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?

Adam Bluestein
Published in
22 min readMar 3, 2021


Illustration by James Clapham for Marker

In May 2020, confronting a raging pandemic, fierce competition from a slew of new entrants in the alternative-beverage category, and a limited marketing budget to support the launch of three new drink flavors, Ben Witte, CEO and founder of Recess, a maker of CBD-infused sparkling water, did what the head of any up-and-coming direct-to-consumer brand might: He dropped a merch line.

Featuring a “last two brain cells” hoodie ($65), a “cool your horses” T-shirt ($35), an orange “on recess” beanie, and a pair of $18 “around the block” socks (“for going nowhere in particular”), the line was designed, says Witte, with Instagram and Gen Z “creatives” in mind, a way to diffuse the brand’s pastel-minimalist aesthetic and the “tongue-in-cheek social commentary on millennial existence” on social media and beyond. Generating hundreds of tagged stories and posts a month, the merch did exactly what the brand had intended: For a CBD company operating in an advertising gray area, hoodies and beanies presented a way to cut through regulation and a saturated social media landscape and broadcast the brand’s chillness on Insta. Oh, and they managed to pull off the seemingly absurd — selling socks at $18 a pop with the company’s name splashed on it.

Remember when companies would practically beg you to front their branded gear? Show up at a conference and you’d come home loaded with swag that ended up padding the back of your closet. Open a bank account and you’d be prized with a branded blanket for the dog to sit on in the backseat. But now, it seems, the tables have turned, and in a bizarre twist in the ever-evolving power dynamic between brands and consumers, people are now not only willing to adorn themselves in branded merch, they actually go to great lengths to seek it out — and want to pay for it. Dunkin’ Donuts joggers and McDonald’s chicken nugget pillows are selling out within hours. Nerdy fintechs are hawking brand-adjacent wares — Acorn sells logo hats and tees, Betterment’s cheeky investing-themed tote bags have sold out, and in December, Square’s digital wallet startup, Cash App, dropped a