Telfar Bags Are Status Statements for the Masses (and They Sell Out in Minutes)

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Jul. 27 2021, Published 4:13 p.m. ET

So, who makes those Telfar bags you see everyone from Beyoncé to Dua Lipa to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez using, the same faux-leather totes that Oprah Winfrey included on her latest “Favorite Things” list?

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We’ve got the intel on the brand, which just dropped a cerulean version of its popular Shopping Bag today, Tuesday, July 27. (Predictably, the cerulean bags sold out almost immediately.)

Designer Telfar Clemens is the fashion mastermind behind the bags.

Telfar is the eponymous creation of Telfar Clemens, a Liberian-American Queens native who started his “genderless, democratic, and transformative” brand in 2005—when he was just 19—in an effort to bring high fashion to the masses.

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Telfar is the eponymous creation of Telfar Clemens, a Liberian-American Queens native who started his “genderless, democratic, and transformative” brand in 2005—when he was just 19—in an effort to bring high fashion to the masses.

“At the end of the day, it’s about more than fashion. It’s about visibility and power,” Clemens told The Cut in 2020. “It’s something very different from the trend for diversity without change that we see elsewhere in the industry, and people recognize that.”

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Clemens launched the Shopping Bag in Telfar’s Autumn/Winter 2014 collection, and after he won $400,000 at the 2017 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards, he used the prize money to add more sizes and colors to the bag lineup.

Between 2016 and 2019, Telfar revenue spiked 25-fold, according to Business of Fashion, and Clemens’ star has only continued to rise in the time since. He reached a global audience at the Tokyo Olympics, for example, as the designer of the Liberian athletes’ official uniforms.

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The Shopping Bag has become an “it bag” dubbed the “Bushwick Birkin.”

The Cut associate fashion editor Devine Blacksher noted that Telfar’s Shopping Bag is “a symbol of group identity for young, creative New Yorkers, especially queer people and people of color,” adding that “there’s never been an It Bag like this before.”

As Blacksher reported, the Shopping Bag got a now-famous nickname—one that alludes to the bag’s relative accessibility—from makeup artist Xya Rachel, who tweeted in 2019 that the “Bushwick Birkin (Telfar bag) stays on during sex.”

The Shopping Bag is “a status symbol for people into fashion, especially in Brooklyn … but for those who don’t have Hermès kinda coins,” Rachel explained to The Cut. “Hence, Bushwick Birkin.”

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The bags are manufactured in China.

Telfar’s Shopping Bags are produced in China, according to The Wall Street Journal, and in a recent interview with SSENSE, Telfar artistic director Babak Radboy discussed the brand’s production process in that country.

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“The thing about producing in China is that it makes it possible to actually work on a garment,” he said. “Like, if you want to make a change in the late afternoon, you can see it that night. Whereas in New York you’d give it to someone, they’d come back in four days, and there would be a bill for $700 to change one seam.”

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The Telfar Bag Security Program allows unlimited pre-orders.

In August 2020, the brand launched its first Telfar Bag Security Program, offering unlimited pre-orders for Shopping Bags of every size and color for 24 hours. The move came less than a month after fashion reseller Hypernova Group reportedly snapped up 60 percent of the stock of Telfar bags and offered them for double or triple the original price, as Paper reported at the time.

“We are not about hype and scarcity,” the brand wrote on Instagram as it announced the program. “The whole point of our bag is accessibility and community. … The Bag Security Program lets you secure your bag without the stress of drops.”

And in March of this year, Telfar ran a second Bag Security Program, upping the order window to 36 hours. “Last year we messed up the fashion industry and the bots with the Bag Security Program—letting you get what you want, without the stress—and keeping Telfar Black-owned and 100 percent independent. You are our investors—and together we are making history again.”

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