Telfar Clemens Knows the Future Is a Flash Sale

Telfar Clemens Knows the Future Is a Flash Sale

by Evan Ross Katz

With No Met Gala, no red carpets and the future of Fashion Weeks as we know them in flux, many have been clamoring for some kind of fashion moment to have us quaking in our stylish-yet-affordable boots. And if social media is any indication, Telfar's Bag Security Program, a flash sale that allowed devotees and newbies alike to get their hands on Telfar Clemen's long-coveted and long-sold-out Shopping Bag, was a momentous occasion that may have usurped even the DNC by way of social engagement. The memes alone deserve your immediate and undivided attention:

The 24-hour sale had all three sizeways available in every color: black, white, tan, oxblood, olive, navy, yellow, cream, grey, pool blue, bubblegum pink, orange, red, silver, gold, cobalt and copper. For many, the sale was seen as an opportunity to finally secure their bag. In spearheading this program, a one-off that Clemens says could "definitely" be a new business model moving forward, both Telfar the brand and the human being have upended the construct that luxury means exclusive. "Telfar isn't a luxury brand," one person tweeted. "Telfar is absolutely a luxury brand. Just an accessible one," another person tweeted in response.

Below, we chat with Telfar Clemens days after the Bag Security Program wrapped about luxury as a concept, misconceptions about supply chains, and the difference between cultural relevance and culture production.

It's been a pretty exciting week in the Telfar universe. How are you feeling?

Like we have actually left the building.

Where and when did the idea first surface for the Bag Security Program, and can you walk me through the process of making it happen?

We have done just about everything differently so this was more of that. The whole experience of things selling out faster and faster — until they were selling out in seconds — it was not planned. On the one hand, we didn't like that the vast majority of people couldn't get bags. On the other hand the bags were selling so fast that we couldn't even begin to guess what the effective demand was. We also noticed that our customer was putting up an unusual resistance to resellers and there was all this drama on Twitter. We knew they would appreciate this option and we knew it would give us a good insight into where we were in terms of scale of demand. It's been crazy on all counts.

One thing I particularly love about the brand is how much emphasis is put around messaging. For instance: "The Shopping Bag first dropped in 2014 — meaning: our bag ain't new — it's the world that changes. Let's keep changing." How important is the communication aspect of your brand?

We are really not like other brands. We are very straightforward about who we are addressing. That person is actually us, so sometimes our customer service emails read like diary entries.

Despite what some yammer on about, luxury does not mean inaccessible or exclusive, and you've proven this time and time again. Do you think luxury is an outdated conception or do you think some folks just need to reassess the meaning?

We really don't relate to that concept or that word. I'm not sure how to redeem it? Luxury without scarcity — you could just call that freedom.

What would you say are some of the biggest misconceptions around supply chains and how they work?

It takes time. It takes years in fact. When we first made the bag we almost lost money on every bag we sold because we were committed to a very specific price point. We made that real year by year. It takes five to six months to get our bag to you but it took years to get it where it is now. We have a lot of new things in the works that we are trying to perfect using this formula.

You created something quite revolutionary with the Bag Security Program in that it removed the element of "first come, first serve" which so many of us have to come to know (and loathe). But there's also a practicality at play: You'll have all of your orders come in on a single day and then utilize the next six months to create. Is this a model you potentially plan to continue working under?

We think definitely. The reaction from the customer has been really cool. It also means we can stay independent and self-financed.

Your price point is an essential factor in your business. How did you land at a number that's both accessible and appealing to a consumer in search of a luxury good? I imagine the alchemy must be just right.

Most cool people aren't rich. We wouldn't be interested in making clothes our friends couldn't get. At the same time, we will make a thousand dollar t-shirt because it's braided top to bottom by hand. Stores don't know what to do with that because it's a thousand dollar garment that takes a week to make and it doesn't even make you look rich! That's actually luxury.

You once said you wanted to be "Michael Kors, but on purpose" — easily one of my favorite Telfar quotes. Can you unpack the meaning?

You know exactly what we mean by that.

You talk a lot about community in your brand messaging and it's clear from social media alone that the internet (including most recently AOC!) loves Telfar. How does it feel to see your brand not only permeate the fashion scene but also be a part of the cultural zeitgeist outside of the fashion bubble?

We don't talk about community — we just talk to our community — and they actually talk back. So I'm not sure if it's that we are culturally relevant or that we are ourselves producing a kind of culture. We've been really questioning if that is the same thing as fashion. Fashion is really about a monopoly on beauty and the weaponization of beauty by those who hold power. I think the same night we won the CFDA Fashion Fund in 2017 we started to plot a kind of escape. In fact we used the money to start our bag program.

Welcome to "Wear Me Out,"a column by pop culture fiend Evan Ross Katz that takes a look at the week in celebrity dressing. From award shows and movie premieres to grocery store runs, he'll keep you up to date on what your favorite celebs have recently worn to the biggest and most inconsequential events.

Photo via Getty