Fashion and Retail Association
The Story of Telfar
Updated: Mar 1, 2022
By: Alex Germain
Telfar Clemens has risen to become one of the most popular designers in our current moment. With his signature Shopping Bag seen on everyone from A$AP Ferg to AOC, his designs are massively popular, selling out in minutes and fetching double the price on secondhand markets. However, his success didn’t come overnight, and Clemens worked for over a decade to get his brand to the place it’s at right now. Here’s an abbreviated history of Telfar Clemens.
Born in 1985 to Liberian parents in Queens, Clemens graduated from Pace University in 2005 with a degree in accounting. However, he had been making his own clothes since he was 15, and formally founded his eponymous line the same year he graduated. He made a point to make the line unisex, uncommon at the time, and began working to grow his brand. Joining a scene of young black creatives in New York City centered around club nights and parties, he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Shayne Oliver, who went on to create Hood By Air. Eventually Clemens developed a following, and once Hood By Air broke out onto the scene in 2014 with their avant garde, distinctly black and queer designs, the door was wide open for Clemens to blow up.
Telfar consistently grew since its founding, collaborating with brands such as White Castle and Budweiser, and in 2017, the brand was awarded the $400,000 CDFA/Vogue Fashion Fund, which is awarded yearly to emerging American fashion talent to help foster their growth. Clemens used this money to fund the development of his most popular product, the Shopping Bag. Inspired by Bloomingdale’s shopping bags, the bag debuted in Telfar’s AW14 collection, but was improved for it’s SS19 collection. With devoted fans of the bag singing its praises, it was a matter of time before its hype accumulated.
Telfar used a model of sudden online drops to sell the bag, and by summer 2020, the site was crashing every time a bag was released, with the bag selling out in minutes. Telfar created the Bag Security Program in response, in which shoppers sign up in advance to reserve a bag. Still, the bag is guaranteed to sell out when released, and many go to resellers to get the bag. With its affordable price point, the Telfar Shopping Bag has helped to change the idea of what luxury is, as it’s no longer restricted by class or status. The success of a black, queer designer in creating an “it-bag” has helped break down barriers and give representation to POC in traditionally white spaces.
Recently, Telfar has created an online platform Telfar TV, which houses community driven online content and exclusive drops for their Shopping Bag and their recently introduced Duffle Bag. Additionally, Clemens designed the uniforms for the 2021 Liberian Olympic team and won the 2020 CDFA American Accessories Designer of the Year award. With his boundary breaking success and distinct designs, the future looks bright for Telfar Clemens, and we can’t wait to see what he does next.