Could Telfar’s accessibility policy spell the end of its popular bags? | Fashion
It was a “beautiful mess” according to Vogue. Shoppers lined up for hours at the Rainbow fast fashion store on Fulton Street in downtown Brooklyn to get their hands on a “Telfeezy” or Telfar shopping bag earlier this month. The scene with House of Telfar dancers vogue and do death drops broadcast on social media platforms making Telfar a trending topic for days.
The collaboration with Rainbow, a clothing store located in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods, has drawn heavy criticism of the black-owned fashion business in some neighborhoods.
Twitter users called the bags cheap and scoffed at the idea of attending an event at the low-end fashion store. “I wanted one of these when they were hard to get. The fact that they’re about to be rainbow really makes me look at them differently now,” one Twitter user wrote.
Under the trending topic “Ugly Telfar”, another posted “Unpopular opinion: Telfar bags are ugly and the material is not worth the price”. and another user wrote “idk telfar bags are ugly to me 😭 marc jacob bags are cuter.”
Not that Telfar seems to care. The successful pop-up again prompted a second Telfar x Rainbow bag drop last Friday.
Known for its collaborations with brands like Ugg, Easypak and Gap, Telfar is no stranger to left-leaning joint ventures. In a mind-blowing undertaking, they designed the uniforms of the White Castle burger chain. Telfar likes to do things differently. But some wonder if the Telfar shopping bag can remain as in-demand even if more people have access to the highly sought-after accessory?
The rainbow drop is classic Telfar. Founder Telfar Clemens and his business partner Babok Radboy launched Telfar in 2005 with inclusivity at the forefront of marketing strategy and the slogan: “It’s not for you, it’s for everyone”. Telfar has quickly disrupted the luxury fashion industry,” said Ashley Mason-Greene, Founder of Evergreene PR Firm.
The bag was quickly seen on the arms of stars and influencers around the world – dubbed the Bushwick Birkin after the trendy Brooklyn neighborhood and the famous – and sadly expensive – handbag from Hermès.
“When Beyonce was seen carrying a white Telfar bag, everyone knew the price was going up,” Mason-Greene says. But the price has remained the same, selling for between $150 and $257, or “what a DJ could do in one night,” Clemens told the Guardian in a 2020 interview. This is an approach reversed from the fashionomics used by brands like Louis Vuitton and Chanel who use less expensive items to promote their high-end products.
“Here in DC, I was walking down the street wearing mine and people were yelling ‘Okay. I see you ‘Bushwick Birkin,'” Mason-Greene laughs. where you can have a desirable product that doesn’t cost thousands of dollars.”
Telfar is democratizing luxury fashion by making “genderless” bags accessible and Mason-Greene says the Rainbow collaboration “reinforces that”.
“Rainbow was fast fashion before online stores,” she says of the black community’s relationship with the clothing store. “It gave us a window into those other worlds that we maybe couldn’t afford, but allowed us to still look cool.”
Staying relevant is how the 100% vegan leather bag has become a coveted item among black college students, says Howard University senior Leah Dawson. As the creator of fitcamHU, a fashion-inspired TikTok account from Howard University, Dawson says Telfar “knows their demographics.” Instagram posts of dancers cruising down the subway carrying the latest bag are what she says fuel drop culture.
“Their social media branding has done a good job of reaching young people or college students, even if it’s just an influencer carrying the bag,” she says.
The brand has certainly hit the mark at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), or institutions of higher education built before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to serve black students. At Howard University, an HBCU in Washington DC, and Vice President Kamala Harris’ alma mater “Telfar Tuesday” is where you can find students like Dawson showing off their drip. The film major owns four Telfar bags and received a backpack from the company after a Weekly Event Tik Tok Post gone viral.
On The Yard at Howard University, it’s not hard to spot the “TC” logo embossed on brightly colored bags. Students like Asia Alexander, who owns 10 Telfar bags, say the pieces’ popularity at HBCUs is due, in part, to it being one of the few black-owned luxury brands.
“He never changed his prices. A lot of people can’t afford a Louis Vuitton or a YSL, but he kept his prices the same and that shows so much respect for black people,” Alexander says.
Natalie Betts, a health science student at Howard University, says Telfar collaborations show a commitment to inclusivity and she hopes to nab a cobalt blue bag in the second Telfar x Rainbow drop.
“You wouldn’t equate Rainbow or White Castle with a luxury bag,” says Betts. “He makes the bags accessible to black people in downtown communities. It’s not a question of exclusivity.
And in Atlanta, where Telfar bags are worn by both men and women, the message of inclusivity rings true in the LBGTQ+ community. Kri Peck, managing partner at highly regarded PR firm CR8 Agency, says that as a gay man, the classic bag design aligns with his aesthetic.
“It’s unisex and it’s easy to carry around and that’s what made me want to get one,” Peck says. “It makes people like me feel safe. Carrying a handbag is a little too feminine for me, but carrying a Telfar bag is the perfect balance.
Peck never carried a bag until he saw a Telfar on the streets of Atlanta, and now he owns four of them in different shapes and sizes. The message of inclusivity and accessibility is selling, and the high-profile declines are just the “icing on the cake,” Mason-Greene says of the innovative approach. She refers Telfar TV and Liberia’s Olympic uniform, a nod to Clemens’ parental legacy, designed by the company as an impressive marketing effort.
As Rainbow drops continue, critics may scoff but Telfar fans aren’t listening. Additionally, Mason-Greene says there are many other Telfar products that are still exclusive. The Rainbow Drop only offers the shopping bag in all sizes and colors, but no other items or bags will be available. The limited availability links the Telfar shopping bag to a unique experience that is more elusive than exclusive.
“I don’t think I’ve seen another fashion brand have so much fun with marketing,” Mason-Greene says. “This is an opportunity for other brands to pay attention.”