Thursday 23 September 2021

Telfar: The “It” bag that challenges gender norms in fashion.

By Radithebe Rammutle

I n Africa there's hardly been any noise about Liberian-born fashion designer, Telfar Clemens, now based in New York (USA). If there was then it is faint. Yet in 2020 hype over Telfar Clemens bags in America and Europe took the fashion industry by surprise.

The label, founded in 2005, has become one of the most recognisable fashion brands in the last five years. This brand rise has bolstered Clemens’ popularity earning him a spot in Time Magazine’s Next 100 most influential people list.

“Telfar Clemens is the time, the spirit, and the conversation. Through his namesake line, he has created a universe of his own that transcends fashion. Where the industry restricts identity with the outdated expression of presentation, correctness, and exclusivity, Telfar has created a new language of truth, through design” writes Solange Knowles, a Grammy award–winning musician, and artist.

The Telfar Clemens shopping bag, launched in 2014 is the force behind the Telfar line. In 2020 the fashion industry sales dropped by 50% because people became less concerned about their appearance in a world where social interaction was restraint.

Hence, items such as sweatpants and flip-flops became new popular fashion items. But the Telfar shopping bags appear to be the exception. It became the It Bag in 2020. Its sales growth and continued popularity catapulted Clemens's business success amidst challenges in the fashion industry.

What makes the Telfar bag an 'It' bag to make people go wild over is anyone’s guess because there are many reasons – from the business approach to technology to design. While Gucci, Prada, Dior, and others offer high quality and pricey bags for exclusive high-net-worth customers, Telfar bags has attracted both the rich and ordinary folks by offering inexpensive bags. Unlike many luxury brands priced as high as $800, Telfar bags range from $150 to $250 each. Yet they remain popular - meaning that it is not the price but other factors that are driving its demand.

Telfar has made its bags inaccessible. As noted in Vogue magazine they are “…famously difficult to get”. The fashion magazine rightly said its appeal is not about the quality or price, but it is about carrying something hard to get in your hands. On its online store, the bags are kept out of stock intentionally.

Restock of the store is announced periodically and only lucky customers can purchase unless they have pre-ordered. Pre-ordering was introduced to counter reselling bots that took over their websites to resell the bags at higher prices.

Telfar brand is concerned about gender. From its inception, the designs sought to reinterpreted and deconstructs existing styles something that started when Clemens was a teenager. As a teenager, Clemens was unhappy with styles that conformed to gender binary norms making it difficult for him to buy whatever he wanted.

Because of this he started to design his clothing through a process of deconstruction and learning how clothes are made. Clemens's commentary on gender norms is visible in unisex clothing. For years, the press ignored the brand and its unisex designs. But that has changed. Today, the gender narrative and dialogue are now celebrated and for Telfar this means market expansion.


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