Twenty-seven colors into the life of the Telfar ‘Shopping Bag’, the statement piece has no sign of falling out of fashion anytime soon. Queens-bred designer Telfar Clemons has somehow found a way to avoid the unavoidable fate many fads face. Even without the advantage of major marketing campaigns and partnerships with large retailers, the grassroots brand has carved a new lane in fashion.
Logo bags and sleek design are nothing new. Bags with large logos for brand advertising have been around since the late 1800s. Minimalism came into its full form in the ‘90s when mastered by designers like Calvin Klein and Hussein Chalayan. Even though the eye-catching emblem is one of the most Instagramable bag details of recent years — the design is not necessarily anything revolutionary, and thus is not likely the true culprit of Telfar’s success. So what is it that really makes the Telfar bag such an indestructible enigma?
Pride for POC
In today’s climate, it is cause for celebration when a person of color profits from the trend they started instead of the rich and white and famous. Some of Telfar’s success has roots in the simple fact that POC want to support the brand during this momentous occasion. Clemens made it to the top because of his talent and hard work, and now each purchase supports him.
The Telfar bag first emerged as a favorite status symbol of young creatives in NYC after its 2014 launch. In a piece by The Cut, interviewees explained that the tote made them feel “recognized” and as put by Clemens himself, “it’s about more than fashion. It’s about visibility and power.”
It was not until Clemens won the top prize at the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards in 2017 and landed a spot on Oprah’s Favorite Things list in 2020 that the tone changed. With the seal of approval from industry giants, the fairly local “Bushwick Birkin” began to be picked up by big celebrities such as Solange in 2019, leading to more celebrities rocking the bag later on in 2020.
AOC sealed the deal when she posted her “What’s In My Telfar Bag” photos to her Instagram last August. Because of Telfar, now your average fashion fan could be twinning with one of the most progressive Congresswomen in office. This idea creates a bridge between the status gap that normally persists in fashion by unifying the market instead of segmenting it.
A year later, the Telfar bag is almost constantly out of stock on the brand’s website. Most recently on July 26, the bag’s newest color way, Cerulean, sold out in mere minutes. This impressive longevity of demand is in part from the empowerment and pride that comes from supporting a young Black designer who created his brand because he felt “someone like me wasn’t thought of as a fashion customer”, and is now not only the customer, but the architect.
When Telfar Clemons first formed his brand in 2004, he was a student at Pace University. Whether this had any influence on his pricing model is unknown, but his affordable range of $150-257 has hit the sweet spot for Gen-Z who no longer directly equates high price tags to exclusivity.
The ‘Shopping Bags’ come in three sizes, small, medium and large, opening up even more wiggle room for various budget ranges to grab the status statement. Three sizing options of each colorway also afford a create-your-own experience for bag owners. While you may run into someone with a Telfar, it might not be your exact Small ‘Mint’ Telfar — a difference from many other brand’s signature bags such as Burberry’s plaid print that dominates every bag, no matter the silhouette. The solid color takes visual hold, leading bags to seem more drastically different than they actually are. On the rare occasion that one may run into someone with the exact same bag, the fandom-like customer base of the bag makes it an amazing conversation piece.
Telfar’s limited stock drops have created the same hype that a high price point would all while enforcing the bag’s attainable image. This causes the customer to come back again and again for the thrill of trying their chances at getting a bag. The same strategy has also been successfully used by other retailers since the age of online such as Supreme and Nike SNKRS. The combination of Telfar’s close connection to its community and this hip marketing trick has sustained demand throughout the release of various colors of the same exact bag.
As momentous as Telfar’s success is for people of color, Clemens’ accomplishments are just as inspiring for LGBTQ+ customers, especially those that fall into both categories like the designer himself. For the first time, a gay Black male designer has the fashion world impressively enamored with his genius in the form of just one bag.
The bag industry is changing, and Clemens has rightfully earned the honor of proving so. As a designer who felt the fashion industry lacked spaces for those like him, his unisex design speaks to those who shared his sentiments. The Telfar bag is a blank canvas of sorts, celebrating the endless range of expressions of identity by perfectly camouflaging with the styles of all.
Telfar’s ever-growing fan base led the brand to monopolize a category that was avoided by the previously noninclusive fashion world. No brand had dared to introduce bags that walk outside the lines of a purse. Now the biggest names in the industry are visibly starting to gaze on Clemens’ design with envy. Guess even tried to replicate the signature ‘Shopping Bag’ with an embossed ‘G’ in March, only proving even the most well-known fashion brands are being blown off their feet by this young star.
The monumental living legacy of Telfar itself and how much that mission means to supporters have created what appeared to be an overnight social media sensation. But in reality, the ‘Shopping Bag’ is not just a bag, but a symbol of solidarity with all the people that initially lifted this designer without a voice to with their support back in 2014. With more and more people gradually jumping on to his vision, Clemens is now elevated to a position where he serves as an inspiration for all those who may still feel the same exclusion from fashion. Even though each bag is minimal, the simplicity screams authenticity as each bright, solid hue stands proudly with the former underdog.
Featured Image courtesy of @kateazy