The Telfeezy. The Bushwick Birkin. The "it" bag of the internet age. Known by many different names, Telfar rose to immense popularity during the pandemic. The Telfar shopping tote (based on Bloomingdales’ shopping bags) is identified by its TC–shaped logo, made from vegan leather, and comes in a variety of colors from "oxblood" to a bright blue "painter’s tape," and comes in three different sizes. The bag’s affordable price range, with bags retailing from $150 to $257, allows for average people to own a luxury bag.
The brand was founded in 2005 by its namesake, Telfar Clemens. Clemens is a 36 year–old gay Liberian–American man from Queens, New York, and started the brand as a student at Pace University in New York.
In an interview with GayTimes, Clemens recounts his goals when forming the brand, saying, “the clothes I wanted to wear did not exist–I wanted to make a line that was genderless and spoke to people like me.” Although it may seem like Clemens is an overnight success story, big department stores didn’t pay much attention to the budding designer.
In fact, it took the designer nearly a decade before he was able to land a review from Vogue. To get his foot in the door, Clemens had to build a cult–like following among young New York creatives like himself and rely on collaborations with brands like White Castle and Kmart.
In 2020, Clemens was awarded the CFDA Award for American Accessories Designer of the Year, one of fashion’s highest honors, after skyrocketing to fame during the pandemic. While celebrities like Oprah and Bella Hadid rocked the Telfar tote and increased the brand’s visibility, the bag wasn’t just popular in the A–List realm of Hollywood, but among regular people as well. So much so that teens and young adults saturated TikTok and Twitter with videos flaunting their ‘Telfeezy’ collections.
However, with immense popularity comes increased exclusivity. The brand’s, "Not for you, but for everyone" motto became increasingly difficult to live by as the bags would sell out in as quickly as two minutes after being dropped on the website. Many shoppers expressed their dissatisfaction on social media. After a dark olive Telfar bag drop sold out in under one minute, one Twitter user tweeted a meme of Oprah Winfrey crying with a caption that read, "Dark Olive Telfar Not Secured I’m Sad."
In response to resellers buying out his inventory and the brand's sudden popularity, Telfar launched the first–of–its–kind “bag security program” in an effort to keep true to the brand’s aforementioned motto. The program allows shoppers to order custom–made tote bags that are shipped within six months of ordering, helping more shoppers land a Telfar bag.
With a successful 2020 and 2021, Telfar shows no signs of slowing down. Clemens released an immensely popular collaboration with classic Australian shoe brand UGG, and he designed Liberia’s Olympic uniform for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. A much coveted collaboration between Telfar and Canadian brand Moose Knuckles is expected to drop in November, and he has recently been nominated for another CFDA award.
Telfar Clemens represents a new age within the fashion industry: one that hopes to dismantle the exclusive and outdated traditional world of fashion that has benefitted from its exploitation of queer people of color for far too long.