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How to spot a fake designer bag
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!
Or so the saying goes.
I was watching Suburgatory last week. Tessa and Dallas took a secret trip to New York City on a whim and Dallas found herself in the middle of some stuff she'd never quite seen back home. Being the fashion icon she is, designer bags on the street were too much for her to pass up and she ended up with three of them despise Tessa's warning that they were takes. Dallas didn't care, she knew, but nobody else back home would.
And so it begins.
If your goal is to be the Imelda Marcos of handbags and you've got limited resources, it can be very tempting to purchase a counterfeit or "replica" as they are often referred to as. But like fake hair on a wig, touch it and the effect is less than satisfying. Wear it, and you're bound to be disappointed with a sweaty scalp.
Let's understand something before we proceed. I would love nothing more than for you to just buy every purse you need from me.
And that's a big but. I know that sometimes we all want something very, very special. And I would be lying if I didn't say how much I love designer bags as much as the next gal. If you've read about me on my website, you know I abhor cheap labor, cheap materials, and cheap looks. You know that I believe in the American way and looking good without the big pricetag.
You also know I believe in ethical business. I make no bones or excuses for being a Christian business owner.
And frankly, the counterfeit business is anything BUT ethical. Passing off goods as something they are not is a scam. It's a lie perpetrated on unsuspecting consumers. And if you want to split hairs, having others think you're carrying the real deal when you're not is a lie as well. Be honest. If you need to have people think you've got the funds to spend on bags of that caliber when in reality you don't, then the fact is you lack the self-esteem to be who you are and allow people to love you just as you are without the status symbol.
It's harsh. I know.
But it's the truth. And I believe in the truth.
The Bible tells us in 1 Samuel 16:7 "...For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” The heart is the only thing that matters regardless of what you believe. It's the condition of a person's heart that separates her from everyone else. And like fake designer purses, people often go to such great lengths to conceal the reality of who they are with fancy packaging that it can be almost impossible without a discerning eye to spot the fake from the real deal. Counterfeiters have gotten very sophisticated in production making it more and more difficult to spot the fakes.
As long as there have been celebrities, people have been trying to imitate their looks. Today is no exception with red carpet looks available in the stores almost before they hit the carpet. The recent royal wedding had gown designers sketching patterns the moment Kate stepped out of the carriage with finished samples ready by the end of the day. When designer jeans hit the market in the late 70's, consumers couldn't get enough. Taking advantage of the demand, overseas manufactures in developing countries were quick to jump on the bandwagon mass-producing designer knock-offs as fast as consumers would buy them. In earlier attempts, it was much easier to spot a counterfeit handbag. Little things like logos split in the seams, packaging, lining, these were all common tip-offs. Today, with the availability of fabric printing and plastics that rival fine leathers, it's much trickier.
I read a story about an individual who worked in a large designer outlet. A customer came in and returned an item. Before accepting the return, the manager carefully inspected the item to insure its authenticity and when satisfied, passed it to the clerk for restocking. On closer inspection, the clerk noticed that the lining was of an inferior quality than what she was accustomed to in the store's actual designer items. It turns out that the lining was of a coarse quality along the inner flaps tipping the clerk off to the forgery. Unfortunately for the store, the refund had already been issued, but for the customers, the possibility of passing off yet another fake to an unsuspecting consumer could have cost the store even more down the line. So with that being said, if you are in the market for a designer handbag, here are some red flags to keep you from getting ripped off wherever you shop.
Just like real estate - LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION Pssssssstttt! Wanna buy a watch buddy? Real Rolex! Cheap! Five dolla. You don't have to be wearing a trench coat in a dicey neighborhood to market replicas. They're everywhere now. I recently visited Chinatown in Chicago and even in a fancy gallery, I spotted a copy of a artisan piece. Counterfeits were in every shop, hanging on walls, piled on tables, everywhere. But, be wary. Boutiques are notorious for stocking fakes. A posh salon in my area carries fakes in their front lobby beautifully merchandised on their own rack, in glass cases and showcased on shelves. The owner admits they're fakes but the price tag might say otherwise. Don't get sucked in by pretty wrapping. You'll find fakes in resale shops, street vendors, vendor fairs, craft shows, and like the recent episode of Suburgatory, on street corners. You'll find them overseas frequently as unsuspecting tourists in fancy boutiques assume items bought overseas must be the real thing. Do some research on designer websites and get to know what you're looking for, especially what you should expect to pay. Shop reputably, avoid online. It's possible it's just a cyber street corner. You can never be too certain. When in doubt, check it out.
Name - What's in a name? A rose by any other would smell as sweet! That may have been true for Juliet, but it's not true for designer names. One of my favorite designers, Kathy Van Zeeland is a name you don't see on the corner...yet. Some of the first names to be knocked off were Louis Vitton and Gucci. The more popular the designer, the more likely it was copied. Like the fake Rolex, the bigger the name, the bigger the tip-off it's probably a fake. Would you buy a Rolex at a craft market? Then don't buy a "designer" bag there either. Watch out for these designers as the most frequently copied
Dolce and Gabbana
Dooney and Bourke
Material One of the reasons I design and sew is to have control over materials. When I shop with my daughter for special occasion dresses, she is always drawn to shiny things. She sees a dress that looks pretty on the hanger. But upon closer inspection, she rejects it because of how cheap the material feels next to her skin. One of the most difficult things to identify on a fake purse or wallet is the material. With technology, it's much less difficult to replicate print, patterns, and embellishments. Even packaging, what used to be a dead give away, can be replicated. I did a show recently and a table next to me was piled with fakes, each of which came with its own special branded sack. Every bag was wrapped in plastic, the handles and hardware were carefully wrapped in tissue paper with little drawstring bags to go with. Even the Juicy Couture bags had little drawstring bags inside just like the real thing. It all looked very authentic. And the ladies were very coy about their merchandise, hawking it to every passerby as a great bargain on designer bags stating which designers they had and how much the same bag would cost at a retail store. Coupled with the authentic looking logo packaging and a tempting pricetag, many an unsuspecting shopper was lured in buying as many as three or four at a time. We've been taught to believe that designers make huge quantities then sell the overstock to retailers to resell. Sometimes this is true. But with high end items, it's generally not. Caveat emptor. When looking at materials, you have to dig deep. Fakes don't have to made from PVC. Many in fact are made with reasonably good quality leather, even lambskin. However, they are seldom as good as the quality of materials in high end goods and may have discolorations or imperfections, or be dyed with cheap dye that will rub off on clothing. Again, do your homework. Designers know fakes are out there and are more than willing to help you identify the pretenders from the Prada.
Stitching can be a dead giveaway. Inconsistent stitching and sloppy construction in less visible areas, such as the underside of the bag or inside pockets, are details to look for immediately. Authentic designer bags have more zeros on them for a reason. Workmanship takes time and the effort of a dedicated craftsman. They cost more because they are built more complexly. If you ever question the cost of a BFF Eco Original, ask me how many hours I spend on each design just at the machine, not counting the time I take to design each pattern and cut it out before construction ever begins. Counterfeit products usually do not have the care of construction that the real item has. If the construction looks simplistic, it's likely to be a phony.
Details Details We all know it's the little things that can make an item stand out. Bling and embellishments, hardware, charms, etc. can all be signature statements designers use to draw the eye. More and more, these items are easily replicated. Intricate stitching, stamping, fasteners and zippers are often things to look for to spot the fake from the designer. Check to see if handles are the same size, that zippers match up and open with ease, is the monogram symmetrical, is the stitching tight or long and uneven, is the hardware discolored or thin. Louis Vuitton for example is so particular about their stitching that every bag of similar design has the same number of stitches in the same place.
In the end, it's really up to you to do your research carefully. That $80 or $200 price tag on a fake may seem like a bargain, but the cost of counterfeiting is far reaching.
So let's get serious now. Most people think buying a fake designer bag is no big deal. It hurts no one and helps the little vendor selling them. But there's more to this trend than you may know and unsuspecting consumers may not get "hurt" per se, but there is a greater cost.
Counterfeiting is a multi-billion dollar business. And it's not just purses, and it's not just little street vendors making a profit. It's suggested that terrorists make more money selling counterfeits than selling drugs. It's an international crime that is difficult to track, and even more difficult to enforce. In fact Interpol warns of an ever-strengthening link between the sale of counterfeit goods and financing for terrorist groups. I'm in no way suggesting that you are personally contributing to the financing of terrorism; but think about it. We say that the war on terrorism lies with our government.
The war on drugs in our streets doesn't lie in the hands of our police. It lies in the hands of families and communities taking a personal stand to not contribute to it, to educate and protect their children against the dangers of drug use. What if every American made a personal choice to not buy fake, to shop local designers or authentic dealers? What if we chose to not purchase unlicensed products for our favorite teams? There's a reason for licensing and endorsements. Sadly, with no laws against owning counterfeit goods, label cravers are only feeding the demand with the willingness to pay a fraction of designer prices to have something that looks like the real thing. The need for status is a hunger in this country. A small effort but after 9/11, to tighten the reins on counterfeiting, HR 32 was signed by former President Bush as the most aggressive anti-counterfeiting legislation in over 20 years.
Okay, let's move on. If legislation isn't enough for you, consider the conditions of the worker forced by life circumstances to make those goods. Remember the designer jean craze in the late seventies, early eighties? When it was discovered and reported that some very big names were using child labor in work camps to make them? More recently, an undercover investigator sent to Thailand to report on the counterfeit industry reported that workers were found in deplorable conditions, chained to their work stations with dog bowls of rice next to them so they would not be able to leave their stations. Are you willing to contribute to that?
While it's true that counterfeit handbags only make up about 4% of the industry, with the other 96% made up of pharmaceuticals, auto parts, airplane parts, electrical cords, toys, software, hardware, CDs, DVDs, books, baby formula and even alcohol, it's still a $500 billion a year industry with far reaching consequences. Think you're the only one trying to save a buck? Think about that when you buy an extension cord without the UL seal. Not saying everything has to have a brand name on it, but sometimes off-brands are questionable. By the same token, like the counterfeit designer jeans, names can be deceiving. In Russia, where alcoholism is a national epidemic, deaths from counterfeit alcohol made with cheap grain alcohol bottled with a big name is a common event. In January 2005, the IACC published its own white papers, "The Negative Consequences of International Intellectual Property Theft." The report, available at Iacc.org, stated the FBI has "strong" evidence the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 funded their activities through a counterfeit textiles store on Broadway in Manhattan.
As a designer, I'm very protective of my work. I'm small beans compared to all the big names; hardly a blip on their radar. But I work hard when I design and when I write. I don't want someone taking my work to put their name on it or putting my name on their work without my profiting from it. Intellectual property is worth protecting no matter how you might feel about designer goods. It's not about the goods themselves, it's about the individuals and families whose livelihood depends on proper credit and profit from their work. If you don't believe in designer pricetags, then don't buy them. But if you think for a moment that buying a fake is just a way to "stick it to the man" or hurt the profit margins of big labels, you're wrong. What it hurts is the honest worker in the same way your job that just got outsourced to Mexico hurt you. As long as you're willing to buy it, counterfeiters are willing to produce it. It's a drug and we need to kick the habit out of this country and off the street corners and fancy boutiques.You want to occupy something? Occupy your little boutique selling them. Have a heart to heart with the owner about the real cost and ask her to please stop funding this illegal practice. But do it nicely, okay. And if she won't listen, then do the only thing you can do to send a message. Take your business elsewhere.
We all want to save money. But know where your money is going and where your purchases come from. You wouldn't get a loan from a loan shark even with a low interest rate. You wouldn't fill your prescription on a street corner or buy furniture out of the back of a truck either. If you think counterfeit handbags aren't hurting anyone, think again. There's no such thing as a victimless crime. You might not be able to afford the real thing. I certainly can't. But the solution to that is to wait until you can if you must have it. Please don't allow the lure of a status symbol be so great that we ignore what's really behind the shiny name tag.
Nothing comes without a price.