For some people, a trip to Canal Street for fake designer purses is as much of a must on a trip to New York City as a visit to Central Park or the Natural History Museum. But you don't have to go to New York or Chicago to score a counterfeit designer bag. We have them in Louisville, too.
In case no one you know is shopping for Coach (or Louis Vuittons or Kate Spades or fill-in-the-blanks) out of car trunks in random parking lots, here's your heads up.
Other arrangements are less clandestine, such as purse parties at people's homes, warehouses and offices. The bargain purse activity seems to pick up during the pre-holiday season as people look for ways to give designer bags without breaking the bank.
Not coincidentally, that's the time when local stores tend to see an increase in designer bag thefts. Many of them take extra measures, placing more purses in locked glass cases or on locked stands and hiring extra seasonal security partly to patrol that particular department.
Which leads us to the first argument against purchasing designer bags from unauthorized sources: They may be stolen.
If not, there's a good chance they're counterfeit. "The truth is that unless you're buying from an authorized dealer, which would be the manufacturers' own stores, or a store listed on their company website, you can't know for sure whether what you're buying is real or not," says Caroline Bindixen, manager of designer handbags at Dillard's, Mall St. Mathews.
And, no. That guy with the trunk-load of purses is not a licensed Coach dealer.
But he IS part of a booming industry. Counterfeit goods account for 2 percent of global trade, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. A report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime states that counterfeit goods in East Asia and Pacific areas alone account for $24.4 billion in sales. And Internet shopping is not only fueling the demand, but making counterfeits more widely available in smaller cities like ours.
Top counterfeits include Coach, Louis Vuitton, Kate Spade and Gucci. "I'd say those are the most coveted bags and the most knocked-off," says Chrissie Richardson, owner of Sunny Daize, an upscale consignment store in Louisville that specializes in designer labels.
"People occasionally bring in fake Chanels too. It's a horrible thing to have to tell someone, especially if they spent a lot of money on it. A lot of times it's something they received as a gift or it's something they bought online. Sometimes they've paid hundreds of dollars for it."
In that case, Richardson not only has to tell people that they're the proud owners of a counterfeit, she also has to turn them away. Like many legitimate consignment shop owners, Richardson goes to great lengths to ensure that the bags she accepts for consignment and then re-sells are genuine.
"We do everything we can to authenticate our bags because, first of all, selling fakes is against the law," says Richardson. "And it's also bad business. If our customers can't trust us, they won't come back. We have a great clientele because they know they can get real designer merchandise here."
So Richardson carefully inspects every bag that comes into her store inside and out. Telltale signs she looks for:
"Sloppy stitching, misspellings, visible glue, loose threads, colors or fabrics that I know the company hasn't used. I've been doing this for long enough that I can usually spot them right away," she says. "And I always ask for proof of authenticity, like a receipt." If she's not sure, she turns the bag over to her "authenticator." "I have a wonderful source who has worked in designer bags for decades, who I pay to come in and inspect any bag we are not sure about."
Over at Kristen's Neat Repeats, owner Stephanie McFarlane takes similar measures: "After years of doing this, I can spot a fake pretty easily," she says. "But if I'm not sure, I have a contact who works in a Coach store. She will look at the bags for me. I don't want to pass something off as real that's not."
Usually, though, it's not as hard as you might think. "Unless you go overseas," says Richardson. "I've seen fakes in Shanghai that are almost impossible to identify as copies. But that's the exception." Once you've handled expensive bags, the feel of a counterfeit typically gives it away, even if it's amazingly detailed.
"The truth is that you can occasionally find fakes with serial numbers, linings, hang tags, stamped hardware," says Paula Naverson, saleswoman at the Coach counter in Dillard's. "But the materials and workmanship give it away. The leather on the real bags is beautiful. The construction is impeccable. These companies have typically earned their reputations."
She's right. I have maybe 15 or so good designer bags in my closet. Many of them were from my old life in New York City, which means many are about two decades old ... and they're still in mint condition. I can't kill them. And, believe me, they've lived hard.
So while some people may be buying designer bags just for the name, they're missing the point. If they're buying the real deal, they're getting a lot more than that. Even if they don't realize it for 20 years.
IS IT A DESIGNER BAG OR A DUD?
If you buy from an authorized dealer, of course, you know you got the real thing. But here's how the experts can tell a designer bag from a dud.
THE ZIPPERS: While I couldn't get official confirmation from Coach, my purse experts tell me that Coach reps teach them that their bags have a tiny "YKK" stamped into the little metal piece in the interior of the zipper pull that slides along the teeth. (They do. I checked. ) "And zippers on designer bags slide back and forth smoothly without catching," says McFarlane.
HARDWARE: Real bags have heavy, solid hardware that's usually brass. Buckles are stamped with the Coach logo. Fakes may have lighter-weight or even peeling metal or buckles that don't lie flat.
THE MATERIALS: Real bags are made from supple leather that is pliable and soft to the touch. Fakes are typically pleather (fake leather) or cheap, thin, brittle leather that's usually stiff - which is especially noticeable on longer straps. Any canvas areas are sturdy and coated for durability.
LOGOS: Real bags have perfectly lined up C's that line up perfectly at the seams. Slanted, blurry or crooked C's are giveaways.
STITCHING: The stitches on a real bag are meticulously even and straight. There are no loose ends or double stitches.
COLORS AND PRINTS: An expert can often spot a fake by the color of the dye. Fake logo Coaches are often darker brown than the real ones, or the letters blend into the background.
4 REASONS YOU SHOULDN'T BUY A BLACK-MARKET BAG
Before you're tempted to buy a fake-- even a really good one, here are a few things to consider:
1. Counterfeiters don't practice fair trade. The counterfeit goods market has been linked to child labor and exploitative working conditions, according to the Department of Homeland Security and a recent report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
2. The profits from counterfeiting have been linked to organized crime, drug trafficking and terrorist organizations, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
3. Counterfeit manufacturers and black-market dealers don't pay taxes. Supporting them promotes corruption, loss of government revenue and legal jobs.
4. Counterfeiting and fencing of stolen goods are illegal. Therefore, purchasing counterfeit or stolen products supports illegal activity.
Christine Fellingham, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal