If you asked a college student what they consider “luxurious,” most would say it’s a GrubHub order delivered to their doorstep. Thanks to Telfar Clemens, designer of the renowned Telfar shopping bag, luxury is becoming more accessible. Because of their low prices ranging from $150 to $250 (compared to Gucci bags, which start at around $1000), even a penny-pinching student could save up to afford this bag. But this begs the question: Can luxury items be available to just anyone?
When you think of luxury handbags, the first names that might come to mind are Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Chanel. Due to its rise in popularity in the past few years, the Telfar signature bag has rightfully earned its spot on that list. Though the bag was released in 2014, it has gained recognition after being spotted on the arms of Solange Knowles, Bella Hadid, Selena Gomez, Dua Lipa and other celebrities. Most recently, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has made headlines after sporting the bag in Washington D.C. The bag embodies diversity, being worn by both celebrities and fans, and amassing customers of all ages, genders and races.
When Telfar drops a restock of these bags nearly every month, the items sell out within seconds. Each time the brand restocks their merchandise, Telfar starts trending on Twitter. After the drop in late July, shoppers took to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction after not scoring a bag. What became apparent to the aspiring customers was that resellers were buying the bags before others could get a chance and selling them on other websites like eBay and Grailed for more than three times their original price. After catching wind of the frustration surrounding the practice, the brand shut down their website and released a statement on Instagram saying, “Telfar is for the people. Not bots. Store on ice while we root them out.” The issue of resellers buying out stock and marking up prices is not unique to the Telfar bag; however, they are one of the first brands to speak out on the problem. Because the company is founded on the principle that luxury items should be available to everyone, Clemens created a solution.
The brand announced that on Aug. 19, they will be launching a 24-hour event called the Telfar “Bag Security Program.” This program, available for one day only, will enable anyone who dreamed of owning the shopping bag to preorder any number of bags in select colors and in the size of their choosing. Because of this program, many are praising Clemens for making the bags more widely available and finding a way to defeat pesky resellers.
Aside from the sleek style and memorable design of the Telfar bags, there are less obvious reasons why the item has been deemed the latest “it” bag. For starters, the bag was co-created by Black designer Clemens with help from his creative director, Babak Radboy. The pair created the bag after being inspired by the “unisex silhouette” of shoppers in New York carrying home their Christmas gifts in shapeless packages. With the idea of genderless items at an affordable price point at the forefront of its conception, the bag marks a new wave of luxury items disrupting the fashion industry. The bag symbolizes fashion sense, cultural awareness and timeless functionality rather than wealth.
The shopping bag has been affectionately dubbed the “Bushwick Birkin.” Though the price of a Telfar bag pales in comparison to the cost of a real Birkin, the nickname reveals the elevated status that accompanies owning one of these bags. The brand’s slogan, “It’s not for you — it’s for everyone,” is another reason why the label has soared in popularity. Telfar prides itself on creating unisex, inclusive, affordable clothes and accessories for any gender, race or socioeconomic status.
But what makes a bag, shoe or any other luxury item valuable? Is it the scarcity and whopping price tag? Or is it the Twitter fanfare, societal craze and the unquestionable recognition that comes with wearing the item? The fact that many celebrities have deemed the bag worthy of inclusion in their wardrobes might also have elevated the brand’s status. Yet, more than that, Telfar is offering a place in the fashion industry to those that aren’t the typical white and rich clientele that many extravagant labels attract. Because of the brand’s fearless contributions toward making fashion more inclusive, Telfar has received the title of “luxury” it deserves.
When creating his brand, Clemens set out to build a label that could be worn by anybody. In previous interviews he claimed that at 19 years old, he saw very little representation of queer and Black people in magazines ads, so he wanted to change that. Unlike the rich, white men behind name brands like Balenciaga or Burberry, Clemens understands what it’s like to be excluded from the fashion industry. The brand seeks to bring recognition to marginalized groups by giving them a reasonably priced product that emphasizes their style and identity.
The designer and directors of Telfar strive for authenticity and doing the unthinkable. Telfar has been ahead of its time in terms of creating unisex clothing and promoting pop-up shops, which makes the brand so revolutionary. Telfar even designed the uniforms of White Castle workers back in 2017. Clemens is unafraid of what the media might say and instead decides to start his own trends. When scrolling through the brand’s Instagram account, there are countless images of Black, brown, queer and trans customers toting the handbag. Through their unconventional products, events and social media presence, Telfar sends a clear message to its fans: Fashion is meant for everyone.
The bag is undeniably a symbol of solidarity, diversity, inclusivity and, of course, fashion. Though the bag might only cost $200, the sense of community the shopping bag provides is invaluable. Telfar has taken the fashion industry by storm and proved that luxury is no longer reserved for the elite. So, whether you’re considering buying an “it” bag or a pair of earrings, rest assured that any Telfar item you buy will make you feel luxurious without breaking the bank.