Telfar – Revolutionizing What it Means to Be a Luxury Brand: Samiha Abd-Elazem

Photo: Justin French

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In a matter of minutes after the restock, the signature Telfar bags—embossed with the “TC” label—were sold out once again. The Telfar bags are comprised of 100% vegan leather, come in different sizes, ranging from small to large, as well as various colors; additionally, the long straps and handles allow the bag to be versatile and functional for everyday use. Celebrities–Bella Hadid, Solange, Selena Gomez, Dua Lipa, A$AP Ferg and even AOC— have been spotted carrying the Telfar bags, also known as the “Bushwick Birkin.”

Although the bags have been embraced by top celebrities, Telfar Clemens, the founder of Telfar, envisions his bags carried by everyone and not just prominent figures, as embodied by their slogan “Not for You—For Everyone”. Telfar Clemens, who was born to Liberian parents in Queens, started his label in 2005. In an interview with The Cut, Clemens described his brand as “genderless, democratic, and transformative.” His vision for his brand was to make high fashion accessible and inclusive and he has been doing just that. When the Telfar bags continued to sell out within minutes of each restock, there were some concerns that bots and people were buying the bags to resell them at a higher price. The cost of Telfar bags are intentionally set to be affordable, for a high end brand, with bags retailing from $150 to $257. However, resale sites were listing Telfar bags for up to $700. In an effort to live out the brand’s motto, Telfar announced a “Bag Security Program”, a 24 hour online special starting on August 19th where people could pre-order any bag with guaranteed delivery between December 15 and January 15, 2021. 

The “Bag Security Program” is a unique decision for a luxury brand. Telfar’s commitment to accessibility can be seen at odds with the general strategies utilized by luxury brands. Luca Solca, Head of Luxury Goods Research at Bernstein, stated that “luxury goods resolve people’s insecurities about who they are and their place in society… Luxury products help to set us apart from the crowd and make us special in our eyes and in the eyes of our peers.” The description of the impact of luxury products Is fundamentally different to Clemens’ vision of making Telfar a way to connect rather than alienate. Solca also explains how luxury brands advertise the idea of “exclusivity” while selling millions of products. In comparison, Telfar goes against the idea of exclusivity as evident from the slogan, “Not for You—For Everyone”. 

As for the specific strategies utilized by luxury brands, three common strategies are price discipline, volume restraint and “exponential price- quality trade-off”.   The price discipline strategy revolves around the notion that luxury brands convince consumers that goods are “precious” but not expensive. Generally, price and value are not the same, especially since gross margin can be “close to 90 percent.”  The rationale behind this strategy is that if the brand never offers a discount, then consumers do not recognize the difference between price and value. If a brand offers discounts then consumers will recognize that when products are full price, they are overpaying. Consequently, most luxury brands never go on sale. In comparison, Telfar offers affordable pricing for a luxury brand, so consumers are not purchasing items at an exorbitant price. 

The volume restraint strategy revolves around the limited edition tactic where brands purposely sell “lower volumes” of their products. The purpose of this tactic is to push the narrative that luxury brands are exclusive, so only a select number of consumers can have access to such luxury goods. Consequently, this can result in products being resold at higher prices which makes products even more exclusive and unattainable. Telfar specifically denounced this tactic and instead implemented the “Bag Security Program” to increase access to the Telfar bags. Although traditionally luxury brands are worried about oversaturation, this is not a concern for Clemens who values making luxury products accessible. 

The “exponential price-quality trade off” strategy is based upon providing a better quality product but at an exponentially higher price. Therefore, consumers are more likely to justify spending unreasonable amounts of money on a “better quality” product even if the product quality is not significantly better. Again, this strategy revolves around increasing profits by making products more expensive and exclusive. Clemens focuses on providing quality items to consumers without charging exorbitant amounts for Telfar bags.

The differences between the strategic tactics used generally by luxury brands and Telfar represents how Telfar is revolutionizing what it means to be a luxury brand. Clemens has been making notable strides to make Telfar accessible, affordable, and inclusive. Telfar’s strategy has also been beneficial from an economic viewpoint. During the 24 hour “Bag Security Program” window, “the label says it generated 10 times the sales it has in the entirety of 2019.” Furthermore, Telfar is expected to “generate a comfortable eight figures in revenue this year.” 

 After the success of the “Bag Security Program”, Telfar has already moved forward with expanding their product selection by releasing a line of luxury durags. In a recent interview, Clemens stated that “we set out to make a durag that is meant to be seen. This durag is meant to be a kind of luxury, and our goal, as always, is even more accessibility and ubiquity.” The release of luxury durags is especially significant considering how Black people are discriminated against for wearing a durag. Telfar has truly redefined what it means to be a luxury brand by taking pride in inclusivity while denouncing exclusivity. From the “Bag Security Program” to the release of luxury durags, it is clear that Telfar is not interested in following any set of “conventional” rules.