Black-owned fashion label Telfar has won the Fashion Design of 2020 award from London’s Design Museum for its vegan-leather, gender neutral shopping bag, capping off a change-making period for the brand.
In a 12-month period where fashion has been forced to question its eurocentric outlook in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, Telfar has upended the idea of luxury fashion as white, privileged and purely aspirational.
The Telfar shopping bag has doubled as a celebrity favourite (fans include Solange, Issa Rae and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and a symbol of the brand’s community-led outlook.
“In an era where true luxury is having a functioning health and social security system, I think their slogan – ‘Not for you, for everyone’ – rings very true,” Emily King, guest curator at the Design Museum said, celebrating their win.
Since designer Telfar Clemens and his business partner Babak Radboy created the label in 2005, the duo have been early outliers in fashion’s inner circle. In September they created a range of luxury durags – a cornerstone of black haircare yet banned by the NBA, the NFL, malls, schools and workplaces across America.
“[They] magnify the importance of black style,” said author Carol Tulloch. “Telfar Clemens believes in ‘living your fashion life’ – that is, being who you are on a day-to-day basis.”
Embossed with the TC [Telfar Clemens] logo, the award-winning shopping bag was dubbed the ‘Bushwick Birkin’ to articulate that this “it” bag wasn’t just for a chosen few.
“Well, there is some truth to that – it’s everywhere in Brooklyn. But it’s not the whole story,” Clemens told the Guardian. “The thing we are really proud of is that we sell a lot of bags in places that do not have a single fashion store – that are off the radar for fashion and culture: Chattanooga, Birmingham, Oakland, [Washington] DC, Baltimore.
“Bushwick is cool, but what is really unique to our bag is those other cities.”
Clemens said he realised gradually the bag was part of a bigger moment.
“It was when we would see it several times in a day and definitely not know any of the people who were wearing it! Also when our families started requesting them.”