The counterfeit industry has long been a subculture of fashion, from Canal Street knock-offs to “inspired by” dupes, perfect and pristine replicas to NFTs; it’s a subject I have tackled here on PurseBlog more than once. With the rise of social media, however, the market for this industry substrate has grown exponentially and become increasingly visible. Articles like the now-infamous one published by The Cut highlighting the Fake-Hermès Ladies of Reddit have only made the issue more visible, while possibly attempting to blur the line of what’s acceptable.
This year, seemingly out of nowhere came The Fake Birkin Slayer, an Instagram account dedicated to calling out the high-visibility social media stars who ostensibly have it all, but in fact are posing for likes with fake Hermès bags. With a barebones Instagram profile bearing a sole post (a drawing of a Birkin set as bait for a rudimentary trap) and a link to Alastair Gray’s TED Talk, How Fake Handbags Fund Terrorism and Organized Crime, “The Slayer” collects all the receipts and posts them in their stories (the better to encourage obsessive check-ins from their loyal and scandalized devotees). In just over a month, @TheFakeBirkinSlayer has amassed over 137,000 followers.
Never punching down, The Slayer doesn’t call out your great aunt who doesn’t know a Kelly from a Constance but loves that little lock and key. The accounts that raise The Slayer’s ire are those who are selling an illusion of money (with possessions), or popularity (with bought followers) or clout (with photos at exclusive events or places).
As a matter of practicality and, unfortunately, security, The Slayer has chosen to remain anonymous; this adds, of course, to all of the mystery, but it also gives them the power of the collective: The Slayer could be any of us, and The Slayer could be all of us.
An Interview with @TheFakeBirkinSlayer
Are you a single person or a group?
We are a small group.
Why did you start this account?
Our team was tired of seeing fakes every time we opened Instagram. We were tired of being bombarded every day with sponsored ads and messages from counterfeiters. We were appalled by counterfeiters who harassed and berated us when we told them their bag was fake and wanted us to leave them alone to sell their fakes to unsuspecting buyers. We were frustrated that Instagram did absolutely nothing when these issues were reported. Also, we were tired of seeing more and more people justify getting fake bags.
So, it was two sides of the problem: we had had enough of both seeing people getting scammed with counterfeit bags, and also watching people happily give money to criminals in order to portray a false reality that may influence others, including young viewers, to place material goods over character and honesty.
Those who knowingly purchase counterfeit items, even unintentionally, promote crime, period. These counterfeit purchases also damage a brand that has earned its distinction through decades of creative design, financial risk and hard work. The Slayer wants to see this assault end.
Did you expect your page to go viral so quickly?
No. Definitely not!
Are you confident in your knowledge and are you ever scared that you are wrong?
Yes we are confident, as we have a team that very carefully reviews each photo before posting. No, we are not scared as the truth should not make anyone afraid.
How do you know if a bag is fake just by looking at the pictures?
For many of the posts, it doesn’t take an expert to see that the bag is a fake. Notwithstanding that, we still have our team and numerous eyes review each photo prior to posting.
How can you tell the difference between a fake bag and a real bag if they’re distorted due to filters or Photoshop?
We have seen many socialites, celebrities, and influencers Photoshop themselves skinny and make their bags look awfully fake. Because there are a number of us looking, we collectively are able to distinguish the difference, as distortion doesn’t affect every element of a bag.
Are you given leads?
Yes, the work we are doing wouldn’t be possible without those around the world who share our same concerns sending us tips and inside information, evidence, and in some cases, proof of the person’s knowing partnership or purchase from a counterfeiter.
Did you know exactly where the fake bags come from?
Yes, we do.
Why do you think people buy fakes?
We do not know, as this is a question better asked of those who buy them. We have been told that there are many reasons, including insecurity, the inability to afford authentic bags and vanity, all of which has been enhanced by social media.
What do you think has made fakes so much more prevalent lately?
Social media and publications that glorify counterfeiters and their customers.
How often do you think people are unknowingly sold a fake bag?
If we had to guess: every single day, at least.
Do the people you expose ever respond to you or DM you?
Yes, some of them do. Those conversations are quite interesting.
What do people usually do when you post them on your stories? Do they send anything to prove the bags are real?
Most of the people say nothing to us. Those who are upset tend to delete their post, block us or threaten us. In one bizarre case, a person tried to convince us that we must be mistaken and sent us pictures they had altered.
Have you received any threats because you expose those who use fakes?
Absolutely. The vast majority of people who have been featured are gracious and some have even been very kind and apologetic. There are, however, a few who go quite crazy and make a lot of threats or have their friends and followers send threats. Those accounts get reported to law enforcement.
Do you ever tell people that their bag is fake?
In real life, yes.
Who has most surprised you by carrying a fake?
We do not know or recognize 99% of the people we post.
Why do ads for counterfeits appear right after looking at your stories?
You can thank the Instagram algorithms for that.
Is the industry, in general, doing enough to raise awareness of the prevalence of fakes and the harms caused by their production?
We do not believe so.
What role should social media companies have in counteracting the promotion and increased visibility of fake products?
Social media companies should take action worldwide (and not only in countries where they are required to do so by law) to ban the sale and advertising of counterfeit items on their platforms. More than half of our followers have reported falling victim to counterfeit items sold via Instagram.
Do you think Hermès has lost its luster with so many people seeming to carry its wares?
To us, it definitely has not. We know that the vast majority of the bags we see in the wild are imitations, which are the highest form of flattery. Owning authentic Hermès items is still like being part of an exclusive club; it is, however, a club that needs a pretty solid guard always present and watching.
Are there any resellers you would feel comfortable buying from?
We can only recommend buying from Hermès boutiques directly.
Do you personally own any Birkins or Kellys?
Yes, each person on our team owns Birkins and Kellys purchased directly from Hermès boutiques.
How does someone get a real Birkin?
Shop in the boutique, only buying what you love and what you can afford without any debt. Express your interest in acquiring a bag, and be patient; understand that getting a real Birkin is not easy, and it is not a fast fashion, instant gratification type of purchase. Being patient and kind towards your Sales Associate is absolutely necessary.
What do you think the punishment should be for selling/buying fakes?
We defer to and respect the laws of each jurisdiction where counterfeit crimes take place.
Are you afraid that you could face legal issues for exposing people?
No. The truth is an absolute defense to any defamation or libel lawsuit; however, we do not defame people. We simply ask: “where did you get that bag?” People who are featured can always respond with a proof of purchase from Hermès or other form of genuine authentication.
What responsibility do you think individual brands like Hermès have to impede the proliferation and popularity of counterfeit items? Are they doing enough?
Hermès is doing everything that it should be doing to protect its intellectual property and protect consumers. Currently, shutting down the counterfeiters is like playing “Whack-A-Mole”; as soon as one is removed from social media, another one pops up. This is where there needs to be mass media attention and possibly even government-led intervention to get the social media platforms to act and protect their users.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
We think that it’s a much bigger flex to donate to charities and orphanages that fight against human trafficking and child labor. We are hoping to see those who we have posted with counterfeit bags choose to instead share stories and posts that empathize with those who are victims of this terrible black-market industry. Instead of simply flaunting on social media, they could then have a positive influence on all of the followers that have helped give them a platform and create both increased awareness of this problem and those who suffer due to it.