The Liberian-American designer started his fashion journey with the launch of unisex clothing that played with gendered styles, which made slinky spaghetti straps for men and oversize basketball jerseys for women. His fashion brand has focused on groups like blacks and queer consumers who have long been ignored in the fashion industry. This helped him to create an entirely new clientele within the fashion industry.
At the height of the pandemic, the shopping app, Lyst, noted that his Telfar logo-embossed tote bags were the most searched accessory of the pandemic. Not only that, his bags have been spotted on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Megan Thee Stallion.
Beyoncé singled out his bag for mention on her 2022 album, Renaissance, in which she said she’d put her Hermès Birkin in storage in favor of a Telfar status bag. Additionally, his bag was featured in “Oprah’s favorite things of 2020.”
Fast Company notes that his bags have become the foundation for a fast-growing fashion brand that includes streetwear, shoes, and other accessories. This was evident in 2019 when Telfar raked in $1.9 million in revenue.
Today, the fashion brand makes over $7 million in a single product drop, according to FastCompany. This move is attributed to the company’s move from a wholesale model to a direct-to-consumer model in 2019, which saw its sales grow by 362% in 2021, according to Bloomberg Second Measure. This was followed by a 17% growth in 2022.
However, venturing into fashion and becoming a major player in the industry did not come easy for Clemens. He faced several obstacles from fashion gatekeepers. According to FastCompany, his collections were ignored by Vogue and traditional sponsors for his fashion shows.
This led him to find partnerships with companies including Kmart and White Castle. Working with them, Telfar designed and produced 10,000 staff uniforms. Today, the designer is receiving mainstream accolades as the fashion industry becomes more diverse.
According to Fast Company, he won the industry’s most prestigious award, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. He was also invited to present at Paris and Florence fashion weeks.
Clemens was born in Queens New York to Liberian parents, and spent his youthful years in Liberia until the outbreak of the civil war. He returned to the US, where he went to Pace University and earned a degree in accounting.
The fluidity of the clothing industry caused him to switch lanes, presenting what was missing in the industry. He taught himself how to design and later launched his brand, Telfar, in 2005. “Since its start, Telfar has continued to uniquely pull together looks that cross boundaries, allowing for a full expression of self through style,” according to Revolt.