Telfar Clemens is best known for his namesake label’s highly sought-after bags, nicknamed the Bushwick Birkin, that sell out almost immediately after they drop and were recently knocked off by Guess. Born to Liberian parents in New York City, where he currently lives and works, the rapidly ascending fashion disruptor can now add “sportswear designer” to his resume. Clemens and his longtime creative director Babak Radboy have been working diligently to create uniforms for Liberia’s national track and field team for the Tokyo Olympics, which kick off on July 23 after a year of pandemic-induced delays and controversy.
The partnership between Telfar and the Liberian team came about after Emmanuel Matadi, a sprinter who represented the country at the 2016 Rio Olympics, overheard his girlfriend talking about Telfar bags. He then suggested the idea to Liberia’s Olympic attaché and former competitor Kouty Mawenh, who described Clemens as “an elite athlete in his space, just like we are.” Though Clemens had never tried his hand at designing sportswear, he was up for the challenge and agreed to the sponsorship, which entailed covering food and travel costs for the team.
More than 70 pieces were designed over the course of four months. The uniforms, which include leggings, unitards, duffel bags, and racing spikes, will be worn by all five of Liberia’s track and field competitors to the opening and closing ceremonies and the competition. They prominently feature Telfar’s signature apparel design details—notably the unisex one-shouldered tank—and strategically placed stars of the Liberian flag. “It’s all things you can’t find,” Clemens told the New York Times. “They said, ‘Go crazy.’ So I did. They might have been surprised by some of it, but I haven’t heard a no. Just excitement.” The team’s athletes are currently testing out their new gear, which will be fine-tuned to performance specifications in the weeks leading up to the opening ceremony.
For Clemens, showing his foray into sportswear at the Olympics feels akin to a staging live runway show. (His last one was Pitti Uomo 2020 in Florence, where he served as a special guest designer.) Unlike hyper-exclusive fashion events, however, everyone can get a front-row ticket to see the Olympics—even if they tune in from a distance. The full collection will debut during the Games with a limited collection of Olympics-inspired sportswear available via drops on Telfar’s platforms shortly afterward. That teases a more thorough line of workout gear debuting in September that’ll become an evergreen part of the label’s collection. We recommend marking your calendars when Telfar announces the drop—if the new sportswear line is anything like the coveted bags, we’re sure it’ll sell out within seconds.