Since its founding in 2005, the New York-based label Telfar has built a devoted global following by staying true to a clear and inclusive philosophy: “It’s not for you — it’s for everyone.” Led by Queens native Telfar Clemens, the independent, Black-owned, unisex brand has created cult items such as its affordably priced Shopping Bag, which consistently sells out in minutes when new product drops hit its online store. High-profile fans include Solange Knowles and Dua Lipa, along with an army of fashion editors and tastemakers worldwide.
Like any in-demand fashion brand, Telfar faces the challenges of its scarcity model: rampant counterfeiting, plus buyers (some using bots) who flip its hard-to-get items at a hefty markup. In a groundbreaking move to combat both counterfeiters and resellers, Telfar launched a Bag Security Program last August, a program that allows custom pre-orders, with guaranteed delivery within a few months. As Telfar puts it, “letting you get what you want, without the stress.”)
Recently, Jing Daily caught up with Clemens and Creative Director Babak Radboy to discuss Telfar’s message of inclusivity, the Bag Security Program, brand collaborations, and more.
Jing Daily (JD): Telfar’s message of inclusivity is counter to the concept of exclusivity that many luxury brands still cling onto. Do you think this inclusive trend, led by independent brands like Telfar, is starting to change the industry or is there still a long way to go?
Telfar Clemens and Babak Radboy (Telfar): I don’t think our story is one of inclusivity — in that our aim isn’t to be included in the fashion industry — but to exit it. We are selling to a different customer. When you talk about inclusivity you have to ask; included in what? Who owns the world?
JD: Telfar’s Bag Security Program also goes against the concept of gatekeeping that has underpinned the high-end luxury market for decades. As you see it, is this program the future of luxury?
Telfar: What do you call it when there is something good that everyone can have? Is that the future of luxury or an alternative to it?
JD: Brand collaborations are perhaps the most influential content-commerce strategy at the moment, and your collaborations with White Castle and Converse are a good example of brand values coming through in a collaboration. Based on Telfar’s experience with collaborations, how can a brand approach the concept of collaboration to ensure it is mutually beneficial?
Telfar: White Castle was a special circumstance because there was such a wonderfully human relationship there that really comes from the fact that they are family-owned. It’s a rare and beautiful thing.
JD: In the China market, there has been steadily rising demand in recent years for independent brands and previously niche categories like vegan leather. Has Telfar seen increased demand in China, and does the brand have any efforts planned specifically for that market going forward?
Telfar: There are a lot of Telfar bags that we didn’t make in China! It is definitely a priority for us to plan our entry into that market.
JD: As a 16 year-old brand that has seen a huge uptick in attention in recent years and has a following of extremely passionate customers, what are Telfar’s secrets to fostering deep brand loyalty?
Telfar: I think it’s hard to express the depth of our fidelity to what we do. At the end of the day people can sense this. It isn’t a surface thing — we were doing this when no one would write about us. We all worked without pay for years — it can’t be faked.
JD: As a direct-to-consumer luxury brand, how does Telfar balance the consumer experience with a focus on the product?
Telfar: We try to think of people rather than products. You can’t conceive, merchandise or price a product as if it is just an object among objects — all about the moment it connects to a person and the full reality of that social existence.
Special thanks to Fiona Luo and Gia Kuan for facilitating this Q&A.