First and foremost, happy Black History Month! We celebrate Black history every day on REVOLT, though, giving flowers where they are due and putting forth valuable information to help push the culture forward. Black History Month is just another time to give love. In honor of the occasion, we’ve gathered a list of individuals and entities that are shattering the norms to open the doors for generations to come. Our first honoree is Telfar Clemens.
Fashion designer and founder of Telfar, Clemens has become a household name and a pioneer for Black and queer fashion lovers. For years, he worked seemingly under the radar but was known to those in like crowds to build the empire he has now. With some of the biggest names in fashion now calling his phone, and producing the most talked about “it-bag” of 2020, Clemens’ work represents a new rise of luxury while creating its own rank in high fashion.
While Telfar continues to expand, the designer’s actions remind us all to stick to the basics but most importantly stick to what you know and who you are. Much of his work is a direct reflection of whom he is and what he would like to see in the world. His imagination is creating an avenue of change in the fashion industry, turning a dream into a reality we can all get a hold of.
As we step into Black History Month, take a look at Telfar Clemens’ groundbreaking track record in fashion and culture.
1. Telfar Clemens’ “Why”
Born in Queens, New York to Liberian parents, Clemens spent his youth in Liberia until the outbreak of the country’s second civil war. After his return to the states, he went on to study at Pace University and earned a degree in accounting. Noticing the fluidity in the clothing he and his friends wore, he switched lanes to fashion making a line that represented exactly what was missing in the industry. His brand, much like himself, turned out to be something that had never been seen before. The self-taught designer launched Telfar, his fashion label in 2005 full of unisex pieces and a mission to remain for all. Since its start, Telfar has continued to uniquely pull together looks that cross boundaries allowing for a full expression of self through style.
2. His Philanthropy and Awards
From self-taught to award-winning, Clemens has created a blueprint for Black designers to follow for years to come. In September 2017, he partnered with White Castle to design uniforms for 400 franchises. A month later, he designed a capsule collection with the fast-food chain and donated all proceeds to bail funds for imprisoned teenagers in Rikers Island. During that time, the designer won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award and used the money received to produce the shopping bag consistently. In September of 2020, his achievements reached yet another height, as he was honored as the “American Accessories Designer of the Year” at the CFDA Awards.
3. “Not for You, for Everyone”
With inclusion at its core, Telfar became one of the first brands to blur the lines between what is seen as masculine and feminine. Its best know item, the shopping bag aka the “Bushwick Birkin” has been seen worn by both men and women alike. While the Black community sends overwhelming support, inclusion does not end at gender. Before its big boom over the past year, Telfar was worn by creatives and queers familiar with Clemens in NYC. However, with growth came new supporters from all ages, races, and backgrounds. The international brand with no limits has managed to do exactly what it said it would since its inception. Telfar has touched your everyday style-setter, government official, and your favorite celebrity, creating a space where we are all one.
4. Creating Accessibility in High Fashion
On the topic of inclusion, Telfar took the current internet climate of bots and resellers, and fought against the system. During the pandemic, the shopping bags were in such high demand in 2020. Fashion sources deemed the bag a must-have staple. Understanding the new demand, Clemens noted he never intended for his bags to be in limited stocks, continuing his mission of creating pieces for everyone. After seeing his bags on reseller sites, he and his team took to the internet to announce its Telfar Security Bag Program in August of last year. The program was a one-day event where fashion lovers were given the opportunity to pre-order any bag of any color with guaranteed delivery by January 2021.
5. Redefining Luxury
With the fashion industry still years behind Clemens’ model, he began to pave the way for ultimate inclusivity while blurring the lines of luxury. What seemed unattainable for some time is a non-factor when it comes to Telfar. With price mostly affordable pricing, the label opens the conversation of accessibility within an industry that holds exclusivity very close.
6. Stage Presence
Telfar is essentially boundless as it breaks barriers in nearly all aspects of fashion. One of the elements that help bring the brand into prominence has been unique fashion shows. Creating performances rather than showings, Telfar has made each show enjoyable and relatable to attendees. The notion of freedom and “for everybody” rings true in each aspect of the brand — even when on full display.
7. Ownership and Expansion
Since the start, Telfar has been more than just bags. The designer has produced clothing, jewelry, belts, and shoes under his umbrella of work, as well. In 2020, he launched a line of luxury durags, bringing ownership back to the culture in a new and appropriate way. He also collaborated with UGG nearing the end of 2020, a combination that showed his versatility yet again in his unique methodology.