The Telfar bag, or the “Bushwick Birkin” as some have started to call it on social media, was originally released back in 2014.
However, over the past year, it has become probably the most sought after Black-owned accessory in the market. The iconic bag has built such a cult following that the brand is announcing new drops every week and consistently selling out.
Many celebrities have been seen rocking Telfar bags, including Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce, Wendy Williams, Bella Hadid, Selena Gomez and even politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
So how did this simple vegan leather bag gain so much popularity?
It all started in 2005, when Liberian-American Designer Telfar Clemens, then a student at Pace University, decided to start their own brand of unisex clothing. They wanted to make something that transcends gender; the motto of the brand is “not for you — for everyone.”
After the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many others, the Black Lives Matter movement garnered attention across the nation, creating a national outcry to support Black businesses. Since then, Telfar has seen an uptick in demand for their bags.
The iconic Telfar bag logo is actually a monogram standing for Clemens’ full name. When Clemens was in school, their teacher made monograms for every one of his students and the Telfar logo was the symbol assigned to them.
Many of Clemens’ designs are a commentary on identity, American culture and consumerism.
“We were just looking at everyone with their holiday shopping bags and thought it was so funny to think of that as a unisex silhouette,” they said. “We literally measured a Bloomingdale’s bag to make ours… If you think about it, what’s more fashionable than a bag that’s used to carry fashion?”
CJ Green is a fashion enthusiast and Telfar bag collector. They saw valuable representation in the Telfar brand.
“Anytime I have the opportunity to support queer people of color, I absolutely take the time to because I feel like these communities have faced so much oppression on multiple axes that make both their survival and success even more difficult,” they said. “Additionally, I feel so much love and pride to be able to see myself reflected in a fashion company that I admire. Fashion is one of the biggest parts of expressing who I am, and to have someone like me representing and serving me feels good.”
The message of the brand from day one was about diversity and inclusion. It’s beyond performative activism — when compared to luxury brands from other designers, the Telfar is affordable. The price point for a Telfar Bag ranges from $150 to $257, well below the thousands of dollars that many high fashion brands charge for similarly stylish products. Because of this pricing, Telfar has been able to develop a fan base in a range of ages, classes, cultures, sexual orientations and gender identities.
As the demand for these bags continues to grow, Telfar’s online store consistently sells out. In response to resellers buying up and selling the bags for marked-up prices, Telfar developed the Bag Security Program, opening preorders for custom bags months in advance and ensuring that everyone is able to secure a reasonably priced Telfar bag, rather than turn to a scalper. This way, the brand is able to ensure its affordable luxury status.
Wearing a Telfar bag is not just a fashion statement, but a political statement. It shows your support for the Black and Queer community.