Profile: Telfar Clemens (1985-)

Telfar Clemens is a Liberian-American fashion designer and the founder of Telfar, a fashion label based in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Early life

Clemens was born to Liberian parents in Lefrak City, Queens. His family briefly moved back to Liberia but returned to Queens in 1990 to avoid the Second Liberian Civil War. While studying at New York’s P.S. 206, a teacher wrote monograms for all of the students on the board. Clemens’ monogram would become the Telfar logo.

Career

In 2005, while still a student at Pace University, Clemens founded his eponymous, unisex fashion brand, Telfar. In 2017, Clemens designed uniforms for 400 White Castlefranchises. All proceeds from the partnership went to bail funds for teenagers imprisoned on Rikers Island. The same year, Clemens won the CDFA/Vogue Fashion Fund. The $400,000 prize allowed him to steadily produce Telfar’s popular Shopping Bags.

In early 2020, Clemens announced a collaboration with Gap Inc. The collection was postponed indefinitely in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clemens counts Vivienne Westwood, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Yohji Yamamoto as influences, along with “lifestyle” brands such as Calvin Klein, DKNY, and Polo Ralph Lauren.

Notable designs

The Telfar Shopping Bag has been called an “it-bag” and “the decade’s most important accessory” by major fashion publications. The bag, originally modeled after shopping bags from Bloomingdale’s, is colloquially known as the “Bushwick Birkin” due to its combination of it-bag status and accessibility. In 2018, singer Kelela featured the bag in her “The Story of a Thing” column for T (magazine).

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