Telfar, a brand over 15 years in the making, is just seeing the reaps of reward. Their simplistic designs skyrocketed into mainstream popularity and continue to push the complex boundaries of what it means to be a luxury brand.
“Fashion doesn’t have to be stressful,” said Clemens. From Grape and Corned Beef to Margarine, Telfar Clemens of Telfar is a marketing genius and knows exactly how to play up colorway names for his unisex handbag designs.
But that’s just one amazing aspect of Telfar. The brand’s exceptional quality and affordably-priced items allow this seemingly “overnight success” to stand out at the forefront of the masses. After all, the philosophy, “It’s not for you, it’s for everyone” is reason enough to explain why so many – from A-listers to everyday fashionistas – gravitate toward this iconic luxury brand.
Telfar sales at FASHIONPHILE have increased 173% (thanks, Bey). So, this incredibly popular brand is here to stay. The influence and inspiration behind the name have undoubtedly set the bar high for fashion inclusivity. As an openly gay Liberian-American, Clemens has created an empire that pursues both the celebration of Black heritage and the LGBTQIA+ community. There is no brand out there quite like Telfar. Read on to learn more about the ubiquitous ultra-luxury fashion label of the century.
A Telfar Timeline
Rewind back to the early 2000s. At the time, Clemens was 18 years old and attending Pace University. With a love for numbers, Clemens originally planned to pursue a career in accounting. But that ambition quickly changed when he tapped into fashion design to help make sense of his identity, thus establishing his namesake brand.
Coming from humble beginnings living in an apartment in LeFrak City, Queens, Clemens was making unisex clothing and accessories before unisex was a thing because what he wanted to see in the fashion industry wasn’t there; it also wasn’t attainable, especially for people of color. So he went out and created something that could be attained… by everyone.
One of those items? The Shopping tote has a pricing model that is both democratic and approachable based on Clemens’ early days earning income as a DJ. The Shopping tote launched in Fall Winter 2014, and then just a few short years later the world would finally know about Telfar.
In 2017, Clemens won the prestigious CFDA award/ Vogue fashion fund for “American Accessories Designer of the Year” and was awarded $400k. This changed the game for Telfar and granted belated recognition for the young Liberian-American from Queens. During this life-changing event, the “Bushwick Birkin” finally gained real momentum as it entered the mainstream.
What is the Bushwick Birkin?
As we all know, Clemens has been making clothes and designing accessories for over a decade at this point. But the Shopping tote dubbed the “Bushwick Birkin” (sort of an inside joke), became an instant sensation once people discovered the brand.
The Shopping tote is a vegan faux leather bag with two top handles and two shoulder straps that comes in three sizes (small, medium, and large), and constantly in new colors. Each drop, or “drip” as Telfar calls it, sells out in minutes – its Dark Olive color sold out in seconds! Fun fact: the Shopping tote style is actually inspired by Bloomingdale’s shopping bags!
This particular “It” bag is the entry point to the Telfar brand and has brought people together to inspire identity and celebrate genderless luxury. The Shopping tote represents so much more than just a bag. It’s something that anyone can wear regardless of gender or socioeconomic status. It also has become the go-to baby bag for moms (more designer totes for new moms, here).
More Telfar Bags
The Shopping tote was hot then and is still hot now. It is truly an evergreen closet staple. Other iterations of the famous “It” bag have come about – such as the duffle and the circle bag. Each collection is a consensus of what he sees people wear (or misses seeing) in his community. Telfar is always one step ahead.
The “Telfeezy” Influence
Today, Telfar remains a Brooklyn-based brand. Despite being affordably priced, Telfar bags are extremely hard to get your hands on – a phenomenon known as “telfeezy”. However, Telfar’s “Bag Security Program” allows customers to place pre-orders directly on their site to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to buy a Telfar bag. Regardless if you buy from the primary or secondary markets, Telfar bags are incredibly sought-after.
It goes without saying that the brand stands behind creating democratic and approachable products that people can afford. With a mission to reshape the fashion space, Telfar is a harbinger of change. It operates as its own establishment that makes its own rules and sets its own level of cool. From clothes to bags, Clemens is a collaborative genius. Today the brand continues committing to high-impact community work and philanthropy.
“It’s about visibility and power,” Clemens says. The power that a fashion brand has can influence so much. Telfar leverages that power to help customers feel seen, representing, and supporting communities that have been historically underrepresented. Through its collaboration with White Castle, Telfar donated 100% of the profits to help bail out young black minors at Rikers Island jail. At the end of the day, with a Telfar bag in hand, there is room for everyone to feel like a part of something bigger than just another fashion label.