Tianni Graham, 27, remembers the "before times" — that is, the harrowing months before Telfar introduced its Bag Security Program.
It was early last summer and she, along with thousands of others, was stuck testing their luck each day trying to buy the wildly popular Telfar handbag whose celeb fans include Beyonce, Selena Gomez, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Solange. But they often sold out before anyone could click 'check out.'
It turns out, robots and resellers were buying products in bulk, making it harder for real customers to purchase them. So, last summer, Telfar introduced its Bag Security Program, in hopes of giving customers better access to its bags by allowing patrons 24 hours to pre-order any bag on the site, with no limits on how many can be purchased. The bag is then made to order, and shipped directly to the customer.
Its first drop, which happened last August, brought in about $20 million — about 10x what Telfar made in all of 2019.
Suddenly, Graham, who is also a fashion archivist and consultant, had her green Telfar bag. It arrived right before Christmas and was a "present to myself,' she told Insider, adding that other brands could benefit from implementing a similar program. "It would make things so much easier and make the customer feel like you care."
The program's success shows how a luxury brand can create accessibility without losing the allure of exclusivity. The old-school model for luxury brands states the product should be scarce and elite, but the next generation of high-end consumers and entrepreneurs are taking a different route.
What's more, Telfar is growing its exposure by becoming an official sponsor of the Liberian National team for the Olympics — Clemens is of Liberian descent. Additionally, the brand released collaborations with Ugg and Converse, accessible brands that are affordable to a mass audience, rather than Louis Vuittion and Supreme or Dior and Nike partnerships, which target the aspirational class.
Teflar is rewriting the rules of luxury, and this time, it's not too hard for other brands to follow suit.
Telfar 'white glove treatment' is what next-gen luxury shoppers crave
Young consumers look less at price tags and more at brand values when determining where to spend their money; these next-gen consumers want sustainability, inclusivity, and a sense of community. The new "white glove treatment" when it comes to luxury shopping is a speedy online checkout from a brand that cares.
For Telfar's latest drop this week, customers had the option to use the payment installment plan Klarna, making it even easier for those looking to obtain a bag. While customers will have to wait a few months before receiving the bag, people often spend years on a Birkin bag "waiting list" and most will probably never get one.
Shortly before Telfar's program ended this week, a spokesperson for the brand told Insider it was, already, "going very well."
Telfar started with an aim of inclusive luxury
Telfar was founded in 2005 by its eponymous founder Telfar Clemens and has dedicated the past two decades to building an inclusive business model.
In 2014, it released its now-iconic vegan leather handbag, which takes inspiration from a Bloomingdale's shopping bag. The bags became widely available around 2018 after Telfar won $400,000 from the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, allowing the company to expand production.
Clemens described his brand to The Cut as being "genderless, democratic, and transformative," purposely seeking to challenge the notion that high fashion is only for a certain group of people, with the brand motto being "Not For You — For Everyone."
Now, Telfar bags come in three sizes, with prices ranging from $150 to $257. (For comparison, Birkin bags go for at least $12,000 while Black-owned luxury brands such as Brother Veilles go for at least $1,295.)
As reported by FT, handbag sales in the US declined 18% between 2016 and 2019. Yet, Telfar stood out — in 2016, the brand earned $102,000, growing to earn $2 million in 2019. Last year, New York Magazine deemed its bag the "Bushwick Birkin" and the brand was on pace to earn eight figures, even as the fashion industry was expected to take a 90% loss in profits due to the pandemic.
Boston Consulting Group's Head of Luxury Sarah Willersdorf told Insider that Telfar has checked all the boxes on what it takes to connect with next-gen luxury shoppers. She said the brand has a narrative that "evokes emotion" and properly intertwines timelessness, creative partnerships, and culturally relevant authorities. GQ pointed out Telfar's customer base was built, not through influencers, but through "customer aspiration alone."
Raising the bar for next-gen luxury
Brands like Telfar are important in proving accessible business models can be just as lucrative. Willersdorf expects other brands to follow similar strategies in a post-pandemic world, as shopping continues to pivot online.
In the old days — a pre-millennial world, perhaps — having too much of a product is thought to dilute its value. The Bag Security program defies that. But even the most tech-savvy luxury brand is often behind the curve, as Insider has previously reported.
"Luxury brands are always nervous," Joseph Yakuel, CEO and founder of consulting firm Within, told Insider last year. "There's so much risk to them tarnishing their brand reputation because luxury brand price points are only supported by their perception, and if their brand perception goes down market, their price point gets eroded very quickly."
Clemens and his artistic director, Babak Radboy, said they aren't worried about oversaturation. It's about community, now. The new "white glove treatment" is making sure everybody gets a pair that fits perfectly.