What happens when a bag that’s intended to be for everyone isn't accessible to everyone?
That’s what Telfar Clemens and his team have dealt with for the past couple years with the Telfar shopping bag, a simple leather bag with an embossed Telfar logo that comes in three sizes and retails from $150 to $257.
Demand for the bag hit a fever pitch last Thursday when, for the first time, the Telfar e-commerce site shut down. Although Telfar’s team posted a graphic on its IG story stating: "Telfar is for the people. Not Bots. Store on ice while we root them out," Clemens says the site would have shut down even if bots weren’t involved.
“We improved security right before this drop. We were literally on the phone all day trying to find out how extensive the problem is because the vast majority of orders are real. Then our Shopify site crashed,” said Clemens over email. “The root of it is not that we shut [the site] because of bots, but simply because there was an over demand flowing into the site at once, a number that was way higher than the bots itself. Essentially, we broke the internet.”
The bag, which has been dubbed the “Bushwick Birkin,” signifies what its nickname suggests: an “it” bag for creatives who are in the know. But its popularity has expanded beyond New York City—Telfar was the third highest trending topic on U.S. Twitter last week after the restock. And now resellers are catching on and selling the bag on sites like eBay and Grailed for up to $700.
The increased awareness has brought up whether or not something is desirable once everyone has it and who should and shouldn’t have access to the bag—the overwhelming sentiment on Twitter is that resellers shouldn't be able to buy the bag and Telfar fans shouldn’t support them.
We spoke to Clemens over email to see what he thinks. He talked about bots, resellers, and how he will deal with increased demand in the future.
Is this the first time you all have had to shut down the site during a restock?
Yes. It broke our shop.
Why do you think the demand is so high now? I saw that in March, it took 12 hours for 1,000 units to sell out. Now it seems like it's minutes.
The demand has been growing exponentially since January. We’ve been around since 2004 and this bag has been around for five years. It’s actually quite a deep question to ask why it’s popping off right now. I think people who know don’t need an explanation. If we are talking about this particular drop, it’s the first time we teased [a restock]. All we said was “set your alarms.”
How often are you restocking the bags and how many units are usually in the restock orders?
We’ve been restocking several times a month. When it’s multiple colors it’s several thousand bags.
What's the notification process for the restock? How do customers know?
People can sign up to be notified for each individual color and size of the bag and they get an email the second it goes up. It’s pretty straightforward. We are working on doing it through text.
How did the pandemic affect production for the bags?
We did not plan some kind of strategy around making the bag scarce. The pandemic shut down our supply chain temporarily at the exact moment that our demand exploded. At this point, we are having a hard time knowing what the demand is because everything sells out in minutes. It takes time to make bags and put them on a boat. We’ve been flying them in to have these drops.
Do you plan on producing more bags given the demand?
We have never been about a hype model. It’s about timing, if anything. We want the bag to be part of how we do our thing. Our friend Marzy the other day posted, “We true to this, not new to this.” That captures it pretty well.
Are you still wholesaling the bags to different retailers right now? Post-pandemic, do you think that will change?
I know Opening Ceremony was a big account for Telfar bags. Does its impending closure impact you at all?
What do you think about resellers?
Their effect on us is being exaggerated.
How are you all going to prevent bots in the future and make sure the bags go to the people?
The effect of the bots is also exaggerated. If there were no bots roughly the same thing would have happened. A vast majority of bots are buying for individual customers from what we see. I think it’s well known what we are about and what our bag is about. It means something real not only that we are selling directly, but who we are selling to. That is a powerful form of resilience and community.
The bots and resellers are definitely an issue, and an unfortunate one since what they are doing goes against what we are about. But at the end of the day, we are not trying to create fake scarcity. We just have crazy demand that continues to be met every time we up our inventory for restocks.
And when are those amazing Telfar boots coming out?
Ok. There are some surprises on the way for sure. We can’t say too much.