Long before he was an award-winning designer and the creator of the “Bushwick Birkin,” 2021 The Glow Up 50 honoree Telfar Clemens emigrated with his family to the United States from the West African nation of Liberia in 1990. The then-5-year-old likely never dreamed that 31 years later, he’d be representing his home country on an international stage—and helping some several Olympians do the same.
For the first time in more than two decades a fairy godfather (OK, sponsor) has appeared to wave his wand over the Liberian Olympic delegation—all five track and field competitors, including Joseph Fahnbulleh, the N.C.A.A. champion in the 200-meter dash, and Emmanuel Matadi, currently ranked 23rd in the world in the 200 and 25th in the 100, plus officials and support staff. And it is not the usual Nike or Adidas or other sportswear machine.
It’s Telfar Clemens.
In fact, it was Matadi who introduced the idea of a collaboration with the in-demand designer to former Olympian turned team Olympic attaché Kouty Mawenh, who told the Times: “He’s an elite athlete in his space, just like we are.”
The timing proved perfect, as Telfar, who recently debuted a collection with Uggs (including unisex underwear) and on Tuesday announced an upcoming collaboration with outwear brand Moose Knuckles, had been planning a move into athletic wear. Alongside artistic director and business partner Babak Radboy, the designer got to work.
They made about 70 pieces in about four months, from leggings and unitards to sweats, duffel bags and even racing spikes. Think compression tops patterned à la one-shouldered tanks and sweatpants chopped up and wrapped into lappa-like long shorts. And the star of the Liberian flag strategically placed throughout, though slightly atilt, as though being blown sideways in a sprinter’s wake.
As the team tests the apparel for use in Tokyo, items from the collection were modeled by Emmanuel Matadi and Clemens for the Times, photographed by Jason Nocito.
“They might have been surprised by some of it...But I haven’t heard a no. Just excitement,” said Clemens, who also told the Times he’s considering the Olympics his first runway presentation since the onset of the pandemic, as it is “a show everyone gets to see.”
It’s also a collection everyone will get a chance to wear (okay, everyone who has both the inclination and the budget). After premiering at the Games this summer, a limited collection will follow the route of Telfar’s “Bag Security” program in strategically timed drops on the brand’s site, before becoming part of a larger athletic wear collection to debut this fall. In the meantime, Telfar’s full-spectrum sponsorship, which will also cover room and board for the team, “is the biggest outside investment his company has made,” the Times reports.
“It will be an evergreen collection,” said Clemens. “These are clothes we want to sell for the rest of our lives.”