The Man Behind the Bag: Introducing Telfar Clemens

Telfar bags have been taking America by storm over this past year. To the average person, they may be mistaken as just another designer purse that a bunch of celebrities, and even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have been wearing, but Telfar is so much more than a typical luxury brand.

Telfar Clemens is a Liberian-American who grew up in Queens, New York. While going to school at Pace University, he started his company in 2005. The brand is completely gender-neutral, and with the tagline “Not for you - For everyone,” Clemens is dedicated to making pieces that are widely accessible compared to many other designer brands.

The famous Telfar bags have been coined as the “Bushwick Birkin,” for being worn by all the stylish Brooklyn hipsters, especially people of color. They feature a clean, functional, and simple shopping bag silhouette. They are made of vegan leather, come in a rainbow assortment of colors, and are priced reasonably at about $150-$250. The caveat is that they are extremely difficult to purchase. The bags are released in “drops” on the Telfar website and will sell out in minutes, creating a lot of hype for those looking to get their hands on one.

(FYI, the next one is today, Feb. 16 at 9 am EST, in case you were curious.)

Telfar represents much more than just a fashion statement. It is also a Black and queer-owned business that is getting the hype and attention it deserves. The brand shows that it is possible today for any small business to gain the respect and appeal of a major luxury brand.

This marks a major shift for the fashion industry in the past few years. Many people now prefer to buy pieces made by smaller companies and in smaller batches, created designers they can stand behind. The hype behind these pieces is not so much that they cost a lot, but that they’re difficult to get your hands on.

Telfar also recently started a program where in addition to drops, you can go online for 24 hours and order any size bag in any color and it will be made and shipped to you in a few months, creating an individualized experience for the buyer. This program brilliantly capitalizes on the individuality aspect that has become so important in the fashion world lately, and the idea that many people now want to feel like their clothing items were made just for them rather than mass-produced.

Fashion is also becoming so much more informed; it seems that people are increasingly wanting to know who designed their pieces and what the company stands for. A Telfar bag has become a marker of someone who understands the value of buying from a black-owned small business, and that they care enough to go through the effort of racing online to get the sought-after purse. The design of the purse is intentionally inconspicuous, but those who can recognize the brand’s embossed logo know that whoever carrying one “gets it.”

Telfar Clemens has paved the way for many Black and queer fashion designers. The Telfar bag has become a symbol of how designer and luxury fashion is changing for the better- becoming so much more inclusive and accessible to all. This bag is just another example of fashion as a language in itself and how purchasing certain clothing can say a lot about the person wearing them.