There’s been a lot written about the Telfar resale market. From the battalion of cyborg-like bots commanded by resellers to buy up stock, to the hordes of fans who have sworn off buying Telfar bags on the resale market altogether. The ‘Bushwick Birkin’ has managed to tap into the notoriously exclusive world of luxury resale which is dominated by centuries old Parisian fashion houses. Telfar’s growing resale presence is riddled with contradictions. An affordably priced luxury brand which boasts the central ethos of democratizing luxury, its slogan is “Not for You – For Everyone”, being bought in bulk and sold for sometimes three times the retail price. It’s certainly perplexing. The seemingly paradoxical quality of Telfar resale reveals a lot about the luxury resale market as a whole, leading to questions about its pitfalls and the very nature of luxury.
When the Telfar Shopping Bag was launched in 2014, like all legendary designs, it shook up the fashion world. At first it was a bit more quiet, though many celebrity and It-Bag aficionado scrambled to get their hands on this affordable tote bag from a designer relatively unknown to the mainstream. Over the past seven years, the hype for these bags grew and as long-overdue attention on social justice and anti-racism became top of mind, the yearning for a bag from Telfar Clemens, a 36 year-old Liberian-American, reached a must-have-craze status.
You can only imagine how other luxury brands charging thousands of dollars per design were feeling when the Telfar Shopping Bag snatched up It-Bag status. But far from a fleeting moment in the It-Bag limelight, seven years later Telfar’s bag design is more popular than ever. Case in point – Beyonce has recently joined the cohort of A-listers donning the style.
And what’s more remarkable, is that the Telfar Shopping Bag is still priced affordably at between $150 to $257. But this is hardly surprising considering the brand’s ethos. Telfar is a brand for the people. All designs are genderless and the Telfar Shopping Bag is made from 100% vegan leather. The design comes in three sizes which were modeled after the dimensions of Bloomingdale’s shopping bags. The bag, and the brand whose TC logo is embossed on it, has become a status symbol but not in terms of immense wealth. Instead, having a Telfar Shopping Bag on your arm is a sign that you are in the know when it comes to fashion.
The term ‘cult appeal’ is so casually thrown about these days when it comes to describing brands and trends. But Telfar is one of the few examples where the term actually applies. The brand’s cult following and the industry’s fascination with the Shopping Bag in particular is unlike anything we’ve seen in fashion in modern times. It’s perplexing but it also makes a lot of sense. Telfar is a black-owned and designed brand. It has succeeded in
deconstructing and remodeling the very essence of luxury by not just rejecting exclusivity but promoting the ethos that luxury should be, and is, for all.
But the Telfar resale market has thrown an almighty spanner in this radical, if idealistic, premise. Telfar releases its bags in drops or through its Bag Security Program. This is whereby, for a limited time of 24 or 36 hours, shoppers can pre-order as many Telfar Shopping Bags as they wish online in any color and size available. In either case, it’s become commonplace for bots to buy up large quantities of the stock with the sole purpose of reselling at a high markup. This means many legitimate shoppers are unable to score a Telfar Shopping Bag for the affordable retail price. Resale sites typically sell the bags for around $400 to $600 but often more. This high markup contradicts the very nature of Telfar as a brand. Founder Telfar Clemenso himself has spoken out against the way Telfar resale operates. “What the bots are doing goes against what we are about — we are not trying to create fake scarcity — we just have crazy demand.”
However, while these issues may be more overt in the reselling of Telfar bags, they are not exclusive to the Telfar brand. Severely marking up products to make them more exclusive and unattainable to those who wish to purchase them diametrically opposes everything Telfar stands for. But other luxury brands have undergone a similar treatment on the resale market. The Hermès Birkin along with the Kelly are notoriously sold on resale sites for significantly higher than their retail price due to the difficulty of purchasing from Hermès. Furthermore, limited edition pieces and covetable collaborations are routinely resold at a high markup due to their scarcity and high demand.
So do we subsequently need to accept that buying up products and reselling them for a large profit is simply a part of not only luxury resale but the luxury industry in general? But perhaps Telfar’s unique luxury for all mentality is what is making the bitter pill of the Telfar resale market that much harder to swallow? And moreover, does Telfar resale represent everything that is wrong with the luxury resale market? Are Telfar bags in particular waking us up to the market’s routine practice of driving up the price of popular products and making fewer available to buy first-hand?
Despite a wave of Telfar fans and wannabe bag owners swearing off the Telfar resale market, the brand’s presence within the luxury second-hand industry is only growing. On popular resale platform Vestiaire Collective, searches for “Telfar” have grown +50% in the first six months of 2021 compared to the last six months of 2020. Additionally, searches for “Telfar Bag” have grown +177% in that same time period. A spokesperson from Vestiaire Collective details how demand for the brand is continuing to increase tremendously, even despite the high prices and the criticism Telfar resale has received. They believe that Telfar’s presence within resale has longevity. “Telfar is incredibly talented at creating pieces that withstand the test of time. The pieces are timeless and unique which is why the brand is going to stay top of mind in the second-hand market for a while,” the representative told us.
They also explained some of the reasons behind why Telfar bags are priced so high on the resale platform. “On our platform, prices are set by sellers themselves, which explains why it is possible for some resale items to be considerably higher than retail. This could be due to multiple factors, but most notably due to the availability and rarity of the product.”
The representative also disagrees with the notion that Telfar resale goes against the brand’s values of inclusivity and making luxury products for all, explaining how the very premise of the luxury resale market is to allow more people to buy into luxury.
So perhaps Telfar and luxury resale are more compatible than first thought. Unlike the sporadic drops of Telfar Shopping Bags on the brand’s website, customers can shop for Telfar on the secondary market whenever. Subsequently, the argument that resale platforms help to make the brand more accessible is just. However, it is important to understand that accessibility isn’t only about the availability of products but crucially also about the price point. High price points have long excluded many from the luxury industry.
Since beginning his eponymous label in 2005 and launching the now iconic Telfar Shopping Bag in 2014, Clemens has managed to build demand, clout and, whether Telfar wants it or not, an air of exclusivity. Telfar and its growing presence on the resale market prompts the question – Is it inevitable that a luxury brand needs to in some way eventually become, or seem to be, unattainable in order to build, and crucially maintain, demand?
Telfar’s place in the landscape of luxury resale is impressive considering the brand’s relative youth and low price point. The likes of Hermès, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and other heritage brands have long almost monopolized the designer resale scene. For many, Telfar represents a new kind of luxury, one that is rooted not in ostentatious displays of wealth and unattainability but rather a chosen aesthetic and strong brand values. Its popularity on the luxury resale market reflects this. This could be interpreted as a compliment. However, it’s hard to accept the fact that the brand’s rising appeal may be what threatens everything Telfar stands for. Despite its perplexing nature, much like the Telfar Shopping Bag, the Telfar resale market’s popularity shows no signs of declining anytime soon.