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Black-owned fashion label Telfar recently won a Design Museum award for creating a vegan-leather, gender-neutral shopping bag aiming to redefine the stereotypical concept of luxury fashion being only white, privileged, and aspirational.
Founded back in 2005 in New York City by Liberian-American designer Telfar Clemens and his business partner Babak Radbo, Telfar won the Fashion Design of 2020 award from London’s Design Museum for creating a its trendy, unisex vegan-leather shopping bag.
With the tagline ‘Not for you – for everyone’, Telfar has redefined the stereotypical concept of luxury fashion being white and privileged. The bag is symbolic of the brand’s community-led outlook and has always been this way. For instance, in September last year, the duo launched a range of luxury durags, also called a wave cap, that is worn to accelerate the development of waves or dreadlocks in the hair, which is shockingly banned by the NBA, the NFL, in malls, schools and workplaces across the U.S.
Speaking about what makes the bag different, Clemens said, “It is a status bag but the status has nothing to do with price. That is a new category, as far as I’m concerned.”
Embossed with the TC logo, the bags are created from 100% vegan leather and twill lining, packaged in a 100% cotton drawstring bag, and are available in three sizes and nine colours, including black, dark olive, white, tan, and oxblood. According to the brand, the bags are easy to use thanks to their adaptability and feature both straps and handles, making them a good fit for formal and functional uses alike.
We didn’t want to give the impression that the bag was only for a select few. Well, there is some truth to that – it’s everywhere in Brooklyn. But it’s not the whole story. The thing we are really proud of is that we sell a lot of bags in places that do not have a single fashion store – that are off the radar for fashion and culture: Chattanooga, Birmingham, Oakland, [Washington] DC, Baltimore. Bushwick is cool, but what is really unique to our bag is those other citiesDesigner Telfar Clemens, Founder of Telfar
Clemens launched the bag during Telfar’s Autumn/Winter 2014 collection, but the bags started getting noticed only around 2017, the same year that Clemens won the prize of US$400,000 at the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards. Investing that money back into his collection, he revamped the bag adding additional sizing and colour choices.
In an interview with the Guardian, Clemens explained how the idea for the bag came during Christmas years ago. “Just looking at everyone with their paper shopping bags, I realized that this is a completely unisex silhouette. We measured a Bloomingdale’s bag to make the first sample. When it came to the price, I based it on what a DJ might make in a night; that’s what felt right for me.”
Also dubbed as the ‘Bushwick Birkin’, referencing a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, Clemens mentioned he didn’t want to give the impression that the bag was only for a select few. “Well, there is some truth to that – it’s everywhere in Brooklyn. But it’s not the whole story. The thing we are really proud of is that we sell a lot of bags in places that do not have a single fashion store – that are off the radar for fashion and culture: Chattanooga, Birmingham, Oakland, [Washington] DC, Baltimore. Bushwick is cool, but what is really unique to our bag is those other cities.”
[They] magnify the importance of black style. Telfar Clemens believes in ‘living your fashion life’ – that is, being who you are on a day-to-day basisAuthor Carol Tulloch
Apart from the award, the Telfar shopping bag has garnered love from celebrities like DJ Solange Knowles, actress Issa Rae and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Emily King, guest curator at the Design Museum, celebrated the brand’s win: “In an era where true luxury is having a functioning health and social security system, I think their slogan – ‘Not for you, for everyone’ – rings very true.”
Author Carol Tulloch said, “[They] magnify the importance of black style. Telfar Clemens believes in ‘living your fashion life’ – that is, being who you are on a day-to-day basis.”
The bags are priced according to sizes from US$140 for a mini to US$240 for a large bag and are available to buy here.
According to a recent report by Bangalore-based tech solutions company Infinitum Global, the vegan leather market is predicted to reach US$89 billion by 2025 as consumers grow more conscious about animal welfare and opt for vegan leather alternatives rather than traditional animal-based leather.
If you too are looking for vegan bag alternatives in Asia, here is a list of cruelty-free brands we love created by Asian founders.
All images courtesy of Telfar.