How to Shamelessly Knock Off Supreme Worldwide and Get Away With It, for a While

An Italian fashion entrepreneur has made a career out of legally producing fake designer clothing. An 11-step look at his scheme.

At the January 2016 Pitti Uomo, the twice‑yearly trade fair in Florence, Italy, where trendspotters soak up the latest in men’s fashion from around the globe, a crew of young people paraded through the 16th century Fortezza da Basso to promote sweatshirts and caps with the word “Supreme” in bold white Futura font on a bright red background. They looked just like the ones that run $150 or more for fans lucky enough to find them in stores—and many multiples of that from resellers online.

But the hats and sweatshirts weren’t made by the New York streetwear brand. They were the work of an Italian company that had hijacked Supreme’s look and logo—in other words, a shameless knockoff. And thanks to a combination of entrepreneurial creativity (some might call it cynicism) and the quirks of trademark law, the whole thing seemed to be totally legal.

How It’s Done

1. Claim the Brand
The Italian Supreme filed trademark requests in various countries—including Italy, Spain, and China—where Chapter 4 Corp., the owner of the real brand, hadn’t yet secured its registration. With trademark applications in hand, the Italian company started manufacturing fake-but-apparently-legal Supreme gear in Bisceglie, a small fishing port on the Adriatic Sea. There were almost no discernible differences between the knockoffs and the originals.
2. Exploit International Trademark Law
Trademarks have to be registered country by country. So even if your brand is well-known, if you don’t claim the trademark, there’s a risk that someone else might. And some regulators, such as Italy’s, don’t verify whether anyone else has submitted a request for a similar trademark when you make an application.
3. Be Shameless
Supreme Italia founder Michele di Pierro’s résumé includes:
● A fraud conviction in 2007 in connection with the bankruptcy of a clothing retailer.
● A shooting in his hometown. In 2007, di Pierro was gunned down by assailants on a motorcycle and then declined to testify against the accused attackers, prompting a collusion investigation by police in which no charges were filed.
● Several other bankruptcies of clothing companies, including one that resulted in a second fraud conviction, in 2018.
4. Start Selling
The Italian Supreme initially flogged its T-shirts, hoodies, and caps online and through smaller shops in Italy. Over the next few years it would book millions of euros in revenue, while di Pierro’s Facebook page brimmed with selfies of first-class air travel, videos of him behind the wheel of luxury cars, and fulsome praise from his friends and fans.
5. Build a Store (or Four, or Five)
In 2017, di Pierro opened shops in Spain. In Barcelona, for instance, he had one in the city center that from the outside looked much like the original in New York. Inside, his shops were more crowded than Chapter 4’s, stuffed with Supreme-branded merch: clothing, skateboards, bags, phone cases, and a device called the “Supreme Money Gun Cash Cannon,” a plastic toy that spews fake $1,000 bills.
6. Ignore Your Critics
When Chapter 4 heard about the Italian pretender, it hired a private investigator to look into di Pierro and later labeled his company a “counterfeit organization.” Di Pierro kept on selling as he jetted between Italy, Spain, and Dubai—documented in a steady stream of beach selfies on Facebook.
7. Question the Original’s Authenticity
When Chapter 4 sued di Pierro in Italian court, alleging what it called “parasitic competition,” he responded by pointing out that Supreme itself is a sort of ripoff. In the 1980s, New York artist Barbara Kruger made posters with slogans such as “I shop therefore I am” and “Your body is a battleground” using the colors and font later adopted by Supreme. Kruger once called the company “totally uncool jokers,” and after she used the font and colors in a 2017 art project, she dared Chapter 4 to sue her for trademark infringement. It didn’t.
8. Find an A-List Partner
In 2018, at the Shanghai launch of a new Samsung smartphone—viewed online by at least 19 million people—two executives from the Italian company appeared onstage with Supreme’s logo in the background. Samsung Electronics Co. assumed its partner was the real Supreme, but after the blogosphere erupted with posts saying “LOL, no!” the Korean company backed out of the deal.
9. Go Global
Despite the Samsung brouhaha, the Italian Supreme opened a huge outlet in Shanghai, the first time either Supreme would have a permanent presence in China. Customers flocked to the store.
10. Remain Defiant
When Italian courts ordered the seizure of Supreme-branded products from di Pierro’s stores and warehouses, he shut his operation in Italy, but his outlets in Spain and China stayed open. He even started selling T-shirts with the Supreme logo that celebrated his conflict with Chapter 4, and he didn’t close the rest of his outlets until Chinese and European Union regulators finally recognized the New York company’s ownership of the brand.
11. If You Lose, Repeat With Another Brand
Last year, Di Pierro returned to Pitti Uomo in Florence to promote a new venture selling clothes with the logo of Vision Street Wear. The skater-oriented label is owned by Authentic Brands Group LLC in New York, but Di Pierro had registered the trademark in San Marino, a tiny enclave nation in central Italy. On June 25, a London court sentenced him to eight years in prison for copying Supreme, saying Di Pierro had “hijacked every facet of the company’s identity.” Di Pierro, who didn’t attend the trial, called the lawsuit “a great sham” intended to “break my will.”

This story was supported by the Investigative Journalism for Europe fund.

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