Recent internet rumors have linked police equipment — namely tear gas — to Supreme by virtue of the skate brand’s biggest investor, The Carlyle Group. These stories emerged following protests against the murder of George Floyd and institutionalized police brutality.
We checked out the dubious history of Supreme’s financier back in 2017. The global investment firm purchased a 50 percent share in the brand for a reported $500 million, valuating Supreme at approximately $1 billion at the time. The Carlyle Group is – to use a tired streetwear analogy – comparable to resellers. They don’t own companies, they just buy them and hold onto them until the value shoots up.
Early reactions to the deal, including our own, were skeptical. How would Supreme – whose brand identity is built on insider knowledge, product scarcity, and a literal “Fuck ’em” to the system – fare when half of its company is effectively handed over to number-crunching suits and ties?
About a week ago, skater Weckingball called out Supreme on Instagram, arguing that “[Supreme] might sound a bit more sincere if [they] hadn’t already sold 50 percent of the brand to The Carlyle Group, who profits off the deaths of innocent civilians in the Middle East.” He makes a valid point. The Carlyle Group does have some controversial investments in its back catalog, but is Supreme really implicated in the tear gas being used in the streets by law enforcers?
As it turns out, not exactly.
Monster Child’s story connected The Carlyle Group (and by association, Supreme) to Combined Tactical Systems — a leading manufacturer of high-quality law enforcement equipment ranging from less-lethal munitions to anti-riot products – the kinds that are being deployed against protestors in the US and parts of Europe right now. However, Monster Children retracted their article on June 11 with a statement.
Further, sources close to the Carlyle Group confirm that “the investment with Combined Tactical Systems was a minor investment that was made 15 years ago, that TCG has virtually nothing to do with, to date. The team who made the minor investment is no longer with the firm and hasn’t been for a while. We don’t make any income from that investment and the fund that holds that Combined Tactical System stock has been closed and its assets sold off.”
The source also wanted to emphasize that “this is an investment The Carlyle Group would never do today [because] it would violate the responsible investing guidelines.” As per its website, these guidelines include “[considering] environmental, public health, safety, and social issues associated with target companies when evaluating whether to invest in a particular company or entity, as well as during the period of ownership.”
So, although streetwear conspiracy theories are gaining traction amongst social media fuccbois, Supreme is not implicated or tied to the equipment being deployed against protestors. Which means we probably won’t see any riot shields or BOGO flashbangs in the FW20 collection. That said, TCG certainly continues to make investments in the aerospace and defense industries through its relationship with consultancies like Booz Allen Hamilton. Additionally, a list of value creation case studies on its site includes brands like Dunkin’ Donuts, Beats Electronics, and some other companies you might not know are also associated with TCG.
Supreme has declined to make an official comment, but it’s worth noting that they did donate $500,000 (the equivalent resell of about five Supreme x Louis Vuitton trunks) to Black Lives Matter, Equal Justice Initiative, Campaign Zero, and Black Futures Lab.
Supreme, as a benefactor and perpetuator of capitalist-consumerism with big investors, are of course as complicit as any other brand in our unequal socio-political framework. It’s something they’ve been indirectly associated with as early as 2003, when financial broker Igor Kotlyar was arrested for fraud. The New York Post printed a photo of him getting pulled out in handcuffs — wearing a white BOGO T-shirt.
Two years later, Supreme released a tee depicting the same image, except with Kotlyar’s face censored. The name of the tee is a slogan Supreme still revisits today — most recently as a hoodie from its SS17 collection. Ironically, it’s a term that feels especially apropos right now: “Illegal Business Controls America.”
More information on defunding the police department can be found here.