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Illustration Callum Abbott

Why this community of streetwear fanatics only buy fakes

FashionReps is a growing subreddit where fashion fans swap tips and advice on scoring the best knock-off Supreme, Off-White, and Nike

TextKish LalIllustrationCallum Abbott

In the first few moments of a YouTube video titled “Admitting I Own Fakes In-Front of My Fashion Class…”, Quentin Caruso, better known as Tripping, does just that. “I’m a sophomore in college and I’m taking a class about fashion, and in that class (we) were talking about fakes and replicas,” he explains, adding that he can “throw up some pictures so you guys know I’m not bullshitting”. Asked by his teacher if he knowingly owns any counterfeit pieces, the 19-year-old confirms the sneakers he’s wearing at that very moment – the highly coveted Travis Scott Jordan 1 Lows – are in fact fake. “And how do you feel about that,” she prompts. “I’m fine with it,” he wryly confirms. 

Caruso is part of a growing community of fashion-savvy shoppers searching for ways to look runway ready on a high street budget – and, unlike many die-hard hypebeasts, they’re willing to own up to the fact their luxury garms aren’t exactly legitimate. In fact, many take pride in their ability to score a bargain, taking to subreddit FashionReps to discuss new releases, fawn over faux Yeezys, and ask each other for advice on where to pick up the best knock-off Off-White and Supreme styles. 

The forum is a democratised, judgement-free zone in which people share a love of high quality replicas or ‘reps’, where members are friendly and even supportive. They help one another to find the best sellers and sites to buy from, while discussing discrepancies between retail items and their counterfeit counterparts – from stitching and logos, to details and finishes. Most users admit they can’t afford head-to-toe designer looks, and at times they even share budgeting tips. "I got into reps cause I didn’t have much money and wanted a few nice pieces," redditor godsip2 shared in August. "Now I have no money at all 'cause I'm addicted to buying reps and can't stop myself."  

While a lack of funds and a taste for luxury streetwear is a driving factor for many, for others it isn’t about the money at all. “Not to brag, but if I want a Dior coat, I can get it retail,” Dennis, 19, tells us. “For the same (amount of) money I can get four reps.” Dennis admitted his breaking point came after a shocking moment browsing resale markets where he saw his ‘grail shoes’ – a pair of Off-White Air Jordan 1s – show up for €3000. “I thought ‘Fuck this, I’m never gonna pay that for shoes that originally retailed for €150.”

It’s been almost three years since he came across the FashionReps subreddit, which he was initially skeptical of. However, since joining he hasn’t just sworn off resale products and full-price retail items, but also introduced his friends to reps. “A €500 sweater wasn’t in their price range,” says Dennis. “When I showed them my reps (compared to) my retail Yeezys, they were instantly sold.”

Historically, counterfeit designer items conjure thoughts of poorly imitated handbags on AliExpress, labels that read, ‘Fashing BALISG’ instead of Balenciaga, and stalls in alleyways, but FashionReps members know where the quality replicas are sold and claim that many knock-offs actually tend to be better made.  “The quality is the same, even better,” Netherlands-based 23-year-old Camiel admits. “I’ve heard of some Yeezys being better and a lot of high-end Louis Vuitton reps being way better than retail.” He believes that “retail Louis Vuitton quality is not so great…”

FashionReps members buy in bulk, spending hundreds of dollars on ‘hauls’ that they break up into smaller packages in hopes of evading customs checks. The risk is part of the thrill, and while some are unlucky and have their packages seized, others rejoice when packages filled with thousands of dollars of ‘drip’ arrive in the mail. 

Camiel cites his favourite find to be a Palace red slub-neck, “which you can't tell apart from a real one – which I have one of,” he adds. “The quality is amazing and it's super comfortable to wear, it's my favourite (item) I have gotten so far.” But Camiel hasn’t always gotten away with his thrifty finds. 

“In the beginning, I wouldn't wear an item if it had the tiniest flaw. Later on, I noticed that people know (very) little about brands and which items even exist,” he explains. While most people who recognise a rep are likely to ask for the seller or pass on a compliment, Camiel concedes he’s been called out before. “Some high schoolers were at the gym and I was wearing my Nike tech fleece joggers, which have some noticeable flaws, like the black stripe being too short and the cords being too short as well. They called me out on the logo, which I know is perfect. Bunch of clowns.”

For all the people excited about reps, their quality, and believability, there are just as many people out there looking to spot a fake. YeezyBusta, who recently gained prominence for spotting fakes on civilians and celebrities has over 760,000 followers on Instagram. He’s busted the likes of Lil Tjay, Blac Chyna, and Soulja Boy for donning fake Supreme and Yeezys, although his faux-detector has been known to malfunction. 

"I got into reps cause I didn’t have much money and wanted a few nice pieces. Now I have no money at all 'cause I'm addicted to buying reps and can't stop myself" – godsip2, FashionReps member 

In an episode of Complex’s Full Size Run, hosts tasked the Instagram detective with discerning the difference between fake pairs of shoes from the real thing. After being handed a pair of bone-white Yeezy 500s, YeezyBusta exclaims, “Oh these are real!” Closely inspecting the shoe, he notices “The suede is right…even down to the stitching, the label inside the shoe looks right to me and the insole is right too.” The host, who finds it hard to hide his amusement, blurts out “They’re fake.” Behind his signature black surgical mask, used to hide his identity, YeezyBusta turns bright red.

“I can’t take him seriously,” Tripping admits. In a reaction video to a VICE documentary on YeezyBusta, the fashion student protests his motivation for hunting down counterfeit items so publicly. “It isn’t funny. Does anyone find that funny? To ridicule people online? That isn’t something you should be gloating about.”

Some counterfeit items are so believable that they’ve also slipped past trusted authenticators. The RealReal, one of the world's leading luxury consignment stores, claims that "every item we sell is 100% authenticated by an expert.” However, just last year, Forbes contributor, Richard Kentenbaum claimed the retail giant had sold him a fake Toile de Jouy Dior Book Tote bag for $3,600. What followed was a swift investigation by CNBC, who, after speaking with a dozen former employees and unsatisfied customers, and obtaining internal company documents, revealed that “many of the items on the site were being authenticated by copywriters with limited training.” and those who are doing this work are finding it increasingly difficult to spot counterfeits. Out of 1,400 reviews online for The RealReal, the top complaints are fake items.

It may come as a surprise to learn that this is something FashionReps also stands firmly against. In December, the group came together after Depopuser James’s Closet was spotted selling counterfeit items. Within a day, the subreddit had made efforts to liaise with Depop directly and reported the fake pieces resulting in all the listings being taken down. And this isn’t the only time the forum has rallied against people selling fake items moonlighting as cheap authentic ‘steals’. “People who willingly sell replicas as authentic items are the worst,” Tripping insists. “Knowing that a replica looks so close to retail and not selling it for a lot of profit is challenging for some people.” 

Conversely, enjoying replicas as they are comes with its own baggage. Reports indicate that counterfeit fashion is a trillion-dollar industry. "One of the worst stories I read was where they had raided an illegal factory and the children were actually handcuffed to the sewing machines," Ariele Elia, an assistant curator at the Museum at FIT explained in a Complex documentary about the flourishing bootleg industry. 

Fashion Revolution, a not-for-profit global movement campaigning for the systemic reform of the fashion industry, notes that there’s an “urgent lack of transparency.” Policy Director at Fashion Revolution, Sarah Ditty, told us that counterfeiting doesn’t usually come hand in hand with good rights and wages for workers. “Factories making counterfeit items are doing so illegally so it’s in their interest to operate completely under the radar and in doing so means we have no idea who the workers are making these products, what they are being paid, what conditions they’re working in, and what sort of poor environmental practices are most likely happening in these factories.”

To them, the moral standpoint is clear: “We would definitely encourage people not to buy fake luxury goods or any other counterfeit items because you’re almost guaranteed to be contributing to human exploitation and environmental degradation.” This is an issue that goes beyond fakes: when you look beyond the manufacturing level at the places where fabrics are made, yarns are spun and fibres are grown, even legitimate brands are guilty of obscuring working conditions. 

But Tripping insists it's a media smoke-screen. “adidas and Nike were called out for their treatment of workers in the 90s and early 2000s, so now every factory in Asia is associated with bad conditions and child labour.” Tripping also claims that sellers are in fact increasingly transparent about working conditions, their treatment of employees and factories. “They show what their shop looks like, I’ve even asked sellers to show their shops,” he remarked in one of his videos. “And they’ve posted videos on the (subreddit).” One video posted shows a “top quality Yeezy” factory filled with workers. “Actually looks very clean and cool compared to all of the bad warehouse jobs I used to do here in the US,” Redditor highnnmighty comments. 

“That’s like asking if I’ll ever go back to my ex, it was a fun time but in the end, you just feel shitted on” – Dennis, on whether or not he will stop buying fakes

Central to what makes FashionReps a great community isn’t the collective middle-finger to resale culture and hypebeasts or the internet-savvy tips, but the irreverent charm and supportive nature of young people who ultimately just want to look cool, and don’t want money to be the reason that they miss out. It’s rare, if not impossible, to find fashion spaces that aren’t hierarchical, based on wealth, social standing, and nepotism, but FashionReps manages to do all of that, and more. Camiel tells me that recently, the subreddit even banded together to target sellers who began taking higher cuts from sales. “I love how we sometimes work together to get something we want.”

Confronted with the fact that buying reps are taking sales away from workers, brands, and designers, Tripping is unfazed. “Once a limited shoe is released, and sold out in seconds, the company has made its profit. The average cost of manufacturing an Air Jordan 1 is $15-$16. The mark up of that shoe is more than 100 per cent. Nike has no problem with this. If you are wearing a replica of that overpriced shoe (on the resell market), you are basically advertising the brand. The culture side of sneakers is bland and fraudulent, replicas are there to stir things up.”

When asked if he’d ever give up replicas and return to buying retail, Dennis scoffed before saying: “That’s like asking if I’ll ever go back to my ex, it was a fun time but in the end, you just feel shitted on.”