Guess Pulls Telfar Bag Knock-offs after Social Media Backlash

Telfar bags were, and continue to be, a craze in the year 2020. Even if you already owned several of the now-iconic vegan leather shopping bags, you were likely always on the lookout for more.

Guess Pulls Telfar Bag Knock-offs after Social Media Backlash

The shopping bag’s popularity resulted in its being carried by everyone from It girls and celebrities to average working women like myself and Real Housewives of New York star Sonja Morgan, who wore it for an entire season as if she were being sponsored (she wasn’t).

Guess Pulls Telfar Bag Knock-offs after Social Media Backlash

Here we see the results of Telfar’s actions. That’s exactly why the wrongdoings committed by Guess against the cherished brand hit their customers where it hurts most: in the heart.

Digital entrepreneur and content creator Kelsey-Marie Mohammed said, “When I wear my Telly and see others in the streets wearing theirs, I feel like I’m a member of an exclusive club of people who are really passionate about two things: supporting Black designers and supporting sustainability in fashion.”

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In the Early 2020

When Telfar was first dubbed the “Bushwick Birkin,” I first became aware of it. It was marketed as a bag that would make its buyers pleased to show their support for a Black-owned company.

Seeing as the company frequently runs out of its characteristic shopping bags due to high demand, it took me around nine months to finally get one. You either got a bag and got to boast about it on social media, or you didn’t stand a chance on the days when the bags sold out in under 10 minutes after Telfar announced a release.

Telfar’s purse is a culturally relevant, universally accessible, and stylish accessory. By making the bags inexpensive, it overcame the stigma associated with high-end labels and created a sense of belonging among customers in a way that big-name companies couldn’t.

Nuna Lawson, a creative director based in London, deeply identifies with Telfar. To quote Lawson: “It was one of the first companies I saw reinvent what luxury implies, and most all, it was accessible.” “It’s extremely powerful to see a Black-owned company competing with high-end labels while simultaneously making room for young Black designers,” Lawson said, adding that she already has five Telfar shopping bags.

“When I wear my Telfy, I feel like I’m supporting brands that are an extension of who I am, so I can feel comfortable being bold and strong in my appearance and in myself. When I see other people wearing it out and about, it’s like, “yaaass, I see you,” so to speak “Tahirah Jarrett, a developer of creative systems, remarked.

Duplicates, knockoffs, and obvious “inspiration” are commonplace in the fashion industry. You may discover counterfeits of high-end brands like Chanel, Fendi, and Louis Vuitton in the shopping districts of any major city in the world.

The fast fashion industry and other lesser firms have long copied the work of major designers with minimal blowback. Recently, though, we have seen the opposite trend emerge, with well-known labels looking to independent designers for ideas and even outright stealing some of their work.

This is just what Guess did to Telfar, using a square leather bag emblazoned with a huge “G” in place of Telfar’s trademark design.

Telfar Clemens, a well-known fashion designer, and his team allegedly knew about the knockoff’s existence in February, long before it gained internet exposure and a deserved lambasting on Twitter, but they opted to remain silent. As I enjoyed the internet’s justifiable dragging of Guess, I couldn’t help but wonder why this keeps occurring to Black-owned firms.

Telfar is not the first company to have its designs stolen, and they certainly will not be the last. In fact, yearly a different highly sought-after brand owned by Black people gets stolen by a corporate merchant.

In Early 2021,

The English label Kai Collective accused the quick fashion behemoth Boohoo of ripping off one of its Gaia dress designs. We Are Kin, a sustainable fashion label, recently spoke out over We Wore What founder Danielle Bernstein’s alleged theft of a dress from the label.

Also in 2020, Aazhia Rhy, designer for TLZ L’Femme, claimed that Fashion Nova had stolen her ideas for a collection it had created in conjunction with rapper Megan Thee Stallion.

When a large corporation illegally copies the designs of a smaller one, it hurts the latter’s bottom line and makes it harder for the former to compete. Most up-and-coming brands are run as a labour of love by their founders rather than receiving funding from large corporations.

Because of lower production budgets and, in some cases, the designer hand-sewing clothing, the entire process from idea to finished product takes longer for smaller firms.

The Iconic Telfar Shopping Bag

Telfar Clemens, the founder and creative mind behind the Telfar brand, designed the Telfar Shopping Bag, often referred to as the “Bushwick Birkin.” This bag became a cultural phenomenon, celebrated for its accessibility, inclusivity, and minimalist design.

The bag’s signature feature is its distinctive logo engraved on the front, which symbolizes the brand’s commitment to providing “Luxury, not exclusivity.”

Guess’ Release of Similar Designs

In late 2021, Guess released a collection that included bags bearing a striking resemblance to the Telfar Shopping Bag. The designs featured a similar silhouette, dual top handles, and a logo-embossed front.

The striking resemblance between the Guess bags and Telfar’s iconic creation did not go unnoticed by consumers and fashion enthusiasts.

Social Media Backlash and Outrage

The controversy surrounding Guess’ release of the Telfar look-alike bags quickly gained momentum on social media platforms. Here are some key aspects of the social media backlash:

  1. Consumer Outrage: Many consumers and Telfar supporters expressed their outrage on platforms like Twitter and Instagram, accusing Guess of copying Telfar’s design.
  2. Cultural Appropriation: Some critics argued that the situation represented cultural appropriation, as Telfar’s bags were not only a fashion statement but also held cultural significance for many.
  3. Brand Integrity: The controversy raised questions about Guess’ brand integrity and whether it had crossed ethical boundaries by mimicking a smaller, independent brand’s signature design.
  4. Solidarity with Telfar: Supporters of Telfar rallied behind the brand, using social media as a platform to express their loyalty and advocate for its originality and inclusivity.

Guess’ Response to the Backlash

In response to the growing backlash, Guess took swift action:

  1. Pulling the Products: Guess announced that it would immediately discontinue and pull the controversial products from its collection.
  2. Apology: The brand issued a public apology, acknowledging the concerns and disappointment expressed by consumers and the fashion community.
  3. Commitment to Diversity: Guess reaffirmed its commitment to diversity and collaboration with emerging designers and artists.

Implications for the Fashion Industry

The Guess-Telfar controversy carries several implications for the fashion industry:

  1. Intellectual Property: The incident raises questions about intellectual property rights and the boundaries between inspiration and imitation in fashion design.
  2. Brand Reputation: The swift response by Guess to address the backlash reflects the importance of protecting brand reputation and integrity in the age of social media.
  3. Consumer Power: Social media has given consumers a powerful voice in holding brands accountable for their actions and decisions.
  4. Cultural Sensitivity: The incident highlights the need for fashion brands to be culturally sensitive and considerate when drawing inspiration from diverse backgrounds and communities.
  5. Inclusivity: The Telfar Shopping Bag’s success underscores the value of inclusivity and accessibility in fashion, a lesson that the industry can learn from.

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Consumers are growing more aware of the difference between fast fashion and independent companies, and the care and attention to detail that goes into the latter, which explains the blistering response to Guess’s copycat of Telfar’s shopping bag.

Although several retailers have removed the Guess counterfeit bags from their shelves, Telfar Clemens’s online fan base is unmoved by the flagrant contempt shown to their favourite designer.

They see it as a Telfar, a symbol of Black excellence, inclusiveness, and sustainability, rather than just a bag. Telfar, a small, independent company, has won over the hearts of consumers one tote bag at a time, making it impossible for Guess and similar companies to ever reach the same level of success.

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