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Standing Up for Small Business

Darren Biedermann, of Supreme Men’s Wear, On the Importance of Community Connection

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Darren Biedermann, Owner of Supreme Men’s Wear. Photo courtesy of BOOKSTRUCKER Photography

As the owner and creative director of Supreme Men’s Wear, Calgary’s oldest operating and independent men’s clothing store, Darren Biedermann has a passion for many things. Fashion, people, living in the moment, community – these are just some of the topics he gets excited about.

These days, he’s using his voice (and all its influence) to advocate for something else near and dear to his heart: Calgary’s small businesses. “They tell us if there is an emergency on an airplane to put our own oxygen mask on first,” he analogizes from his studio at Supreme. “We need to recognize and start connecting all the small businesses in town. Make it obvious that we’re here and highlight what benefits we all provide to the community. We provide the public spaces for people to meet and connect.”

It’s that face-to-face connection, he stresses, that Calgary’s small businesses uniquely promote. “We’re living in a world now that appears to be disconnecting people in so many ways,” he laments. “Small businesses open their doors and provide venues for people to connect and create relationships. It is imperative that we support small businesses in the community and society.”

His own business, located downtown at the corner of 4th Avenue and 3rd Street South West (kitty corner to The Westin Hotel) has, for 70 years, provided a place for Calgarians and other guests to not only connect, but to find great, quality fashions. Originally established as Supreme Tailors in 1948, it was an exclusively custom clothing shop. Biedermann’s parents, Ernie and Margit Biedermann, purchased the business in 1972. They renamed it Supreme Men’s Wear and soon after began providing ready-to-wear clothing.

Biedermann, a proud born and raised Calgarian, started his full-time career at Supreme in 1983, eventually purchasing the business in 1995. He moved it to its current location in 1996.

“We want to use our 70th anniversary milestone to project the importance of small businesses in our community,” he stresses. “The reality is that small businesses are disappearing like bubbles in a bathtub.” Were they all to all vanish, he warns, few places will be left for people to connect in their communities. “We’re not going to meet and introduce ourselves in the aisles of Walmart and Costco, or online at Amazon.”

Like much of Calgary’s small business community, Supreme has had to adapt to overcome the challenges of another recession. “Imagine operating a luxury men’s clothing retail store in the heart of downtown,” he implores. “You must have the passion and the heart to ride the highs and lows in this town. We love this city and it’s obvious that Calgary loves Supreme.”

Things are improving now, and Biedermann is optimistic that the worst of the current economic struggle is over. “Real growth happens in the valleys,” he says. “Everybody is holding their own. We feel very optimistic with all the great smiles and great stories filling our city streets once again. Calgary as a community is stronger than ever, and when you see how people care and what they are doing, it’s fabulous. The more we connect, the stronger we become.”

For its part, Supreme has managed to retain its reputation for honesty, credibility, quality, and adaptability for 70 years. “When I bought the store from my dad, he told me there are no shortcuts, no free lunch,” Biedermann recalls. “He said ‘Every time somebody gives you $100, you’ve got to know in your heart that you’re giving them at least $100 back in value, if not more. They are trusting that you’re investing in fashion for them the best you can.’ He always stressed to never compromise and to go the extra mile.”

Supreme’s crown jewel is its proprietary brand The Biedermann Collection, a luxury brand predominantly made in Canada. Comprised of shirts, suits, jackets and coats, for the last 15 years, The Biedermann Connection><Collection will expand to include footwear and fashion accessories this fall. It is currently available only at Supreme. “Biedermann translates to ‘honest, upright man,’” he explains, “so it’s the perfect name for a collection created without compromise.”

Biedermann prides himself on the connections he has to produce the level of quality the collection represents. “Our limited production pieces are created to transcend time. You can put on a Biedermann piece that you have enjoyed for years and you will still get compliments on it today.”

He has future plans to set up shirt manufacturing in Calgary. “We want to do our part in diversifying the economy in Calgary by producing the finest Biedermann collection of shirts right here,” he reveals. “It’s called Biedermann Connection><Collection – the whole idea is to connect people through fashion, inspiring conversations.”

The intention is to grow the collection into a global luxury brand, based right here in Calgary. “I’m aligning with the biggest hearts that really care about our community. It’s diversification and connection for today and future generations.”

He believes Biedermann is poised and ready to become a global luxury brand, the likes of which no one has ever experienced. “Not just because of what it is and the demands on the quality and level at which it’s produced and the energy it holds,” he explains, “but also because of the way it is going to be shared, which is limited in production. It will be something very special.”

The increasing popularity of shopping local has benefited Supreme, which, in addition to its Calgary customers, has loyal clientele from all over Alberta. “We often play the part of good news Samaritans rather than fashion presenter,” Biedermann laughs. “People come into Supreme to feel the vibe and connect. We are not about pressure selling. We do not have our team on commission. We provide an open and safe door in the community, a kind of oasis from the predictable in many ways. You can come in, have a cappuccino and a visit. Whether you’ve bought anything or not, our intention is that you leave feeling inspired.”

With over 35 years in the fashion industry, Biedermann has seen just about everything. He’s a huge fan of how the fashion industry has opened up and transformed. “People are more educated and aware than ever before,” he says. “It’s not about brand, it’s about style and the story. We have too much stuff in the world, and you can get stuff online. People want to know what makes something special and what sets it apart. There is much more attention towards how you feel in your clothing.”

He’s thrilled with this fresh perspective because, he says, how you feel is how you perform. “Your clothing is your social skin; it’s how you present yourself. It has a direct effect on how you experience life. Comfort now plays a prominent role in fashion decision making.” At Supreme, for example, 90 per cent of the pants offered have a level of stretch and performance to them.

Clients are less focused on brand names and marketing, and more focused on unique pieces that pair with individual taste. “It’s more about the story, the product, the fit,” Biedermann explains. “It’s the world I always dreamt fashion would be.”

The rules of old – for example, not mixing patterns – have been obliterated. “Today, you can pair a patterned shirt with a different patterned pants, a different patterned tie, and a pocket square,” he says. “Not long ago, few would have the courage to walk out and wear that, but now those are the things that have you bracing for compliments.”

He describes Supreme’s clients as courageous leaders and quality-minded individuals who select items at Supreme to celebrate life. He’s particularly enamored with the younger generation. “They put time and effort into their presentation. More and more are becoming aware that the magic is wrapped up in the present moment, to live in the here and now and not save their best for a better tomorrow.”

The focus on individuality has also seen Supreme’s custom suiting business flourish. “Supreme started out as purely custom and it’s almost like the pendulum has swung back a degree,” Biedermann reflects. “People are showing up for a custom garment experience because they want something that sets them apart.” Supreme’s custom garment offerings are made in Canada using the finest European fabrics.

Supreme’s community involvement goes beyond the store, with its positive messages at street level, and includes charitable work too. For several years it has partnered with Fresh Start Recovery Centre. Together, their program connects donated clothing with recovering addicts. Supreme takes in gently used clothing items from clients and the community, which it then repurposes for Fresh Start participants. “It’s really changing lives,” Biedermann marvels. “Having great clothing definitely elevates confidence. We are very fortunate to have Fresh Start in our community.”

The Supreme team, he continues, is best in class. “We attract the most real, beauty-filled people. They have passion for fashion and they love people too. It’s the perfect blend.”

Forty-six years after they purchased it, Biedermann’s parents still participate in the family business. “My dad comes in once or twice a week to lend a master tailoring hand,” he says with pride. “He loves to be called out front to connect with friends over a cappuccino. He takes in the presentation and comments: ‘You really did it – you created the Rolling Stones of the men’s wear business. That gentleman standing at that mirror is getting a suit to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary, and that young fellow there is getting his graduation suit.’ It’s really special what Supreme is sharing and attracting.” Biedermann’s mother Margit also joins in at Supreme most Fridays to connect with guests, detail and steam shirts, and share her fresh chocolate banana loaf.

Supercharged, passionate, connected and driven to use the fashion industry as a catalyst to keep people connected into the future, Biedermann and Supreme are at the forefront of Calgary’s small business scene. With leadership like this, the future looks good for everyone.

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