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How to Spot Fake Fashion, Designer Knock-Offs & Counterfeits


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Did you know that knock-off fashion is a $600 billion industry? Fake fashion and knock-offs are products that are designed to look like they have a high-fashion brand, but are actually cheap, low quality fakes. Some people don’t mind carrying or wearing a replica item, but it’s not okay when you’re taken advantage of by someone selling a clever counterfeit.

The problem is that when you buy a bag, a pair of shoes, or other accessories online, you don’t actually get to handle the item and assess the quality prior to making your payment. This means you need to use good “detective skills” to find out whether the item you’re looking at is the real deal.

Identifying Fake Fashion

Even if you’re buying an item secondhand and can actually see and feel it, you need to know exactly how to check for signs of authenticity. Here are six things to look for when shopping for designer goods:

1. The Workmanship
The first thing I check for on patterned handbags are the seams. A counterfeit doesn’t have the care and craftsmanship put into it that a real designer bag has, which means the fabric and pattern won’t line up at the seams. In fact, that’s the quickest way to determine if a Louis Vuitton product is fake: The patterns of real Louis Vuitton products always line up along the seams.

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Remember, when you buy the real thing, you’re not just paying for a recognizable name – you’re paying for quality workmanship. Authentic goods don’t have loose threads or unraveling zippers, so check the item for signs that it hasn’t been made well.

2. The Logo
Make sure that the logo is printed correctly. Recently, a Gucci/Coach hybrid replica was created, fooling many buyers into snapping up a “Goach” bag – the “C” in the Coach logo was subtly transformed into a “G,” which should have tipped off discerning buyers that it wasn’t real.

In addition to confirming the authenticity of the logo design, look for the logo in other locations on the item. For instance, most zipper pulls, name plates, and even shoe soles will have the logo engraved, not stamped.

3. The Price
The most commonsense way to spot a fake is to consider the price. You must pay top dollar for designer goods, so if it’s a screaming deal, it’s probably not real.

My general rule of thumb is to never buy something that is priced less than 30% below the original designer price. That’s about how much is discounted at secondhand stores or at seasonal department store sales. Prada doesn’t sell $50 bags, so you should definitely be wary if an online or secondhand store seller offers you name brand on the cheap. Unfortunately, the only way to guarantee you’re getting the real deal is to buy from an authorized dealer, such as a department store.

4. The Location
Most counterfeits are made in Asia, so a tag proclaiming that your new Hermes scarf was “Made in China” is highly suspect. Designer goods are usually made in Europe, and will include engravings that say so.

You should also check to see where the item is being shipped from. If an online seller has 25 identical bags available and he’s sending from an address in China, you should probably think twice before making a purchase. Since individuals can’t be authorized dealers for designer goods, they’re probably selling fakes.

Counterfeit Goods Location

5. The Feel
Buying secondhand is a fantastic way to get a deep discount on legit designer items. However, just because you found a designer bag in a thrift shop doesn’t mean it’s real.

Secondhand items should show gentle signs of wear, but not disruptions in the quality or the integrity of the item. And again, watch out if the price is suspect. Thrift store and secondhand store owners know the difference between real and fake, and price items appropriately using that knowledge. Unfortunately, they may also place a high price on a replica item if it has the right logo.

Feel the item – leather goods should feel soft and supple; never will they feel stiff or like plastic. While it’s fun to score a thrift store find, it’s important that you still do your homework to make sure it’s a well-loved genuine item.

6. The Documentation
Designers want to assure you that you’re buying the real thing. I own a couple of designer bags and shoes, and they always come with the right boxes, identification cards, and other info that ensures authenticity. If your designer item arrives in a plastic bag with tags affixed – and without any documentation – it’s most likely a fake. High-end designers never attach the price tag to their items, and they usually send them encased in dust covers, not plastic bags.

Final Word

If you’re budget-conscious about fashion, it can be tempting to nab whatever is cheapest. But you should be aware that U.S. Customs seizes about $200 million in counterfeit goods entering the country each year, which means you could pay for something and never actually receive it. That alone is reason enough to scour online listings to make sure an item is authentic. Be smart and diligent, and you can still snag great secondhand and sale deals without forfeiting the integrity of the item.

Have you ever purchased bootleg clothing unknowingly? How do you check for authenticity?

Jacqueline Curtis writes about edtech, finance, marketing, and small business strategy. With over 14 years of copywriting experience, she's created content and scripting for organizations such as GE, Walgreens, Overstock, and MasterCard. She lives in Utah with her husband, three kids, and an overzealous springer spaniel named Penelope.