Update: Retailing from $60 to $290 USD, Telfar’s Liberia Collection is now available on the brand’s website.
This story was originally published on June 29, 2021.
The Olympic games are finally kicking off this July, a year after it was originally scheduled to take place. And fashion’s Telfar Clemens, most known for his unisex shopping tote bag that’s become a must-have piece among young Black communities, is joining his home country’s athletes in the competition for gold.
On Monday, The New York Times reported that the Liberian-American designer is making Liberia’s Olympic uniforms for all athletes, officials, and staff in the delegation.
“They said, ‘Go crazy’,” Clemens told The New York Times. “So I did.”
So far, he’s made about 70 pieces in four months, some of which are currently being tested to meet performance standards.
The partnership with Liberia’s delegation seemed to come at the right time for Clemens, who had never designed athletic sportswear before, but told The New York Times he’d been contemplating doing so for a while. Now, Clemens will be releasing a limited collection of athletic pieces inspired by the Olympics on his direct-to-consumer platforms, and later, the brand will launch a full workout and sports gear line in September as part of Telfar’s regular line.
The designer has had quite a year after his viral unisex shopping bag sold out each time it dropped in 2020. Everyone from Oprah and Lizzo to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bella Hadid donned the T-logo bag. In 2020, his creation earned him the CFDA’s Accessories Designer of the Year Award.
Although the Olympics prove new territory for Clemens, this is not the first time the designer has worked on uniforms. Since 2017, he’s dressed White Castle employees in their iconic blue-and-white hues, and recently expanded the designs, including T-shirts, polos, aprons, and visors. Notably, he also designed a durag at the request of company employees, making it the first time this hair accessory is part of a company’s uniform, according to the press release.
Now, he’s joining a long line of designers who’ve made the jump from the runway to the Olympics, including Issey Miyaki (Lithuania), Ralph Lauren (USA), Stella McCartney (Great Britain), and Dsquared (Italy). But, true to Clemens’ spirit and work ethic, while most designers prefer the opening and closing ceremonies stages instead of the race track, he will put his technical design skills to the test as he dresses all five Liberian field and track stars for competition, including the 23rd best runner in the world, Emmanuel Matadi.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, activewear had already been on the rise. Brands like Lululemon, Athleta, and Outdoor Voices were leading the market, valued at $155.2 billion in 2018, according to ReportLinker, and was expected to hit $257.1 billion by 2026. It's now expected to even surpass that, and reach $547 billion by 2024, according to Allied Market Research.
Shopping aggregator Lyst has seen an uptick in consumers looking for outdoor and technical brands compared to last year, while brands like Nike continued to be strong performers throughout the economic crisis brought by the pandemic. Vogue Business attributes this success to the growth of fitness-centered digital platforms and communities that have emerged in the pandemic, such as Lululemon’s outdoor fitness tracking app Strava and Nike’s Run Club. Both have built a sense of exclusivity around fitness that also translates to their activewear goods.
According to Business of Fashion, the activewear boom is ripe for brands with strong digital presences and loyal communities that can power their success beyond quarantine as people exit the sweatpants bubble. Telfar has both; the brand’s direct-to-consumer business model speaks to its robust fandom that exists online and off. We're thinking that, soon, T-logo designs on sweats, leggings, and more will be as popular a commodity as on handbags.