Two weeks ago, Brooklyn-based unisex brand Telfar took to Instagram to share a message that many of the brand’s cult-like fans thought was their golden ticket to finally obtaining one of its iconic Shopping Bags. In it was an alert that a restock of the bags, which notoriously sell out in seconds, was coming. The Shopping Bag has been called the “Bushwick Birkin”— first, by makeup artist Xya Rachel, and later, by everyone who reads The Cut — for its reputation in the fashion industry as the bag to own, more so in some circles than even the Hermès purse it gets its nickname from. It is available in three sizes, an ever-growing array of colorways, and costs between $150 and $257, depending on size. The only problem is, with its affordable price tag and covetable reputation, actually getting your hands on one is next to impossible. And that’s before the bots and resellers come in.
Despite the brand offering a how-to guide to snagging a Shopping Bag, even the most diligent of shoppers couldn’t compete with the bots that, in the end, broke Telfar’s website entirely. “Y’all broke our shop. Back later,” the brand posted a week later. (The website is back up now.) Once again, many missed out on the opportunity to join the Telfar community — one that prides itself on inclusivity. On Twitter, Bibby Gregory, the founder of Black Fashion Fair, wrote: “You missed the Telfar restock today?” followed by, “No — that wasn’t a question.”
No — that wasn’t a question.
— AB/G (@bibbygregory) July 23, 2020
Hypernova Group, a members-only resale site that allegedly secured a large percentage of the bags, was blamed for many shoppers leaving empty-handed. “Imagine buying up 60% of the Telfar restock just to resell them x2 the price,” @chrissnocrossx tweeted. The Telfar brand — whose mission statement on the website reads, “Not For You — For Everyone” — is about making luxury accessible to all people. Those familiar with Telfar Clemons, the founder and creative director of the brand, and the sense of belonging he created there, know better than to keep others from affording a Telfar original. The brand had a similar reaction to those halting his customers from adding to their collections. “Telfar is for the people, not bots,” it shared via Instagram stories. “Store on ice while we root them out.” Of the issue, Clemons himself said: “What the bots are doing goes against what we are about — we are not trying to create fake scarcity — we just have crazy demand.”
Despite the buzz around the brand right now, the bot problem is hardly unique in the retail landscape. In reality, the inflated cost of a Telfar Shopping Bag doesn’t even come close to some of the resale prices for some sneaker partnerships. Take, for instance, Off-White’s collaboration with Converse. In May of 2018, the brands — one of which sells hoodies for upwards of $700 while the other offers high tops for $55 — released a sneaker called the Chuck Taylor All-Star Vulcanized Hi for the fair price of $130. After a surprise drop on Converse.com — the entirety of which sold out in seconds — the sneakers were released again at a number of retailers. Not surprisingly, they also sold out in record time. Today, more than two years later, a deadstock or DS pair (a brand new pair that’s never been worn or removed from the box) will cost you anywhere between $985 and $1,560, according to StockX. On Farfetch, a pair from a third-party premier sneaker marketplace is priced at $2,369.
“What the bots are doing goes against what we are about — we are not trying to create fake scarcity — we just have crazy demand.”
– Telfar Clemons
As is the case with Telfar’s Shopping Bag, the Off-White x Converse sneakers were priced with intention. “This project is truly a democracy of how design explores the world,” Off-White’s creative director and founder Virgil Abloh told BoF. When the publication talked to Abloh prior to the launch of the “Top Ten” collection, this time between Off-White and Nike, he said: “I’m interested in how the kid that’s standing outside his or her local Foot Locker or Nike Town buying Jordans and taking my ideas gets inspired and takes a marker to the shoes or attaches a red zip tie and now they’re part of the conversation.” But rather than the drop being an opportunity for young, cash-strapped fashion lovers to buy a piece of Off-White pie, nearly every sneaker in the collection became more unattainable than even Off-White’s regular line in a matter of seconds.
According to Six Figure Sneakerhead, a blog for the sneaker-obsessed, the only tried-and-true way to get your hands on a pair of rare Jordan, Yeezy, or Off-White sneakers is to use sneaker bots, price be damned. They are right — by now in the streetwear industry, unfortunately, bots and resellers are the norm.
The same goes for many of H&M’s designer collaborations. The Swedish fast-fashion brand started working with designers back in 2004 when it launched a first-of-its-kind collaborative collection with the late Karl Lagerfeld. According to WWD, 500 to 2,000 pieces sold per hour in Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue store at the time of the release. The collection democratized design in a way that had never been done before — and set precedent for many high-low collections to come. Since then, H&M has launched more than 20 designer collections, with the list of brands ranging from Balmain to Stella McCartney and Alexander Wang. As with all H&M pieces, the items start out affordable. But once they sell out — which they almost always do, partly because of resellers — their stock prices skyrocket. Today, a dress from H&M’s Giambattista Valli collection can be found listed on Poshmark for $850. (To be fair, it was on the pricier side, to begin with, but the difference between its original price and its current retail price is still $300.)
This, of course, ties back to capitalism. According to Marc Lotenberg, the CEO of W and Surface Magazine, “The law of supply and demand has never been as evident as it has been today in retail, with drop culture and the rise of resellers everywhere capitalizing on popularity and scarcity.” Lotenberg doesn’t share the same disdain for this process as some of Telfar’s frustrated fans. Instead, he believes that the fact that people are willing to buy a Telfar bag for double its intended price shows that the brand is “white hot.” He says, “Ultimately, consumers are going to try harder to be a part of the drop. If they want something bad enough, the lack of being able to obtain it — whether by scarcity or price point — continues to be a sure-fire way to drive interest and aspiration.” Lotenberg calls it a catch-22, explaining that either way, Telfar — and H&M, Off-White, Converse, etc. — wins when demand is as high as it is and quantity remains low. Even so, Telfar is a brand for the people. Money isn’t the priority.
So while sneakerheads may accept that bots (and their capitalist ties) are the norm, no devotees of Telfar will. “This isn’t my only Telfar Shopping Bag and it won’t be my last,” says London-based model Enam Asiama in an Instagram caption. “I’ve wanted this product for years and worked SO hard to secure it.” Asiama explained her reasoning by referencing a quote by Cici Gunn, the founder and CEO of The Six Figure Chick, that states: “I’m thankful for the people in my life that normalize luxury.” According to Asiama, “Black people are seen as poor and always in poverty. So, when some of us choose to talk about it, we are judged for not doing enough. When we choose to do something about it, we get judged for pandering to white ideals.” But Telfar’s Shopping Bags are designed by a Black man for Black people, as well as anyone else who wants one — a fact made clear by the designer and his choice of branding every step of the way.
Part of him doing so means keeping his high-quality handbags accessible. And, that is the problem with resellers and bots buying up all of his stock and selling it at an inflated price. The act of upcharging for a Telfar bag goes against the brand’s mission entirely — and those consumers who support it with such fervor.
Brie, or @brieyonce on Twitter, took to the platform to air her feelings about the bots that broke Telfar.net, saying: “I’ll make it my mission to alert the girls when Telfar restocks so everyone gets one for what it’s worth & no one purchases any from these ugly resellers.” The consensus? Let the resellers have this latest round of Shopping Bags; they won’t get business from any true Telfar loyalists.
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