In just eight years, Southern California-based Supra has transformed itself from a skateboard-inspired startup into a $100 million label.
The brand’s shoes have quickly become sought-after styles, thanks to their innovative silhouettes, celebrity fans and distinctive, monochromatic product lines.
While 90 percent of the label’s sales come from skate footwear, founder Angel Cabada doesn’t want to be limited to that market. The ideology he abides by is simple: Supra isn’t a skateboarding brand — it’s a footwear brand born from skate.
To that end, the 42-year-old is setting his sights on the running market. He wants to provide what he feels the market is lacking: trainers with a casual look and a simplified color palette. “I just want something you can wear and be comfortable in without looking like a sore thumb,” Cabada said.
Although the company’s roots are embedded in skate, the designer believes he can keep his loyal customers satisfied by offering an expanded product line. “Skaters like to wear running shoes, they like to wear slippers, they like to wear boots. We only use skateboarding shoes when we skate,” he said.
But venturing into new segments means the company will be going to battle with much bigger rivals.
“We’re competing against Vans, Converse and Adidas — billion-dollar companies — but skate brands are a fraction of our size,” CEO Scott Bailey said. “We’re trying to compete and take SKUs off the wall of both the big and small guys. We’re in this white area in the marketplace when it comes to sneakers.”
As Supra — which derives about 40 percent of its revenues from the U.S. market — makes these new moves, retailers applauded the performance of the core business. “It’s one of our strongest skate brands for men’s and women’s, especially the high-top styles,” said Monique Soulet, senior buyer at DNA Footwear. “We’ve had a very strong season — we’re already placing reorders for spring.”
Soulet added that the monochromatic looks are the strongest sellers within the brand’s overall offering. “We do really well with the black-on-black, the black-with-white-soles — they’re most popular for us.”
Cabada talked to FN about Supra’s expansion into running styles, the pros and cons of celebrity endorsers and why he is concerned about the proliferation of collaborations.
You’ve been specializing in skate since Supra’s inception. Why did you decide that now was the right time to venture into the running-shoe segment?
AC: There’s nothing out there in the running market for me. I’m a monochromatic kind of person: I wear black, I wear white, I wear gray. I don’t wear color. I keep it simple, without crazy graphics and colors. I feel like every trainer out there looks like a NASCAR race car. That’s all you can buy if you want that comfort or that look or that profile of shoe. I’m not promoting the Olympics, I’m not starting a race team tomorrow — I just want our shoes to look good, be light, comfortable and provide the same experience you’d have in any other running shoe — without looking like a Christmas tree.
How do you think Supra will stack up against other running-shoe makers?
AC: I’m not going to compete with the running-focused brands. They’ve got a big head start in the running game, but that doesn’t stop me. My idea is to make something that looks cool for us to wear, something we like. The customers who are loyal, I want to give them something so they can stay within our brand without having to leave. I want to walk into a party and not have people stop and look at my feet from a mile away.
You can go out in running shoes nowadays, but they’re always something loud. If that’s a trend, let it be a trend — but I’m going to be true to myself. You get pulled by trends, you have salespeople breathing down your neck about what’s on the market, what’s not on the market, what you see on the market. Do I get trends brought to me? Yes. People are chirping at me, constantly trying to tell me what to do, and I’m usually trying to fight back because I feel like by the time you’re telling me about something, it’s too late.
Does being anti-trend help you compete more effectively?
AC: I guess you can put it that way. I’m trying to fill a void in that area without having to be competing with [trends]. I’m just trying to make something for myself.
What is the inspiration behind the #alwaysontherun campaign?
AC: Everybody’s on the run from somebody. Your brother might be a mailman who gets chased by dogs. Your friend is running from a bad Tinder date, or a Grinder date — however you want to play. I’m always on the run. I’m always going places, challenging myself. I’ve been chased by security cops throughout my life, being a skateboarder. We tend to always be on the run from somebody. That’s kind of my thought process on what it is.
What other markets do you see Supra venturing into?
AC: Casual footwear is where we’re going. Obviously, skateboarding will always be a part of our heritage. We have a good stake in that business. I’m not going athletic, but inspired by athletic with the simplicity of casual.
How did the Lil Wayne collaboration come about?
AC: It just organically happened. He’s been wearing our shoes forever, and he got involved in skateboarding, felt passionate and wanted to be a part of it. He came to us, and at that moment, it was a great idea, so we went with it. The collaborations that we’ve had happened that way. I try not to go chasing people. I’m sure it meant a lot to certain people and nothing to certain people. Not everyone is on the same playing field when it comes to that kind of stuff. Some people loved it, and some people hated it. That’s the truth.
Do you feel the collaboration market has gotten too saturated?
AC: Collaborations have been abused. People are getting tired of them — they’re not fun anymore. Every time you blink, there’s a collaboration. That doesn’t mean I won’t be doing any more of them, but I’m trying to do them differently. I’m not going back to the same old beaten path.
How important has it been to build relationships with celebrities? Does it help with visibility?
AC: We have a good team and we know a lot of people — we’re out and about. A lot of stylists in both New York and Los Angeles reach out to us for their clients. [Celebrity support] helps and it hurts. [Justin] Bieber wears the hell out of our shoes. Some people love that, and some people hate it.
But you know what? If they’re not talking about you, you ain’t shit. I can’t control who’s going to wear my shoes. You’re going to hear bad and you’re going to hear good, and sometimes it helps you and sometimes it hurts you and your integrity, but you can’t control that stuff. Still, [celebrity placement] is part of our advertising and marketing strategy.
How do you balance your work life and passions?
AC: I feel like my life balance is one big circle. I’m over 40 and not married. My work is more important to me than anything; it’s what drives me. I don’t stop living, I don’t stop playing, I don’t stop working. It’s all intertwined together.
Your love for skateboarding developed when you were growing up in Orange County. Do you still skate frequently?
AC: Not as much as I’d like to. Lately, I’ve been trying to go out on the water and surf a little — that’s my new thing, it’s the bug that bit me. I still push [the skateboard] around, but I’m not out jumping like I used to because it hurts more. Eventually, your body just can’t take it, you’ve worn it out.
There has been speculation that Supra is up for sale. Would you consider outside investment?
AC: [That kind of talk] has been going on for years, but the right amount of dollars hasn’t happened yet. Show me the money.