During New York Fashion Week—a time when luxury brands capture the fashion world’s attention—one brand has forgone exclusivity in favor of accessibility.
Telfar, the label started by Liberian–American fashion designer Telfar Clemens, is best known for its vegan leather shopping bag, currently sold in 30+ colors and three sizes. Though the brand began in 2005 and the iconic bag was released in 2014, Telfar saw a massive rise in popularity in 2020.
Telfar’s shopping bag has been seen on the arms of people from Alexandria Ocasio Cortez to Beyoncé and typically sells out within seconds of each new drop. Even Street dubbed it the “the "it" bag of the internet age” last fall. Telfar’s motto, “Not for you, for everyone,” embodies the brand’s mission to reshape luxury fashion by changing who can access items deemed exclusive and desirable.
Telfar’s recent collaboration, Telfar x Rainbow, exemplifies this aim. On Sunday, Sept. 11, Telfar took over the Rainbow clothing store in Brooklyn, New York, allowing consumers to purchase up to five bags in any color. This was the first time the brand has done such a large pop–up in a retail location, and demand was enormous.
For those unfamiliar, Rainbow is an affordable retail store with locations throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. The pop–up location at 493 Fulton Street in Downtown Brooklyn occupies a historically Black neighborhood that has experienced gentrification in recent years. Rainbow is considered a pillar in many low–income neighborhoods around New York. Andrea Escobar, in an interview with the New York Times, attested that ‘‘some stores are kind of expensive, and sometimes you can’t afford certain things, but at Rainbow, you have that nice dress or nice heels for the low.”
The scene at the Telfar x Rainbow pop—up was chaotic yet exuberant. Excited shoppers formed a line that stretched around the block long before the pop—up was slated to start, prompting the store to open its doors early to accommodate the giant crowd. Photos from inside the store show Black joy in full effect: The entire event was filmed live for TelfarTV, complete with dancers and emcees to hype up the crowd. Telfar Clemens himself made an appearance, and people arrived decked out in all their favorite Telfar goods: circle bags, bucket hats, boots. According to Vogue, over 3,500 bags were sold that day.
In a surprise move, Telfar extended the pop—up beyond the physical store in Brooklyn, announcing that “any shopping bag, any size, any color” would be made available to purchase at 12 p.m. EST on Sept. 23.
This online drop was an unprecedented move. In the past, Telfar has dropped bags in one color at a time with occasional restocks as well as an infrequent “bag security” program that allows customers to pre—order any bag. Though the initiative increased the number of people that could get their hands on a coveted Telfar, bags bought during bag security can take months to ship. Now, Telfar has promised everyone their bags by the end of October.
Critics of Telfar are already stating that this mass product release will devalue the shopping bags, as luxury depends on exclusivity. However, this criticism misses the point—Telfar symbolizes more than material wealth or the ability to stay on trend. Owning a Telfar bag is a symbol of support and solidarity for Black businesses, as well as a mission of inclusivity in fashion.
Beyoncé said it best when she closed out her song “Summer Renaissance” with “This Telfar bag imported, Birkins, them shits in storage.” Telfar has placed a premium on accessibility in luxury, a major difference from brands such as Birkin that make their items as inaccessible as possible. The world of luxury fashion has a history of racist exclusivity—as recently as Gucci's recalled blackface—esque knitwear in 2019 or Black employees accusing Vogue’s Anna Wintour of cultivating a racist work environment in 2020—not to mention that luxury brands have frequently been accused of blatantly ripping off Black aesthetics and designers while refusing to give Black creators proper recognition. Telfar Clemens continues to reinforce his commitment to making his products accessible to Black consumers, and the Telfar x Rainbow collab is a long–overdue break from the status quo.