted to get back to my roots in workwear, outdoor wear and hunting apparel.
Stephen started Camco Manufacturing in 1990 with Fred and Bruce Smith. Fred and Bruce had sewing facilities in Magnolia, Hope, and Glenwood, Arkansas. While showing at the SHOT Show (Shooter’s Hunters and Outdoor Trade Show) Stephen met, Mr. Sadichi, the owner of Slap Shot, Tokyo, Japan. Slap Shot bought a pheasant hunting pant, as a fashion item. The item was a hit and the Japanese business was off to the races. Shortly thereafter, Yuki Matsuda of Meg Company (which oversees Yuketen and Monitaly) approached the comapny about making USA military spec flight jackets and various other products under the Camco label, made in USA. That became, in a very short time, a huge business. The partners at Camco did not feel comfortable making goods for Japan however, and Stepehn sold his interest in Camco to them. He launched Brents Sportswear, Inc. in 1993 and moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas and shifted branding from Camco to Brents. Brents became extremely popular in Japan.
Ok, so we’re in 1993 and Brents is in full-effect. What did the company look like at that time?
Excluding sewing machine operators, cutting room and shipping we were pretty lean. We had a product development dept., sourcing specialist, QC dept that went to contractors and oversaw our in house production, a designer, an accountant and general office/backroom support; 11-12 professionals and 3-4 general office personnel. (14 or 15 people). We always hired interns from the student body of the University of Arkansas from Japan, France, Germany, Italy China, Sir Lanka, etc, to teach them the business. [In turn they] helped us with translation, culture and customs within the countries we were involved in doing business.
How did your business intertwine with the then-fledgling Supreme?
Stephen’s first conversation with James was at the Stussy Store in SoHo. That was in 1993. James was running the Stussy SoHo Shop and launching Supreme. We actually went in to Stussy looking to do business with them. We needed more volume, [the] business [cycle] ebbs and flows and we needed to fill in some holes. James and Stephen hit it off. He appreciated the look, feel, fabric and construction. He talked about Supreme and that he would like to make some of the items we showed him. (We did end up making a denim western snap shirts for Stussy too).
Considering that Jebbia was still tied up with Stussy, you’d have to imagine that Supreme was still pretty small at that time. Why did you decide to work with him?
No, we did not know anything about Supreme or James. We decided to work with Supreme because we could take the garments we were currently running and private label them. It added to our production without having to upset the apple cart. It helped us keep the sewing unit balanced and running full time.
What else and who else were you producing for at that point?
In 1993 we were mostly making Brents for export to Japan and Europe. Modern Amusement did not come on board until later,1997-1998. We were working with MilkCrate, Phat Farm and Taylor Made Golf Apparel. It’s hard to recall all of them—we were really busy.
Considering who you were already working for, were you worried about building garments for and working with such an unknown label?
There were quantity negotiations with James, absolutely. James knew what he wanted and was willing to pay a premium, in the beginning, to get the quality and units Supreme required. Notoriety did not and does not play into it—it’s credibility, financial strength and the integrity of the brand that matters. Most of our clients were bigger than Supreme when started with them.
In those early days, what were you producing for Supreme initially?
We did a lot of cargo pants and shorts, painter pants and shorts, military style shirts, shirt jackets and a ton of sweats. The fabrics were, in many cases, military spec cotton and poly cotton rip stops, herringbone twill, fine line twills in 9 ounce and 7.5 ounce. In the sweats we used combed cotton 12 ounce goods. The sweats were and are almost indestructible. Constructed with four needle-flat lock cover stitch. Brents reproduced the vintage Champion Sweats to the stitch. They are beautiful garments.
So on a “day-to-day” perspective? What was it like to work with Jebbia and Supreme? Any standout successes or mishaps?
It was intense. Deadlines. Supreme has always worked the same model. On the day the item was scheduled to hit we had to make sure we made our deliveries on time and it was in their warehouse. The conversations with James were always lively and challenging. He was totally hands on and electric.
The process was [rigorous]. Supreme submitted the style [they wanted to produce] along with a sample, or picked a style from our library or current line. We’d make a sample with their label and packaging and submit it for approval. If necessary, we’d make whatever corrections or adjustments requested, and resubmit as a “preproduction” sample. Finally, we’d send TOP (top of production samples) off the sewing floor to Supreme and if anything was off kilter we’d correct it. I met with James many times in NYC and in Vegas at various shows. We talked on the phone almost daily. James did not come to our factory.
Once we made 10,000 sweat shirts that did not spec out, they were too short after wash. We had to remake those. That was a tough one. A tense moment. When Supreme requested a specific item we had the option to accept or reject it. Therefore, we did not make samples or spend time in product development on something that was out our wheelhouse.
Do you still work with Supreme today? If not, how did the relationship come to a close? Has the relationship been successful overall?
We amicably ended the relationship in 2002. We made goods for Supreme from 1993 to 2002. Yes, Brents made money with Supreme, but price was very seldom an issue—it was a good relationship. Supreme is a retailer, Brents a manufacturer. It was not rocket science.
Can you give us a little context on the pieces you’ve decided to release? I assume these are from Brents' own production archive.
The samples are from Brents archives. When Brents made samples for Supreme they’d keep one for reference and Supreme was not charged for the Brents reference sample. Brents owns them and, in many instances, the items are duplicates of Brents’ models.
Seeing how big (and in some ways, notorious) Supreme has become since your time working with them, how do you feel about the brand in its current form?
It has become a monument, one that we respect; it takes persistence, dedication and a vision to get where they are today. We didn’t have a clue Supreme would be as big and famous as they are today—you’d have to have had a crystal ball to look into [Supreme’s] future. James has built a world-class brand.
As famous as Supreme is now, Brents is clearly a world-class brand of its own. What should people take away from these garments?
That is a tough one. Without being old fashioned, Brents does the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Every customer is our best customer.