Culture

The Instagram watchdog that calls out fashion counterfeits

Accounts like @yeezybusta are playing a key role in the online resale market.

Culture

Real or Fake?

Culture

The Instagram watchdog that calls out fashion counterfeits

Accounts like @yeezybusta are playing a key role in the online resale market.

The fashion retail market is in flux, but e-commerce platforms are thriving. Beyond online shops that operate like traditional retail stores is an increasingly robust network of “recommerce” platforms like Depop, Grailed and, of course, Ebay, where users can buy upscale fashion items from individual sellers at significant markdowns. Online resale platforms are growing 20 times faster than the rest of the retail market, according to a recent report from the fashion retail forecasters ThredUp.

But with the new dynamic of buying clothes from strangers via an app comes the threat of getting ripped off. Instagram has come under fire in the past for allowing counterfeiters to advertise fake sneakers on the platform, and style forums are filled with threads of bad encounters with online re-sellers. A particularly long thread on the popular Kanyetothe forums outlined a nightmare scenario in which a user unwittingly bought fake sneakers and spent weeks trying to get a refund. The problem of counterfeiting is felt most severely by participants in the booming streetwear market, where limited drops and exclusive releases make every item a harrowing adventure to acquire. And while bigger sites like Grailed have rigorous standards in place to protect buyers from frauds, things aren’t so clear-cut elsewhere online.

Instagram accounts like @fake_education and @yeezybusta illustrate the sophistication of today’s counterfeiters. Oftentimes it is a small detail like a misplaced stitch or slight color variation that separates the real from the fake. And as more shoppers turn to second hand resellers, elaborate counterfeits are bound to remain a problem.

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On his website, @yeezybusta, who famously called out Soulja Boy for wearing fake Yeezys in an Instagram photo, charges $10 for a “legit check,” where he’ll evaluate photos of a sneaker on sale and tell you if it’s fake. Over email, the 19-year-old L.A. native, who prefers to remain anonymous because of some of the high profile celebrities he calls out, described how counterfeits have become more pernicious and why services like his will continue to play a role in the online reseller market.

How did you learn to spot counterfeit Yeezys?

I was unintentionally gifted a pair of fake Yeezys for my birthday a couple years ago. I didn’t know that they were fake and I wore them until someone called me out. I then did some research, saved up some money and bought a real pair. Now with every drop, I educate myself through comparing my real pairs to what I find online.

Online resellers like Grailed and Depop are a growing force in retail. Do you think an app or an algorithm could ever spot fakes?

Unfortunately, no. Someone could create one, however the counterfeit manufacturers are always up to date and would find some sort of way to trick the algorithm. Also, fakes are getting so good these days that they are almost indistinguishable from the real thing unless you know exactly what to look for.

On Instagram, counterfeits seem to pop up all the time. Do people message you to verify shoes before they buy?

All the time. I offer a service on my website to legit check people’s shoes. I would love to do it for free (and I have in the past), however I get hundreds of requests a day and it’ll take up my entire day, every day.

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Your account points out some pretty high profile people who are wearing fake sneakers. Have you ever been confronted?

I have. 95 percent of the time they come to me asking for help and advice. Sometimes there is someone who is really angry who tries to attack me but at the end of the day, I am just speaking the truth, not hating or bullying.

As streetwear continues to dominate the fashion world, do you think there's a business to be made out of identifying fakes?

Definitely. In my opinion the first step is educating the masses and trying to make wearing fakes socially unacceptable (since buying and selling counterfeit products is illegal anyway) and then weeding out what is left of the fakes so people can enjoy their authentic goods as they are intended to.

Do you think there is a solution to fake sneakers popping up in online shops?

Making sure people are educated enough to not purchase off of sketchy websites is the first step. I always say “If it’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true.” The next step would be to encourage people to buy from reputable sources instead of places like Ebay. It's better to pay the extra money and get the real deal than to “save” $100 and get a fake pair.