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Levi’s x Denim Tears Soho London pop-up Tremaine Emory
Tremaine EmoryCourtesy of Levi’s

Tremaine Emory parts ways with Supreme, alleging ‘systemic racism’

The Denim Tears founder has officially issued a letter of resignation from his role as creative director of the cult skate brand

After just two seasons at the helm of the cult NY skate brand, rumours recently started flying across social media that Tremaine Emory has stepped down from his role as creative director of Supreme – a position he has held since February 2022. Now, Emory has confirmed the move in a letter of resignation (reported by Business of Fashion), with a representative for Supreme substantiating the news.

The reason for his departure? Emory claims that “systematic racism” was built into the structure of Supreme, adding that senior management showed an “inability to communicate” or offer “full visibility” regarding the cancellation of a long-awaited collaboration with the artist Arthur Jafa. As he states in his resignation letter: “This caused me a great amount of distress as well as the belief that systematic racism was at play within the structure of Supreme.” Supreme itself denies that the collaboration was cancelled.

Emory rose to fame with his label No Vacancy Inn, around the time trailblazing friends including Virgil Abloh and Matthew Williams were first making their mark on fashion, before establishing Denim Tears in 2019. Denim Tears itself drew inspiration from Supreme, as well as British designers like Martine Rose and Wales Bonner, and dug into stories of the African diaspora to inform its seasonal collections.

In 2022, the designer resurrected Abloh’s game-changing label Pyrex Vision as part of a limited edition capsule collection in tribute to the late designer, and joined forces with Kim Jones to create a collaborative offering dubbed Dior Tears, debuted at Jones’ mammoth destination show in Egypt at the end of last year.

Around that time, Emory suffered a serious lower aorta aneurysm and was hospitalised for two months, and has since been dealing with the after effects and undergoing physical therapy. According to the designer “eight out of ten people pass [away] from having [the kind of aneurysm]” he did, so, as he explained on an episode of the Started from the Bottom podcast in January, he felt very lucky to survive. 

More recently, in an interview with Justsmile mag, Emory made some poignant comments it wouldn’t be a stretch to say could have been linked to his alleged departure from Supreme. “I would caution kids who care about the validation of these big conglomerates and media giants, because these conglomerates are banks,” he said. “This is late-stage capitalism. These institutions will finance a designer, an artist, a band, a director, a writer, or whatever to make something to get more money than they put in.” 

The brilliant creative being reined in by the big brand that brings them in specifically for their talent and vision is a tale as old as time, and Emory is not the first designer to buckle under the pressure and make the decision to remove himself from a situation like this in favour of freedom.

“While we take these concerns seriously, we strongly disagree with Tremaine’s characterisation of our company and the handling of the Arthur Jafa project, which has not been cancelled,” says Supreme in a response to the designer’s resignation. “This was the first time in 30 years where the company brought in a creative director. We are disappointed it did not work out with Tremaine and wish him the best of luck going forward.”