A new wave of designer “superfakes” are on the rise, with details that are so convincing, it’s becoming more difficult for experienced authenticators to distinguish real from counterfeit—so what does this mean for the luxury market today?
Counterfeit goods are nothing new, especially in the realm of luxury. In the early days of faux products, one could go to a clandestine market or stall (in the Philippines, it’s what many know as the tiangge) to find dozens of knock-off bags from brands like Louis Vuitton or Gucci. However, that was a simpler era, set in a time when genuine luxury products were clearly a cut above their impostor counterparts. Nowadays? Well, the situation is quite different—and it’s both threatening and liberating, depending on who you ask.
Today, a new kind of knock-off is on the rise, which media outlets and consumers have labeled as the “superfake.” These aren’t your average fakes, which often use flimsy materials and flimsier techniques to create vague approximations of the designer goods they’re trying to replicate. Factories in China, specifically its southern areas, have become increasingly skilled in producing fakes that look so real, actual authenticators are having difficulties finding more differences than similarities.
For starters, these Chinese factories are sourcing leather from Italian suppliers—even those that provide materials to luxury brands, as per the Business Insider. Workers in these factories also carefully study the actual designer goods to reverse engineer them, learning exactly what makes them well-built and genuine. This is why many superfakes are actually handmade, rather than mass-produced. The results are products that possess practically imperceptible flaws—if there are any at all.
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Due to the more expensive materials and labor involved in creating these superfakes, many of them are actually pricier than one would expect. According to ABC News Australia, a superfake Hermès can cost $1,000, but a Kelly crocodile-skin bag replica can cost $10,000. Still, these prices are only 10 percent of their genuine counterparts’ values (after all, that’s the core of their appeal).
However, the increasing popularity of these superfakes—which reached an all-time high thanks to online e-commerce—brings up questions about ethics. Besides committing copyright infringement, these fakes also give way to more scams and have inflicted immense damage on the luxury market.
As per Business Insider, the fashion industry lost more than $50 billion in potential sales back in 2020 due to counterfeit goods. Though many luxury brands have been coordinating with authorities to seize knockoff goods before they leave China, a substantial amount of superfakes still make it out. Some sellers have even charged wealthy clients tens of thousands of dollars for these convincing counterfeits.
“The victims here aren’t just luxury brands, it also extends to small and medium businesses, and it undermines intellectual property rights for everybody,” explains economist Andry Satrio Nugroho to ABC News Australia.
Training the Average Consumer
Though technology has aided in the popularity of superfakes, it may also be the key to undermining them. Fashion companies are encouraging consumers to learn how to quickly spot these fakes, hoping that they can aid in the fight against imitation goods. According to CNN, a person can now undergo 8,000 hours of training to become a master authenticator at Fashionphile.
Meanwhile, the company RealReal provides retailers with AI software to run initial screenings on potential fakes. The software references a collection of 30 million superfake images to sense small differences in aspects like stitching or embellishment placement.
“I think that we may get to the point where consumers are getting more sophisticated about the resale market — they will be more interested in using codes to track where their particular item has been, and every transaction in which it’s been engaged,” shares Susan Scafidi, founder of the Fashion Law Institute, with CNN.
Liberating Subversion or Grotesque Imitation?
As with any trend, there will always be an oppositional side. Multiple news outlets, including the South China Morning Post, have reported that many Gen-Z individuals are actually embracing superfakes, reframing them as subversive and liberating rather than taboo.
In the midst of economic instability, those without the financial resources to purchase expensive designer goods would rather opt for the next best thing—arguably the closest thing—to the real status symbols. Younger generations born between 1997 to 2012 are willingly purchasing convincing counterfeit products online. In Tiktok alone, dozens of users have unabashedly shown their fake designer hauls and discussed them at length.
This, of course, gives rise to the age-old question: if a status symbol is no longer of high monetary value, is it even a status symbol to begin with? If one removes the nine-digit price tag, what’s left? Is a designer label still powerful when it’s no longer genuine? Even more intriguing: what exactly makes a luxury good “real” enough to be valuable, especially in an age when counterfeit products feature the same materials and techniques for a smaller price?
After all, many of Apple’s products, while sporting designs from the brand’s California headquarters, are assembled in China. Hundreds of other high-end companies outsource their materials and labor from different parts of the world. So what makes luxury goods so different?
One could keep arguing about the intricacies of these loaded questions and the concepts they contend with, yet they may never reach a definitive conclusion. Superfakes may be counterfeits, but for better or for worse, their existence hinges on the very real desires and anxieties of our modern society.
Banner photo by Tamara Bellis via Unsplash.