An Ode to Telfar's Signature Shopping Bag

The "Bushwick Birkin" has become an accessible It bag for the ages.

Telfar Shopping Bags

@telfarglobal/Design by Cristina Cianci

You come in every color from cobalt blue to oxblood red to yellow, and now, azalea pink. The way you look good on every shoulder never ceases to amaze me. You come in many forms—from mini to oversized—between them, you can fit everything from a lipstick to a small dog. You’ve made the streets of New York City and the world more fashionable; you have dressed outfits up and down for parties, the office, and walking down the street. Even in the time we spent at home, you've been there for us to play dress-up while fantasizing about the looks we'll wear this summer.

You are the Telfar Shopping Bag. Also known as the "Bushwick Birkin," you are an iconic and unforgettable it-bag that complements all kinds of personal style, with a simple yet thoughtful design unlike any other. You are not only perfect for me, but for everyone. You are the moment; you are a modern essential; you are The Bag.

The first time I saw a Telfar bag, it was love at first sight. I remember it perfectly: there it was, the teeniest one in the iconic original black shade, slung on the shoulder of an effortlessly cool New York-based designer that I knew and envied. I stood there and thought to myself, “Wow. She can pull off anything. What is this bag?" Needing to know more, I went straight home and looked it up on Google. Dozens of browser tabs later, I felt drawn to Telfar not only as a brand, but as a person with an amazing story and mission.

Telfar Clemens began his design journey in 2005, starting his eponymous brand while enrolled as a student at Pace College in lower Manhattan. After several years of building a brand that was beloved by those in the know but low-profile in the mainstream fashion world, he brought on Babak Radboy as creative director in 2013, and the rest was press-release history. The two would go on to collaborate on countless art exhibitions and build Clemens' brand into the award-winning New York icon it is today. The two even reimagined the outfits worn by workers at White Castle, in one of the most legendary New York Fashion Week presentations to date.

Telfar’s beginnings in Queens led Clemens to a unique approach that the fashion world would come to accept in its own (slow) way. But over years of working and traveling the world while somehow still being labeled "emerging," the designer befriended countless celebrities, influencers, and jetsetters who supported his brand, no matter the circumstances. Before everyone knew it, Telfar was on its way to becoming a household name thanks to its unforgettable marketing and accessible yet oh-so-covetable line of unisex shopping bags. By following his own path and inclusive vision, Clemens built a vibrant community around his brand that no amount of money can pay for. 

Telfar Bags on Bella Hadid and Jeremy O. Harris

Getty Images/Design by Cristina Cianci

Even though the Telfar logo shopping bag first launched in 2014 and gradually rose to cult status among those in the know, it did not fully hit the mainstream until 2020, when Clemens won the CFDA award after countless sellout drops and rave reviews. Because it’s affordable, timeless, and has changed the way fashion approaches the idea of accessible luxury, there couldn’t be a more fitting nickname than "The Bushwick Birkin," as fans often lovingly refer to it. The Telfar Shopping Bag's explosion in popularity highlights what it means for marginalized people and ideas to finally be seen by the industry; but even at the level of the bag’s design itself, it stands for so much more.

With a signature bag that resembles a shopping tote—something that is ubiquitous and comes with purchase—Telfar subverts the lens we use to look at the value of a luxury buy. Aligning with the brand's quintessential "It's for everyone" catchphrase, this bag is something that all can wear, which has sparked a moment that has transcended the iconic product itself. For example, Louis Vuitton feels luxurious because it’s expensive and aspirational; the Telfar bag captures that sensation in a form that is both affordable and chic. Carrying a Telfar bag feels like knowing the secrets to envied style, like the person you know who is constantly and confidently pulling looks you wish you could. It’s accessible and authentic, and the versatile design creates a luxurious feel in all the right ways. 

Because of how special Telfar's signature shopping bag is, it’s almost impossible to purchase at this point unless you’re obsessively tuned into their email blasts or Instagram. Their website announces that their bags sell out in minutes, and they aren’t exaggerating; these take work to procure. Usually, they drop limited colors, but if you're having a difficult time getting the one you want, keep a lookout as the brand occasionally runs its Bag Security Program, when any and all orders are open for a day so long as you're willing to wait a few months for production and delivery. True to Clemens' inclusive ethos, the program is a way to ensure that everyone who wants a Telfar bag can get one without having to buy it at a markup from a reseller.

Telfar bags are hard to find available and even harder to buy, but once you’ve managed to snag one, you’re owning a piece of Black history, a piece of New York history, and a critical piece of fashion history. Supporting a Black creative who has achieved worldwide success with a bag that almost anyone can invest in is simple to do, but it also shows your support for a monumental shift in how we define luxury and individuality in fashion. While no one knows for sure how trends will shift over time, Clemens has become a modern fashion icon, and his expertly designed tote seems sure to keep making its mark for years to come.

Telfar Shopping Bag
Telfar Medium Shopping Bag $202
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