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For a very long time, I was not interested in the big luxury brands because of a cliché about Asians buying a lot of counterfeits. I was sure that if I had an authentic Louis Vuitton in my arms, everyone would have thought it was fake. Why spend a lot of money on that?
Until recent years, the main clientele of luxury brands is neither Russian nor Japanese but Chinese… Now, an Asian lady with a genuine luxury bag seems normal in Paris.
So, I treated myself to a few luxury scarves. I thought I might treat myself to an authentic bag too.
Having chosen a well-known luxury bag model, I haven’t yet had time to decide between buying a bag at the store or a pre-loved one, that I have already been targeted by advertisements on Instagram and Facebook…. by counterfeit sellers. These advertisements were more frequent and followed me to Turkey, France, and it increased more when I went to Vietnam. They were so well made that at first, I thought they were pre-loved bags. But the price was only 10% of the new price.
Two types of sellers targeted me:
- those who import replicas from China or elsewhere
- those who make replicas in Vietnam
Well, before telling you about my little investigations in detail, I have to tell you about a sub on Reddit: r/RepLadies.
To learn that fakes are already reaching such a high level is a shock, but to know that a huge replicas community exists on Reddit is another shock. Out of curiosity, I’ve been reading posts in this subreddit for several weeks. And here’s some info I got:
- Counterfeits cover all types of products: leather goods, jewelry, watches, high-tech, and even medicines!!
- A lot of buyers have the means to afford authentic bags. But they stopped buying it for various reasons:
- Bad service at luxury stores (where sales associates are arrogant and treat them like shit even when they are buying a $10,000 bag )
- Authentic ones are less durable than fake ones (one shopper recounted the anecdote that she asked her friend why her bag was in tatters while her friend’s bag remained in pristine condition, and the friend replied that it was a replica)
- To not be afraid of damaging the authentic ones (some have authentic versions, which they use during safe situations, for example, going to a restaurant, and take out the replicas when they travel)
- Because they like a challenge and feel like they’re making a deal
- Because it’s a form of rebellion against luxury brands (well, I don’t understand that, by parading with a luxury bag, you also contribute to their marketing)
- Because they prefer to invest rather than waste money on a luxury bag
- Because they want to be sure of the practicality of the bag before buying the real one
- Top-tier replicas are super expensive. On this forum, buyers spend $800 to $4,000 for a counterfeit bag.
- They do not buy counterfeit bags that sell for less than $1000 in stores. They only aim at high-end, luxury brands
Indeed, replica buyers seem pretty rich. They’re not looking for a cheap $20 fake bag.
A testimonial from a New York COO whose household earns $1 million a year sums up this community’s spirit well.
This subreddit is as bizarre as its authentic equivalent: The Purse Blog. The Purse blog connects (authentic) luxury bag fanatics, and RepLadies connects (replicas) luxury bag fanatics. The dedication and obsession for bags are real: buyers write lengthy reviews of the bags they bought from mysterious sellers. They give ratings (comparing to the authentic ones they have or have seen on the Internet) to judge the quality of the bags. Everything is analyzed with a magnifying glass: some even count the number of seams. Others measure the dimensions of their bags to the nearest mm.
Apart from a few rare cases, the products they show look very much like genuine ones. Only when they’re put right next to the genuine ones can one see the minimal differences.
These buyers are, for the most part, based in the USA. So finding and contacting Chinese sellers and getting products is very difficult. Since it is an illegal trade, they send money in the wild without really knowing if the product matches the photos and if the product will arrive at all (if customs haven’t seized it yet).
In addition, Chinese retailers aren’t that fluent in English, so… these Americans have to use Google Translate to communicate in Chinese with Chinese sellers aahhahah. Those who prefer to buy on the Chinese Amazon (Taobao) must also learn to recognize the Chinese characters to click on the right buttons.
Everyone’s biggest fear is someone pointing at their bag and asking if it’s fake, hence this obsession with QC (quality control), down to counting the number of seams. But they are pleased if they walk around with their replica and the luxury brands’ SA do not notice that it is a replica or give them compliments on their bags.
I remember, when I worked at a consignment store, we had a bag whose leather exceeded all the leathers I had touched so far. I thought it was authentic (the customer who brought it to me too – since it was a gift), until I checked the authenticity card. It was the first time I touched a top-tier replica.
Anyway, reading these reviews, I noticed that some brands and products were easier to copy than others. To find out why this or that product was impossible to copy 100%, buyers went so far as to watch the manufacturing videos of luxury brands, to understand. There were long discussions on this subreddit about a particular technique: “pearling,” for example, the aesthetics of which aren’t visible to beginners, but connoisseurs will notice it immediately. Finally, it is by comparing the “top-tier” fakes (of very high quality) to the authentic ones we see which brands deserve their reputation (and their price) and which brands are just marketing, because luxury is in the details.
Others say that since they had access to this “limitless” inventory, they understood that it was the brand that interested them, not the design of the bag itself. When they say to themselves that they could afford any design, in any material, including limited editions, they realize the weight of the brand and the “status symbol” represented by this or that bag.
One of the points not mentioned on this subreddit but considered anyway are the working conditions. In the book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster by Dana Thomas, written years ago, she mentioned a terrifying raid on counterfeit factories. We’re talking about the mafia, human trafficking, terrorism, money laundering, abuse, child labor, etc. This argument is refuted by other members of the subreddit, who claim that luxury brands do not necessarily have better working conditions and that the “made in Italy” is, in fact, provided by Chinese immigrants in Italy while having 5-figure prices. How many brands are manufacturing in China, without necessarily admitting it, still stick the label in Italy or France to have the “made in France” or “made in Italy” fame?
Recently, this subreddit was shut down due to an article on The Cut, which mentions replicas parties for New York elites, quoting r/RepLadies.
I hope luxury brands will ask themselves questions after the popularity of the subreddit: how did they manage to fall so low and rely only on marketing and no longer on the unique quality of their products? It’s not that Chinese artisans are too talented, but it’s because the quality of products from luxury houses has fallen too low.
Okay, back to the salespeople who targeted me on Instagram and Facebook. Their phone number was visible, so I contacted a few to ask for the price and ask to see the products. Most don’t have ready-made products so we’ll make two visits.
When I came, the store was full of fakes, but very average quality fakes that you see in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or on a hidden street corner in Dubai. I randomly point out a few bags, and the price given does not exceed $100. On the other hand, he explains to me that there are several categories:
- True copies but without the brand logo
- Fakes as seen at street vendors
- Super fakes: already a little better.
- VIP quality: almost exact copy, with logo, but not necessarily in the authentic material (for example, faux leather instead of genuine leather)
- VVIP quality: almost exact copy, with logo, in genuine leather
- 1:1 quality: same leather as genuine, with logo, reality by Chinese craftsmen
- like authentic quality: same leather as authentic, with logo, made by European craftsmen
- Factory quality: it’s a bag created in the brand’s workshop but has not passed the final checks. This mainly concerns “made in Italy” products. I don’t know if this is verified information, but a few years ago, former employees of a large luxury house were tried for trafficking counterfeits.
He does not have high-quality products in stock because they are expensive, and if he cannot sell them, he will lose several thousand euros, so these bags are on order only. He has one that just arrived: he sold it for $800, and the buyer will pick it up in a few hours. This bag smells genuine leather, and since I’ve never touched an authentic one, I have no idea if it’s authentic. It’s very well made!
The seller adds that the luxury bags are purchased authentic and then deconstructed in China. Thus, they base themselves on the structure of this bag to make an exact pattern. As for the working conditions, he won’t be able to tell me because he also buys from intermediaries in China and has never set foot in a single workshop. The only video he was able to show me was that of a factory in China, filmed by who-knows-who, with a Chinese woman doing saddle stitching by hand, but not by hand. French (American/Asian method). As for the confirmation, “same leather as the authentic” is both true and false because I inquired with luxury leather suppliers in Vietnam. European tanneries, suppliers of luxury brands, sell the same leathers to anyone.
Now, it’s time to visit a salesman who quoted me $1000 for a top-tier replica. $1000 is a lot of money in Vietnam. Only the Vietnamese elite can afford it. Surprise: it’s a small workshop waiting for me, with a dozen craftsmen working on different types of products… with or without brand, counterfeit or not. They need three weeks to copy the design of the bag of my choice, gather the necessary materials, and make the bag. The bag will have a logo or not, as I want. Here, everything is done manually (no machines), the technicality is there, but they are less careful about conformity. They are more focused on craftsmanship: using authentic, good-quality leather. They copy the design but aren’t looking for 1:1 standards. They will not count the number of stitches, for example. They say they make copies of luxury bags because there is demand:
- Vietnamese fashionistas have less access to luxury products (the price is x1.5 compared to the price displayed in France).
- There is less stock.
- They don’t want to wait and use this kind of service.
When I ask if they have international customers, they said no. It’s a service reserved for locals because they don’t want to have problems with luxury brands. I touch their leathers: divine. I see the names of prestigious French tanneries.
To conclude this article, I went to Vestiaire Collective to recover from my emotions. I couldn’t find the bag of my dreams at a reasonable price, but I came across a rare scarf I had been looking for several months. I check the photos and the label, it looks pretty authentic to me, and I placed an order. It was only when looking at the pictures a second time that I noticed that the scarf seemed thinner than the authentic one (I have several authentic scarves from the same brand). I zoom in on the details and discover a leaf pattern in orange on her scarf and white on the photo of the authentic one. Without a doubt: This is a 1:1 replica, only an expert eye to distinguish the real from the fake. In a panic, I beg Vestiaire Collective to cancel the order, but they tell me that I can’t because I didn’t opt for the authentication option from them. I can only make a complaint once the item has been received. I begged the saleswoman to cancel the order (without telling her that I had learned it was a fake). Fortunately, she canceled my order. A few days later, the same scarf was sold to another poor soul for 430€. I check her old sales: this girl only sells high-quality replica scarves between 400€ and 500€, passing them off as authentic scarves that she probably bought for 100€ each. So cruel.
In short, since I discovered this world of super fake, 1:1 replicas, I am once not interested in luxury brands.
This post is also available in: Français