At first glance, the slightly worn Louis Vuitton handbag looks like the real thing. A normal person can completely spend money to buy this bag.
However, Peng Jingjing, who attended a course on distinguishing counterfeit goods, had a hunch that this was a fake bag. Wearing white gloves, looking closely at the monogram “LV” on the bag, Peng tried to remember what he had learned: The fabric line on fake Louis Vuitton bags often runs parallel to the corner of the “L.”
The 27-year-old guest also rubbed his hand to feel the letter V on the logo, frowned to observe the material and seam. “I still can’t see anything,” Peng told Sixth Tone after finding no clues for 10 minutes.
In May 2018, Peng, her husband, and seven others attended one of the first courses on how to distinguish the real from the fake in China.
Practitioners accept to pay thousands of dollars in the hope that their new skills will help them protect themselves from the market for counterfeit goods and luxury brands that are flourishing in the nation of billions of people.
The explosion of fake goods
According to market researchers UIBE Luxury China, China’s factories produce large amounts of luxury goods, much of which is destined for the domestic market, worth around 4 trillion yuan ($617.7 billion).
The second-hand market is also booming as many people are not willing to spend thousands of dollars on a new handbag. However, China is also famous as a place to produce counterfeit goods. Massive trade in counterfeit goods has led to customers looking for cheap brands fall into the trap.
Living in the southern tech hub of Shenzhen, Peng works full-time in the financial industry, but over the past few years, she started a second-hand handbag business on Taobao and WeChat.
At first, Peng only bought from acquaintances and friends. After two years, as the business grew, she started importing goods from strangers. This is also the time when concerns about counterfeit goods and counterfeit goods appear.
“Many times I received defective bags. Fear of being scammed forced me to attend a five-day course organized by the Luxury Appraisal Center, China E-commerce Association.”
In the end, both she and her husband received a government-issued counterfeit inspection certificate. Both hope this will help them increase their credibility with customers.
Inside the thousand dollar classroom
Zhang Chen, founder of the Extraordinary Luxuries Business School in Beijing and a classroom teacher who teaches how to eliminate counterfeits when buying second-hand goods, said many people are deceived by “good imitations with little difference” from the original.
Zhang’s seven-day course costs 15,800 yuan ($2,440). The expert says it’s worth the price as the course has established a foothold in the burgeoning second-hand market.
According to consulting firm Forward Business Information, the value of China’s used luxury goods market nearly doubled last year to 17.3 billion yuan.
“Chinese people buy a third of the world’s luxury goods, but the 3% circulation rate is much lower than the 25-30% in Western countries,” Zhang told AFP.
“The lining of a black Chanel handbag should be pink,” Zhang told her practitioners. He also instructed people to look at the brand logo in the sun. “The letters light up and that’s the point.”
“Knowing which letters in the Chanel logo use a rectangular font instead of a square can help spot a third of the counterfeits on the market,” said Zhang, who taught herself the skill of long-term due diligence for over 10 years in Japan, said.
Zhang’s scientific participants are mostly wealthy but have very different jobs, including former fashion editors, business owners, handbag dealers, brand followers…
Besides face-to-face students, Zhang also has online clients who regularly take pictures of watches, bags, and clothes that need to be appraised and sent to him. Zhang said that in most cases, it only takes about 10 seconds for me to know if the product is real.
The identification of real/fake goods is increasingly being technologized by luxury brands. Louis Vuitton said it will launch a platform called Aura to remove fake products.
Microchips have been incorporated into the soles of Italian brand Salvatore Ferragamo women’s shoes, while Burberry has also tested radio frequency recognition technology in its merchandise.
With the technology still in its infancy, however, Zhang doesn’t think his work will be affected. “Any technology has flaws. The market for luxury products will always exist, just methods have to change to adapt.”
Used luxury goods market flourishes in China
The COVID-19 pandemic may have caused many luxury fashion brands to face difficulties due to travel restrictions, but this is an opportunity for another market to bloom, which is used luxury goods.
Ms. Sun Shaqi, who live streams advertising second-hand goods on Douyin, said: “Obviously I can buy 3 to 4 used bags for just the price of 1 new one, so why not? If I buy, also Does anyone know if this is an old bag?”
A Louis Vuitton Speedy 25 Monogram bag rated as 85% new costs nearly $680, or less than half of the brand’s list price, or a small Gucci GG Marmont shoulder bag in color. 90% new black sold for more than 700 USD, only 1/3 of the original price.
Ms. Xu Wei, CEO of second-hand brand Plum, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on sales in stores, so a large number of sellers have turned to online. With the help of live stream platforms, this year is a favorable period for the development of online sales.”
Demand for used luxury goods is not only increasing in first-tier cities, but also among the middle classes in lower-tier cities.
Every day, an employee of Plum, a company specializing in selling second-hand luxury goods, has to check between 200-300 bags to make sure they are all genuine. Plum’s five best-selling brands are all top names in the fashion world, including Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, and Hermes./.