Telfar Clemens spent his lockdown in a rather unique way. The designer, who was named 2020 Accessories Designer of the Year at the CFDAs (America's most prestigious fashion awards), earlier this week, was putting together a system which would finally allow his fans a chance to order one of his phenomenally popular Shopping Bags.
Clemens is in the business of making a new type of It bag, one that doesn’t require a muse, an OTT price tag or even real leather. However, a waiting list is still needed, not to maintain brand exclusivity (the reason many luxury labels employ the practice), but to cope with the high demand.
The plain rectangle shopping bag embossed with the initials C and T, similar to the Hyundai logo, has been nicknamed the 'Bushwick Birkin' thanks to its cult status among inhabitants of the Brooklyn neighbourhood of the same name.
It may have been hailed as the bag which epitomises 2020 style, but the Shopping Bag made its debut at New York Fashion Week in 2014, blown up as the backdrop of Telfar’s autumn/winter show. The unisex label launched in 2004 with a democratic vision in mind: a brand that’s for everyone. An ethos that’s incorporated into the Shopping Bag, described as an “Everyday bag for Everyone” on the brand's website.
As the brand made a name for itself on New York’s youth culture scene, it came to symbolise inclusive, accessible fashion. In 2017, it was awarded the 2017 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, a prize of $400,000. Clemens used the money to reach a wider selection of customers by stocking the bags in 28 stores.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Telfar sold more than 5,000 bags between 2018 and May 2019. The sold out Shopping Bag retails from £110 to £200 depending on the size, ranging from mini to XL and comes in an array of colours.
It's not aesthetics alone which make a hit bag - although the streamlined practicality and bold logo on this one certainly have modern appeal - but also what it says about the person carrying it.
That Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one of the bag's most famous fans tells you all you need to know about the niche it's carved as a talisman of liberal values. Ocasio-Cortez has been spotted at the Capitol carrying her burgundy Shopping bag, as well as praising Clemens on her Instagram stories, saying “@Telfarglobal is now known as a globally celebrated designer, but did you know this Black, LGBTQ+ designer + founder got their start in LeFrak City, Queens? Another NY-14 native using their talents to challenge us to question convention and imagine a different world. Our community is so proud!”
The Telfar Shopping Bag is more than just a rectangle piece of faux leather, but a way of wearing your politics on your shoulder.
The bag's status as a collector's item coupled with an affordable price point created a perfect storm of problems earlier this year when it was discovered that whenever new styles were made available, bots were snapping them all up. They were then being sold on resale sites and much higher prices.
That's why Clemens decided to suspend his online store to find a solution. In August, the brand opened the Bag Security Program, where customers had a 24 hour window to order a bag which would be delivered between December 15, 2020 and January 15, 2021. The pre-order model is one that’s become gradually more popular with brands that have a cult following such as Kitri Studios, Mary Benson and Olivia Rose The Label in order to promote sustainable business.
On the day of the security program launch, the website crashed.
Your best bet to getting your hands on the Shopping Bag is by browsing through eBay and Vestiaire Collective, where the faux leather bag is being sold for up to £650. Perhaps not quite what Telfar Clemens intended when he launched an It bag designed to be enjoyed by all, but it's the kind of problem many designers would dream of having right now.