PART TWO: The Future Is Super
In 1998, Australian designer Wayne Berkowitz set up a crude private bulletin board to keep in touch with friends and family around the globe. The board quickly grew to a community of about 300. Conversation tended towards jet setting and store recommendations around the world, giving Berkowitz the idea for a travel website with a focus on design, retail and shopping. He shut down the forum in lieu of creating this new venture, and on September 1, 1999 he launched Superfuture, which sells PDF shopping guides for cities like Tokyo, Paris, and New York. Not until 2003 would he revisit the idea of a community message board with Supertalk, of which Bobby Hundreds was an early member. Supertalk was initially meant as a way to cultivate a community of “Supershoppers,” discerning consumers with extremely high taste levels.
“Superfuture really did give a lot of brands and designers a big step up in that kind of community,” says Hundreds. “I was on Supertalk; I’m probably still registered. I think I was the 13th person to ever register on their message board.” Hundreds wasn’t the only style-minded guy who stumbled upon the site. Billy Fischer, Art Director for menswear e-commerce site Boylston Trading Co., discovered Supertalk by chance.
“I actually came across Supertalk by mistake, trying to find information on Levi’s Shrink to Fit jeans,” he says. “I lurked for like two months before finally joining in January ’05, but that's kind of where I found my online home.” What separated Supertalk from its contemporaries was that it allowed members to interact freely and form their own subculture. Whereas NikeTalk’s focus on sneakers, drop dates, and streetwear set a distinct tone for the forum’s tastes, Supertalk’s flexible subject matter allowed the forum to be defined by its community.
None of what's currently going on in terms fashion media, especially as it relates to menswear, would be happening if it wasn't for forums. - Jose Mejia, Superfuture
Jose Mejia, who served as Superfuture’s Editorial Director from 2007–2009, is a stout Dominican man with a penchant for Japanese brands like Post O’Alls. No, he’s not the kind of corpulent you’d associate with a mouse-wielding World of Warcraft-playing stereotypical nerd, but he does wear glasses and has a unique sense of humor, which he shares with other Superfuture denizens. Like them, Mejia is also much louder on the Internet than in real life.
“Even as early as 2006, there was a totally unique set of inside jokes with multiple layers that you could sort of trace back to specific groups of like-minded posters,” he says. “I noticed it was something like our own little universe.” That online camaraderie helped establish the unique identity of Supertalk, Mejia says, which embraced a wide swath of style tribes. “What always set the forum apart was that the sneaker fiends, denimheads, goth ninjas, and every other clique you could think of, interacted on a level beyond style. I didn't see that on any other forum,” he observes. “Superfuture was in some ways a haven for all the outcasts from other sites.”
Mejia compares the whole “forum ecosystem” to the social dynamics of high school. Except here, the nerds were the ones calling the shots, and while some came off as nebbishy or extremely introverted when not cloaked by a username and avatar, many members were quick to eviscerate the uninitiated who tried to jump in on their conversations without doing their homework—namely, reading the forum and picking up its nuances for weeks or months prior to deciding that they finally had something worthwhile to say. This was especially true of Supertalk’s subforum, Supertrash—a place where the topic was everything and nothing, akin to NikeTalk’s “General Forum.”
While there was definitely talk of streetwear brands like Supreme, Stussy, and FUCT—along with occasional references to designer labels ranging from Rick Owens to Band of Outsiders—what really became popular on the boards was raw, selvedge denim. When the Americana movement began to gain steam in the mid-2000s, more and more guys started to embrace the idea of breaking in a pair of unwashed jeans, but these picky customers needed something much better than the Swedish company Nudie or French label A.P.C.—two popular denim brands that signaled the movement towards raw jeans—rather, Superfuture’s clientele sought out obscure Japanese brands like Eternal, Samurai, and Skull. These artisan labels offered far superior denim, construction, and were much, much harder to obtain—which made them all that much cooler.
These newly-born denimheads sought to learn as much as they could about the fabric—which mills produced the best denim, dying processes, types of stitching, down to the significance of the embroidery on the back pockets. There was really no other place where all this assorted information was archived, except in a plethora of posts on Supertalk from guys who were just learning about it all themselves, and couldn’t wait to share their newfound knowledge—as well as old vintage heads who had geeked over this kind of stuff for decades.
In terms of sheer information and knowledge, forums still trumped these fledgling menswear blogs. Forums also offered a thriving secondhand market.
“I can pinpoint a laundry list of trends that bubbled out of Supertalk's threads. Part of that came from the fact that our active member base was thoroughly international in scope and the crossover of ideas was high, but the other major component was simply that the taste level ran off the charts regarding the forum’s eclectic brand predilection,” says Mejia.
Members like Kiya Babzani established Supertalk as a mecca of denim knowledge in the mid-2000s.
“I got into Japanese denim brands in the mid-Nineties on some trips to Hong Kong, where I realized that the Japanese are making reproductions of vintage American garments,” says Babzani, whose first forum experience had to do with yo-yos.
“On yo-yo forums, I realized you can harness the power of the community you're already in to support a business if you truly are and were a fan,” he says. “When Supertalk came around it was the same game, just a different scene.”
Fischer’s memories echo this sentiment, recalling a time when forum members geeked out over a pair of jeans: “When someone took the plunge and ordered a pair of Eternal 811s from Japan, it felt really exciting. We were all waiting for it to arrive. Pics would get posted, sizing advice could be shared first-hand from a fellow fucking nerd, and not from some dude trying to force a sale.”