Here’s a challenge for a creative art director: your account manager asks you to find a way of making it a cinch for mass brands to advertise their seriously cool clothes through your agency and then tells you to come up with a killer idea to make it work.
But as our intrepid art director marches into this challenge, he’ll find a Brooklyn-based startup calmly walking out: Supply Side got there first. Launched by its co-founders Adam Travis and Alexander Keith in 2010, it’s built up an impressive roster of more than 50 firms in the space of just three years, including colossi like Amazon, Need Supply and Urban Outfitters.
From mobile showroom to branding agency
That’s not bad for a firm that began life as a kind of travelling showroom. Mr. Travis, a production manager, teamed up with Mr. Keith, a former Wolff Olins branding expert, and packed a van with a cargo of made-in-Brooklyn garments and accessories. Then they travelled the country selling them to boutiques.
Soon after, Travis and Keith were designing and selling their own bespoke line of menswear, General Assembly – an initiative which spawned two further brands, Mr. Nice and Super National. This development signaled a transmogrification in the firm: from its origin as a man-in-a-van clothing supplier, it was becoming an agency that white-labeled accessories and clothing for other firms.
Staying lean and thinking digital
So far, one of the secrets of its success is to stay lean: all the work coming through Supply System’s doors is handled by just three full-time employees backed up with a rotation of freelancers. But to come back to that killer idea our imaginary art director was asked to produce, Supply System’s solution is to think digitally through and through. As Keith puts it, “Clothing is content. We hope a picture of something we design goes viral.”
Unlike most of its competitors, Supply Side doesn’t get to work after the horse has bolted – it doesn’t exercise its creativity after a product has already been developed. Instead, the agency prides itself on being involved in crafting the messages its clients want to convey with their brands right from the beginning.
“We do everything from product development to graphic design, labeling, naming-for some of the smaller guys, we do manufacturing as well.”