Telfar is for the People

by Noor Lobad

“Fashion for all” has long been one of the most widely used yet laughably untrue expressions coined by the fashion industry, which notoriously thrives off of elusiveness masked by the guise of inclusivity. For decades, any semblance of diversification displayed by fashion brands has been no more than a thinly-veiled attempt to save face and ward off potential criticism as consumers become increasingly demanding of diverse representation from the companies they support.

When creative director Hedi Slimane’s first Spring 2019 show at the helm of Celine faced heavy criticism for 87 of the show’s 96-model casting being white, Slimane moved the needle back in his favor by supplementing his subsequent shows with more models of color until public scrutiny shifted elsewhere. Celine’s most recent Fall 2020 show reportedly involved 19% models of color; enough for Slimane to avoid going under fire for a lack of diversity, but still few enough that he did not have to divert fully from his signature rail-thin, white model aesthetic.

In 2018, Dolce and Gabbana released a not-so-subtle racist video as part of their “DG Loves China” campaign that mocked Chinese culture and portrayed a Chinese model struggling to use chopsticks to eat Italian dishes. The video had been intended to build hype for D&G’s first-ever fashion show in China meant to take place the following week, which unsurprisingly ended up being canceled in the midst

of public outrage over the incident, the final straw in a long-running string of problematic D&G moments

that have left consumers in anger and utter confusion at how a brand headed by two gay minorities can so consistently exemplify such awe-inspiring tone-deafness.

Time and time again, the message has been made loud and clear: to those at the forefront of the industry, inclusivity is a tool— not a value. Brooklyn-based, black-owned fashion brand Telfar, however, is leading with actions rather than words. Founded in 2005 by Telfar Clemens, the designer’s eponymous brand has had a slow but steady rise to the top.

Having garnered a loyal consumer base for being an affordable luxury brand and winning the 2017 CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund, Telfar’s rise to eminence popped off when its unisex, vegan leather Shopping Bag was released that same year. With different sizes costing between $150 to $257, the bag has since become the It bag of 2020, reaching almost Birkin-level status at a fraction of the famed bag’s retail price.

When Telfar was unexpectedly dumped by GAP during the planning of an upcoming collaboration between the two brands last March, the public was left confused until the reason for the dub became apparent in July, when GAP announced an upcoming collection and 10-year-deal with Kanye West’s Yeezy brand. The move felt underhanded to many, and even raised questions about why there is seemingly only one spot for a reigning successful black designer when white designers rarely ever have to compete over the same collaborations.

Nevertheless, Telfar has continued to sell out its bag at astonishing rates. With restocks routinely selling out within mere minutes, Telfar bags have quickly become the new object of apparel resellers’ attention. One of the bag’s July restocks even reportedly had a whopping 60% of its product cleaned out by reseller bots. Following restocks have similarly had their inventory eaten up by resellers eager to swindle already-agitated consumers, who have long since resigned to paying botched resell prices for their sneakers and, now apparently, their Telfar bags as well.

The enemies of accessibility, resellers are an unfortunate, direct consequence of fashion having been reduced to a form of social currency in recent years. However, modern problems require modern solutions. To Telfar Clemens, that meant taking to twitter to announce that all Telfar bags were to be made available for pre-order on August 19th for 24 hours to an unlimited number of customers, in a bid to aid them in securing themselves a bag without having to take their chances during upcoming restocks.

It was the tweet heard around the world. Such an unheard-of gesture by a luxury fashion house, the simplicity of Clemens’ solution left many scratching their heads wondering, why hasn’t this happened sooner? Prior to now, crooked resell prices have never been the enemy in the eyes of designers— they have been the goal. If getting one’s designs to be sold at Bergdorf Goodman’s was the designer benchmark for success in the ‘90s, having one’s products be desired widely enough for them to end up on resell platforms such as Grailed and StockX has become the 21st-century equivalent.

“We are not about hype and scarcity. We didn’t set out to make an impossible-to-get product. The whole point of our bag is accessibility and community,” read a statement on the brand’s website.

Hype and fashion have been so often conflated that brands and consumers alike have grown to consider the scarcity of a product to be a necessary prerequisite to its success. However, the catastrophic events of 2020 have simply left no room for anything other than undisputable, what-you-see-is-what-you-get-level authenticity. The reciprocated loyalty Telfar has demonstrated to its customers has propped the company up at a time in which other businesses are drowning in COVID-19-induced uncertainties. Telfar’s disinterest in being an aspirational brand, but rather, a brand of the people, has established Telfar an architect of the future of fashion, one that will surely look vastly different from its past.

Find more from Noor on Instagram, @noorlobaddie.

See this article and more in our issue two print release!