Every era has a bag that defines the times: the 80s had the Birkin; the 90s had the Carrie Bradshaw-endorsed Fendi Baguette; the 00s brought us the massive Chloé Paddington, which was aligned with the excesses of the likes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and the Olsens, and then came Mansur Gavriel’s bucket bag.
Now we have Telfar’s shopping bags. Made from 100% vegan leather, the shoppers feature Telfar’s embossed “TC” logo and come in three sizes and nine different colours, including black, tan, white, dark olive and oxblood. The bags are notable for their adaptability, and feature straps and handles which means they work for both formal and functional uses). But, more fittingly in an era of social media, the s0-called “Bushwick Birkin” has come to indicate wider representation in a largely white-dominated fashion world and has been described by Telfar Clemens as “genderless, democratic, and transformative.”
“The idea for the bag came during Christmas years ago,” explains the Liberian-American designer via email. “Just looking at everyone with their paper shopping bags, I realised that this is a completely unisex silhouette. We measured a Bloomingdales 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.”
Unlike the trajectory of other “It” bags (a £1m advertising campaign, A-listers carrying them, praise from fashion magazines), the Telfar bag has had a different ascent. Word of mouth and social media have contributed to its slow and more organic rise. The bag made its debut during Telfar’s 2014 autumn/winter show, but it wasn’t until 2017 when the brand won $400,000 from the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award that it was able to make more bags.
“The money from CFDA is how we were able to buy a ton of bags and actually make a program around selling them,” Clemens says . “When we ordered 100 bags, it was the biggest order we had ever made for our website. They sold out overnight, so we bought 300, then 1,000.”
The bag has been embraced by black celebrities such as Solange, A$AP Ferg and Kelela, and Telfar’s tagline “Not for you – for everyone” speaks to the spirit of the black-owned, unisex fashion house. The bag has become a symbol of fashion democracy for people “who love fashion but feel shut out of an industry that’s often reserved for the white and the rich”, the Cut explained last week.
“What makes the bag really different is that it is a status bag and the status has nothing to do with price,” Clemens says. “That is a new category, as far as I’m concerned.”