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How Counterfeiters Got Shockingly Good at Knocking Off Designer Handbags

Inside the rise of the "superfake."

Birkin handbag from Hermes Getty Images

It shouldn’t be that difficult to tell the difference between a $10,000 purse and its $100 knockoff, but you’d be surprised.

The last few years have seen the meteoric rise of “superfake” handbags, reports the New York Times, where a wave of Chinese counterfeiters have become very adept at copying bags by Chanel, Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and more. Their expert handiwork—the use of better materials and more sophisticated manufacturing technology—has made it increasingly difficult for even a well trained eye to tell the difference between the real and the knockoff.

One anonymous authenticator admitted to the Times, that the knockoffs “are getting so good, to the point that it comes down to inside etchings, or nine stitches instead of eight,” he said. “Sometimes you really have no idea, and it becomes a time-consuming egg hunt, comparing photos on other websites and saying, ‘Does this hardware look like this one?’” 

And the counterfeit bag makers are fast now too. “It’s gotten to the point that you can see something in season replicated within that season,” Hunter Thompson, an authenticator for the RealReal consignment site told the Times.

This all comes to the chagrin of the fashion houses that are spending billions to fight counterfeit merchandise. While the U.S. has tried to aid them, confiscating 300,000 knockoff bags and wallets in 2022, the designers’s plight is only further complicated by Chinese authorities who don’t have much incentive to help crack down on superfake manufacturers.

Even if those authorities decided to police this black market more closely, they’d find it quite difficult to disrupt the supply chain of counterfeit bag makers. That’s because these aren’t large top-down operations, but a series of interconnected nodes—marketing, financing, design, and manufacturing—where if you take down one node the others remain and they just quickly replace the one they lost.

For those who want a knockoff bag for a few hundred dollars instead of a few thousand, at least they know what they’re getting themselves into. But for the people who want to buy real bags and are instead sold a fake, it’s getting harder for them to make sure they’re getting the genuine article. That’s why the fashion houses, of course, would prefer it if you just bought directly from them.

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