Telfar: Telfar Clemens and Babak Radboy As he started to gain a name as a New York fashion designer in the 2010s, Telfar Clemens often joked that he was "constantly emerging." At least, that's how the establishment fashion press saw him: a child of Liberian immigrants, building a small but devoted following with his deconstructed T-shirts and sandals made from hollowed-out Converse. But after Telfar partnered with Babak Radboy as his creative director in 2013, the brand began to reach a wider audience. There were splashy partnerships with K-Mart and White Castle; and in 2018, the wide release of the Telfar Bag, a vegan-leather shopping bag that became the "it"-accessory for everyone from A-list celebrities to the neighbors next door. Today, Telfar and Babak say they've succeeded by designing exactly what they want—and sidestepping a fashion system that was not always welcoming.
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Telfar: Telfar Clemens and Babak Radboy

Telfar: Telfar Clemens and Babak Radboy

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Scott Everett for NPR
Telfar Clemens is the founder of the brand, Telfar; Babak Radboy is its Creative Director.
Scott Everett for NPR

As he started to gain a name as a New York fashion designer in the 2010s, Telfar Clemens often joked that he was "constantly emerging." At least, that's how the establishment fashion press saw him: a child of Liberian immigrants, building a small but devoted following with his deconstructed T-shirts and sandals made from hollowed-out Converse.

But after Telfar partnered with Babak Radboy as his creative director in 2013, the brand began to reach a wider audience. There were splashy partnerships with K-Mart and White Castle; and in 2018, the wide release of the Telfar Bag, a vegan-leather shopping bag that became the "it"-accessory for everyone from A-list celebrities to the neighbors next door.

Today, Telfar and Babak say they've succeeded by designing exactly what they want—and sidestepping a fashion system that was not always welcoming.

This episode of How I Built This was produced by J.C. Howard and edited by Neva Grant. Research help from Farrah Safari, and engineering help from Stu Rushfield. Additional support from Jeff Rogers, Casey Herman, Julia Carney, Elaine Coates, Liz Metzger, Kerry Thompson, Margaret Cirino, and Alex Cheng. You can follow us on Twitter @HowIBuiltThis, on Instagram @HowIBuiltThisNPR and email us at hibt@npr.org.

Special Series

How I Built This

For all new episodes, go to the How I Built This page on Wondery.com Listen early and ad-free on Wondery+ Listen on Amazon Music