It is an oft-quoted fact that e-commerce is overtaking traditional brick-and-mortar retail. With 67% of Millennials and 56% of Gen X-ers preferring to shop online (according to bigcommerce.com), the importance of brands' digital presence is hardly a secret. In the last few years traditional luxury powerhouses such as Gucci, Balenciaga and Burberry have revitalized their retail strategies, shifting their focus online.
During the past year, French luxury conglomerate LVMH relaunched the Le Bon Marché website, rebranding it as 24sevres.com and featuring product from many of the holding company’s subsidiaries. Simultaneously, with online marketplaces and e-commerce hosting clients such as Shopify and Big Cartel, it's easier than ever to launch a brand online, so members of the iPhone generation are turning to Photoshop and their local screen-printers in the hopes of becoming the next Palace or Stussy.
While it's easier than ever for start-up brands to enter the market, it's not easy to effectively translate a brand's identity into consumer-friendly digital experiences.
Enter Samuel Spitzer. His company, Splay, runs the web presences for iconic streetwear brands Supreme and Cav Empt, as well as internationally renowned artist and Jordan Brand collaborator, KAWS.
He might not have the instant name recognition of streetwear icons like James Jebbia or Nigo, but Spitzer has quietly become one of street fashion’s most important figures. Samuel’s list of clients and collaborators is full of legendary names. He worked on graffiti-artist Futura’s website at the tender age of 19, and was hired by "starchitect" Rem Koolhaas at OMA to rethink Prada’s digital identity, and has been low-key influencing fashion’s online presence for almost two decades.
Seemingly content to let his work speak for itself, Samuel’s own online footprint is carefully considered and minimal (we reached out to him for this article, but he declined to comment). With very little information available online, a scanned copy of the July 2008 edition of i-D magazine on Splay's website provides the only comprehensive look into the elusive web developer’s history.
Having emigrated to New York aged 12, Samuel spent time immersing himself in the downtown creative scene, making friends with NYC legends Harold Hunter, A-Ron, and Stash along the way, before studying at prestigious universities Brown, MIT, and Harvard. In 2004 Samuel founded Splay, a digital agency specializing in e-commerce, which quickly became the go-to consultancy firm for high-profile streetwear brands.
So every Thursday when hypebeasts, casual consumers, and loyal customers alike flood Supreme’s website with traffic at precisely 11 a.m. local time, it is Splay that ensures the site doesn’t crash. While customers engage in an ephemeral race to purchase their items before the inevitable sell-out time, Spitzer's work has to contend with abnormally high throughput and processes millions, perhaps even billions, of clicks.
In a since-deleted tweet from the Splay company twitter, it was disclosed that for the FW16 box logo hoodie drop, the Supreme website received almost 1 billion page views. It is reasonable to presume that a significant amount of the pressure placed on the brand’s website comes from bots, with young fans and resellers trying everything they can to get their hands on the latest gear.
Creating and adapting an e-commerce platform to deal with this kind of consistent load is a huge undertaking. In March of this year, for example, Splay introduced a captcha to the Supreme site in an attempt to combat the impending threat from bots. Despite this, the issue persists, with sell-out times lessening season by season. A developer’s work, it seems, is never finished.
Spitzer offered a rare glimpse into his work for Supreme via a story on Wired, which delved into the underhand e-commerce bot programs people use to buy hyped streetwear.
Supreme knows. And according to Samuel Spitzer, founder of digital commerce company Splay, which created Supreme’s online business, it knows everything: who’s using bots, where they’re getting them, and what they’re buying with them. Spitzer says that Supreme’s loyalty lies with the real customer—not resellers but “that key customer who wants to buy and actually wear the clothing.” In early winter, Splay tweeted out a rare view of the metrics: On December 8, the day of a “box logo” sweatshirt release, the website received 986,335,133 pageviews and 1,935,195,305 purchase attempts to the server. That’s almost 3 billion* *interactions for a single drop day. (Splay has since deleted the tweet.) Those numbers suggest that bots are swarming the site, but Spitzer says they haven’t been a major factor in the company’s bottom line.
More than this, however, Splay’s work is focussed on creating uniquely recognizable user experiences that accurately translate brand identity into the digital realm. Each of Splay’s clients has their own distinct characteristics, presenting specifically isolated challenges to a web developer. The juxtaposition between the company’s work with Cav Empt and Supreme is a testament to Splay’s ability to build out creative digital solutions.
Where Cav Empt’s webstore is a cacophony of glitchy graphics and moving animations that change season by season, Supreme’s site relies on the brand’s iconic red and white color palette, and echoes the minimal, gallery-like feel of its retail stores. Presenting a completely different set of needs altogether, Splay’s work for kawsone.com is distinctly minimal. Offering only the latest KAWS companion for sale, the site’s only other prominent imagery is the artist’s double-cross marque.
In this sense, taking a familiar brand online is about more than just creating an e-commerce platform. Splay’s work with its globally recognized clients is clearly aware of this fact: each webstore has been designed in such a way in order to project a message about the brand, rather than just to sell products. In a rapidly changing digital landscape, it is this kind of carefully considered web design that transcends the fleeting experience of online shopping.
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