How Supreme-Style Merch Drops Took Over Corporate America

Why are massive brands and startups selling Tesla shorts, McDonald’s chicken nugget pillows, and Stouffer’s hoodies?

Illustration by James Clapham for Marker

The same boredom economy that has driven skyrocketing sales of cannabis, baking supplies, gardening gear, Etsy crafts, and meme stocks also gave us the KFC-branded Crocs that someone just bought on StockX for $100.

The most influential player in the modern art of merch, Supreme introduced a new paradigm: If your brand is strong enough, there’s really nothing you can’t slap a logo on and sell at a premium with the aura of exclusivity.

Arizona also understood earlier than most that if there was a gateway drug to creating brand hypebeasts, it’s sneakers.

Last November, to mark the launch of its new Ritz Cheese Crispers, Ritz unveiled a pair of custom “crunch-activated” high-tops, which put on a multicolored light and smoke show when the wearer dances.

But it was the flawlessly executed Travis Scott meal-and-merch drop this fall that proved McDonald’s had thoroughly studied the Supreme playbook — breaking through pandemic numbness and getting young customers hyped on the chain.

When brands as disparate and unlikely as Stouffer’s and Ben & Jerry’s are hijacking the hype model of streetwear brands, it’s reasonable to wonder when customers will get bored by an increasingly crude formula.

I write about business, science, and things that people do for fun. Work published in Fast Company, Inc., Men’s Journal, Proto, Marker. Vermonter by choice.