Art Attack Opinions & Features June 23, 2021 at 10:00 am

This U.S. designer will be sponsoring Liberia’s Olympic team at the Tokyo games

Nii Ntreh June 23, 2021 at 10:00 am

June 23, 2021 at 10:00 am | Art Attack, Opinions & Features

Telfar Clemens will be sponsoring Liberia's Olympics team at Tokyo 2020. Photo Credit: BVF

The journey to the July Olympics has been bumpy. The citizens of Japan, the host country, are opposed to the event taking place. At least among visiting supporters, the stadium seats will be mostly vacant. The date continues to confuse people.

But Liberians are less perplexed about the date and more thrilled about the Olympics, anticipating a narrative comparable to The Grateful Dead’s odd 1992 connection with the Lithuanian basketball squad.

While the Olympics are not recognized for being a fashion show, there are still some stylish moments to be found. Ralph Lauren designs for Team USA on a regular basis, Stella McCartney designed for Team Great Britain in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and Issey Miyake designed for Lithuania in 1992.

A new designer was added to the pantheon on June 21. Telfar Clemens announced that he would be sponsoring Team Liberia and creating their outfits.

Telfar Clemens is best known for his sought-after bags, but the Liberian-American designer is shifting his focus to sportswear. On Monday, the eponymous New York-based designer shared a sneak peek of the Liberia national track and field team’s outfits for the Tokyo Olympics in July.

Clemens was born in Queens, New York to Liberian parents in 1985. The family tried to live in Liberia but had to resettle in the United States at the onset of the Second Liberian Civil War. But the designer has always spoken about being proud of his Liberian heritage.

Clemens and his creative director and business partner, Babak Radboy, have been thinking about starting a line of sports apparel for a while, and the Olympic project has provided the perfect occasion to do it.

In approximately four months, they produced about 70 pieces, ranging from leggings and unitards to sweatshirts, duffel bags, and even racing spikes. Think compression tops patterned à la one-shouldered tanks and sweatpants chopped up and wrapped into lappa-like long shorts.

The Liberian flag’s star is deliberately positioned throughout, but somewhat atilt on these apparels, as if blown sideways in a sprinter’s wake. The athletes are currently testing the equipment, which is being fine-tuned to meet performance requirements.

The Liberian-American designer and disruptor of the fashion system, whose Bushwick Birkin and direct-to-consumer business model made him a global success story during the pandemic, will be bringing his signature genetically spliced unisex designs — the one-shouldered tank, the track pants/shorts — not only to the opening and closing ceremonies, but also to the Olympic Village and the competition.

“It’s all things you can’t find,” Clemens said. “They said, ‘Go crazy.’ So, I did.” The result might be the most unusual Olympic outfitting since Team Lithuania was outfitted by Issey Miyake in 1992.

On their part, the Liberian team, which would comprise a very modest number of competitors, are very glad to have a son of their soil giving back to a country that continues to rebuild from decades of conflict and instability.

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