Is TELFAR destroying brand hype and helping the environment?

Hype, according to Oxford Languages, means “extravagant or intensive publicity or promotion,” but in fashion, it means getting to charge exorbitant prices and still sell out of merchandise. Brand hype is what allows luxury designers like Stella McCartney to charge thousands of dollars for an organic cotton coat — certainly not helping the perception that sustainable fashion is only for the rich. Countless articles exist about achieving this level of recognition and elitism, but still, few brands succeed at it. Of those that do get brand hype, it’s due to a variety of tactics. For some, it’s extreme marketing leading up to the launch of their brand or even just a new product. Others collaborate with established brands or designers to piggyback off their success. But the tried-and-true way to build and keep brand hype is to “master the art of limited supply,” as Soham Kulkarni writes about the cult-followed brand, Supreme. Undermining the demand of a specific product leads to perpetually sold-out items, making consumers want them even more, resulting in some less than ethical practices like bots that buy up all the merchandise and resell it for higher prices.

This is precisely what happened to Telfar Clemens, the designer of TELFAR, whose signature Shopping Bag routinely sells thousands of bags per second when there is a drop of new products. The Shopping Bag has been produced since 2014, but recently it and the rest of the brand have become famous. This led to bots and resellers, like Hypernova Group, buying out a large percentage of a July drop, stealing regular consumers' chance to get their bag at the normal sale price. Instead, Hypernova Group will sell their bought up TELFAR bags to their members for double the price, cutting out many consumers who want the bag because they feel connected to Clemens and the brand. Twitter and Clemens were up in arms after Hypernova Group bragged about their jackpot, and TELFAR announced it would be pausing new drops until it figured out how to beat bots at their own game. On August 17th, Clemens and the TELFAR team did just that. They introduced the TELFAR Bag Security Program, which allowed every customer who wants a bag to pre-order it on August 19th and have it delivered by December or January. In the announcement, published on the website, TELFAR states that they produce in small batches and plan production six months in advance, pointing out that they had no intention of creating a hard-to-get product. Consumers are cheering that the brand is once again for the people and not for the resellers. Meanwhile, TELFAR has just circumpassed a troubling environmental issue.

When the TELFAR x GAP collaboration was canceled at the start of the pandemic — soon to be replaced by a Yeezy x GAP collaboration — it added to Clemens' eponymous brand's mainstream attention. This attention led to the brand and the Shopping Bag becoming a "must-have" item, even for shoppers who don't need it. Overconsumption, possibly the most significant issue standing in the way of a sustainable fashion industry, is a direct consequence of a hyped-up brand. It may not seem like it at first glance; if there is a limited supply, then the brand should be selling less than the typical leaders of overconsumption — fast fashion brands. But, hype leads to consumers feeling obliged to buy a product they don't need so they will fit in, or stand out. TELFAR has been gaining notoriety since its founding 15 years ago, but it remains a small brand and wishes to stay manageable in the near future. Despite what is sure to be a significant increase in sales over the next couple of months, TELFAR is still fighting against overconsumption, and eliminating brand hype will help.

Another side effect of a hyped brand, that luckily TELFAR has not yet had to deal with, is the production of fakes. Most commonly associated with luxury bags, counterfeits are sold to consumers who can't afford, or find, the real deal, but still want to be associated with the brand name. Needless to say that a bag sold on a cloth on the ground is not made with the same standards as its authentic alternative. This is a huge issue when it comes to sustainable production. While Gucci implements new initiatives to reduce its negative impact on the environment, fakes undermine this progress by producing more like a fast fashion company than a luxury brand. TELFAR bags are made with vegan leather; something copycats would probably not consider if they were to reproduce the Shopping Bag. Luckily, TELFAR sells for an affordable price between $140 and $240 depending on the bag's size, which along with the new Bag Security Program, will eliminate the market for fakes.

TELFAR’s unique approach to handling hype that most brands crave has led critics to claim the new program will hurt public perception of the Shopping Bag and other products. But, Clemens doesn’t seem to see it that way. Instead, TELFAR is working for consumers, not trying to tease them with unattainable products. This tactic certainly appears to be paying off as TELFAR remains a popular brand amidst a sea of bankruptcies.