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The FakeFake: Counterfeit Fashion and The RealReal’s Fake Store for Fake Bags

by Josh Hawkins

The RealReal is a luxury retailer and e-commerce site selling authentic designer goods, with 16 stores across the US. 

Since 2011, The RealReal’s mission has been to ‘extend the lifecycle of luxury.’ This has led to them removing 5000 fake items a month and an astounding 250,000 since they began.

On the 11th of June 2024, New Yorkers spotted The RealReal’s latest store, or so they thought.

At first glance, the store looks like a run-down building turned luxury bag store with chipped wooden doors and graffiti behind the stores sign. The shelving displayed many iconic handbags such as the Hermes Birkin, Dior’s Lady D-lite, and Telfar’s Shopping Bag, beautifully lit up with a statement chandelier in the centre.

Located on 301 Canal Street (deemed New York City’s counterfeit bag street), the stores opening hours gave away the trick, stating it was closed from Monday to Sunday accompanied by a QR code saying open beside it. 

This was because everything in the store was, in-fact, fake. Even the chandelier.

The RealReal celebrated the stores ‘opening’ with an exclusive cocktail party attended by unsuspecting guests. Hunter Thompson, the director of authentication at The RealReal, met guests and gave out blue shoe covers before discussing the meaning behind the fake merchandise filled store. 

The words ‘Ask yourself what’s real’ is written on the window, opening the discussion of counterfeit culture in fashion. 

This exhibition was in collaboration with creative agency Mythology to start conversations on the origins of fake designer goods and the danger of their origins. 

Counterfeit pieces have become more and more difficult to identify, even leading master authenticators to enlist help off the FBI to fish out the fakes. With the evolving discussion and exposing of fast fashion, The RealReal says that counterfeit goods need to be a big part of that conversation. With absolutely no regulations or safe, ethical working places, the goods are severely damaging the environment and fashion authenticity. 

In 2023 alone, a whopping $2.7 billion of counterfeit goods were seized in the US via border control, being traced back to cartels that supply narcotics and firearms.

The RealReal is continuing their attempts to keep counterfeit bags from being sold with the exhibition remaining until September. On one day of each month, June 22nd, July 20th, and August 17th, people will be available to exchange their own counterfeit handbags for the chance to win genuine, authentic bags; no questions asked. 

They have also a curated collection of the Canal Street inspired goods online to shop the authentic versions of commonly counterfeited items like the Chanel Flap, Gucci Belts and Rolex watches.

Edited by Emily Duff

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