The Shopping Bag
By Delaney D, Jul 16, 2021
How did Telfar become the brand of a generation?
With the perfect combination of the right message, approachability, and social momentum; Telfar took 2020 by storm and secured its name in history. Driven by a loyal and fervent fan base Telfar’s Shopping Bag became the first IT bag for Gen Z.
From Liberia to LeFrak City, Queens
In 2005 American Liberan designer Telfar Clemens embarked on creating his namesake brand Telfar. Clemens spent his early life in Liberia, but as the Liberian Civil War gripped the country from 1989 to 1997, Clemans moved to Queens, New York, where he grew up in LeFrak City. Clemens went on to study business at Pace University. He gravitated towards DJing and fashion design, immersing himself into the nightlife scene of the city. It was during this time that he established the label Telfar. The brand’s early success came from its subversive unisex clothing that spoke to the socially-conscious fashion forward crowd in New York.
The first time the world was introduced to the now iconic Shopping Bag was in Telfar’s Fall/Winter 2014 runway show. Clemens and his team drew inspiration from department store shopping bags, and even measured the classic Bloomingdale’s bag to use as reference. The bag quickly became a hit within the creative circles of New York, especially with young BIPOC creatives.
The Shopping Bag’s first big breakthrough was in 2017, when Telfar was awarded the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund’s top prize. The reward money of $400,000 enabled the Telfar team to invest in the brand and increase production of the bag. Sales went up dramatically. “By 2019, revenue was up 25-fold over just three years before,” reported the Business of Fashion.
In September 2019 makeup artist Xya Rachel referred to the bag as the “Bushwick Birkin” in a Tweet. The nickname stuck as the bag became ubiquitous around Brooklyn and Downtown New York’s cool kids.
The rise and success of Telfar’s Shopping Bag all comes back to the same point, the brand’s mission statement: “It’s not for you — It’s for everyone.” In staying true to its word, Telfar unveiled the groundbreaking Bag Security Program in August 2020, allowing customers to pre-order any bag in any size for 24 hours. For one day only, Telfar fans could avoid bags quickly selling out after their drop. The Bag Security Program returned for a second round in March 2021, but new colors that dropped since still sell out upon their release.
The wide range of sizes, colors — as well as the bag’s affordable price point made it a hit with everyone from fashion interns to the Real Housewives of New York to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Moreover, Telfar is not a brand that uses diversity as a mask, it is intrinsically part of the brand’s identity. The artistic and diverse crowd that follows Telfar has been able to recognize this difference.
Telfar’s Celebrity Appeal
It is highly likely that you’ve seen the bag come up on your Instagram or Twitter feed. A number of celebreties have also embraced the bag. Solange, who is personal friends with Clemens, was an early adopter of the bag. The Real Housewives of New York’s Sonja Morgan is a fan of the bag and has worn it on the show. Bella Hadid, Ocasio-Cortez, Jeremy O. Harris, Dua Lipa, Saweetie, and Oprah Winfrey have all been photographed with the bag.
This spring, Clemens appeared on The Wendy Williams Show to announce four new colors for 2021. Telfar will become even more of a household name when the brand makes its Olympic debut in Japan this summer. Liberia tapped the designer to create the uniforms for its 2022 Summer Olympic steam. The move led the label to release athletic wear this fall.
Sonja Morgan with a medium white Telfar bag. Courtesy Paper.
Dua Lipa with a large yellow Telfar bag. Courtesy Daily Mail.
Jeremy O. Harris
Jeremy O. Harris with a red Telfar bag. Courtesy Page Six
Telfar Shopping Bags come in three sizes: small, medium and large. With some exceptions, all colors come in all three sizes. In 2018 Telfar changed the sizes of their bags. Notably, the early medium-sized Telfar bags are smaller than the newer medium bags.
Materials And Hardware
Telfar bags are made out of 100% Vegan leather, and lined with polyester. The soft faux leather is very supple and smooth. Over time the bags soften and take on a less structured appearance which is in part due to the external material. One of the more distinct features of Telfar bags is the shape of their interior zipper pulls. The zipper is by YKK and has a unique soda tab shape to it.
Small Telfar Shopping Bags in tan. Courtesy Dazed.
Telfar Shopping Bag Special Editions
Telfar has an impressive color range. It currently sells 23 different colors, with more coming out this summer. The original colors were Tan, Black, and White as first seen on the Fall/Winter 2014 runway.
Telfar X Ugg
Coutesy Teen Vogue.
The extremely adorable Telfar X Ugg collaboration was announced in late 2020 and was released in 2021. It comes in small and medium.
Dark Olive Flag
This screen printed bag is only available in the medium size. It is unclear how long this edition will run for but as of July 2021 it was still available.
Mission Chinese Chrome
In July of 2020 Telfar partnered with the iconic NYC restaurant Mission Chinese Food to release a limited edition bag. The medium sized Chrome bag came with a bottle of Mission Chinese Food’s chili oil and seaweed chips. The bag was only available through ChowNow, a food delivery platform. Telfar and Mission Chinese donated 20% of their profits from the bag to the Okra Project, a mutual aid initiative that helps the black trans community.
This might be one of the rarest telfar bags, as very few seem to be floating around the internet.
The very quiet Telfar and Budwiser collab resulted in a number of Budwiser branded pieces including this budwiser blue bag.
Telfar partnered with retailer Ssense in early 2020 on an orange-colored bag, which is now part of its permanent collection.
Telfar collaborated with Opening Ceremony and Ssense on a bold and beautiful red colored bag, fall 2019, which also became a part of the core collection.
This limited-release bag was first seen on the Spring/Summer 2018 runway. It is unclear if it was released to the public, but was at the very least gifted to friends of the brand.
For SS 2017 Telfar released three bold summer colors — lime green, tangerine orange, and royal blue. The three colors were released to the public in all three sizes for a limited time.
Tan, white, and black — the three original colors came together to create the tricolor Telfar on the Fall/Winter 2016 runway. The bag has three separate pockets. It was released to the public for a short period of time and is in circulation on the resale market
Spring/Summer 2021 Colors
For Spring/Summer 2021, Telfar released four new Shopping Bag colors: Azalea, Double Mint, Painters Tape, and Eggplant.
The Telfar Shopping Bag in Azalea.
The Telfar Shopping Bag in Painters Tape.