Last week my Instagram DM inbox was inundated with comments, notes, and links to the now-infamous article published by The Cut, titled, “The Rich New York Women Who Love Their Fake Birkins”. Without reading a word of it, I could surmise exactly what it said, and upon reading it, I wasn’t wrong; I was just unprepared for how bad – no, how ridiculously awful – the article was.

In a nutshell, the article eliminated all real-world context and consequences while focusing on a group of “wealthy” NYC women who belong to some counterfeit-bag-loving sub-Reddit group and spend fairly offensive amounts of money on (among other things, I assume) fake Hermès bags. Many in the article appeared overjoyed at the ability to purchase a number (a veritable collection!) of these counterfeit bags, and then parade them around as proudly as if they were carrying the real thing.

First-world problems, I know.

RepLadies and Their Counterfeit Birkins

What struck me first about the article was, whatever the profile of these individual women, every quote – “[it’s not] real money”; “we all want the best” “[Buying authentic bags is] just a snobbery thing”; the counterfeit bags “tend to be better made”; and so on – clearly were made to highlight that these women are divorced from reality.

There was a lot of talk about the financial lives of these “RepLadies” but for all the grand statements – “a $10 million dollar house in the Hamptons”; “a household income she says caps around $3 million a year”; “the community seems to be largely made up of wealthy women”; etc. – there is no way of knowing whether any of that is true, beyond the fact that they clearly do have some disposable income (or frightening credit debt). People from a variety of backgrounds do buy fakes; this behavior is not limited to people of any particular socio-economic background. My point, however, is that there is financially comfortable, which these ladies probably are, and truly wealthy, which they do not seem to be. There are a few things I know about truly wealthy people.

First, people with true wealth do not have quite so much time: social approval is not based on what bag one is carrying; if you aren’t currently active in work, the esteem comes from the foundation or charity or event you are running, or whatever other projects/book/career you are working on. Second, the mindset of personally achieving real wealth generally tends to appreciate the work and time it takes to create, grow and build something and the values that undergird the importance of the genuine. However, others, who may be either spoiled, who did not achieve for themselves, or for other reasons, seem to have that perpetual insecurity that feeds the need for both immediate gratification and the physical manifestation of “success” regardless of whether or not it is real, in order to “prove” their worth to themselves.

The Justification Of Illegal Behavior

Finally, as much and as often as possible, throughout the article, there was a lot of justifying the purchases as though these people are still trying to convince themselves that this sort of behavior is ok (because they’re certainly not convincing me). The thorough denial of the hard realities of the black market counterfeit industry, completely ignoring the myriad of legal, ethical, and moral problems of counterfeit products and the real-life consequences and harms caused by support for it, along with their vehement protests that this is all justified (“a way of subverting the system”; “the reps [are] indistinguishable from the authentics” [snort]; “wealthy people just have more interesting things to do with their money”; and most delusionally: “What is even considered authentic?”) comes across, more than anything, as just sad, as the article itself best says:

“For this cadre of rep obsessives, status isn’t a massive collection of real luxury bags; it’s the ability to find a fake so perfect it feels more theirs than the real thing.” (Chef’s Kiss perfection!)

The article glorifies a moment in new thought: the justification of blatantly illegal behavior – with actual consequences on truly marginalized communities, by the way – and wanting the mere superficial appearance of the fake while failing to appreciate the virtues of the genuine, while hoping that everyone else accepts their reality regardless of the harms caused. The clearly psychological aspects of this kind of behavior truly suggest narcissism (check out the textbook definition in Psychology Today). In short, the article presents a clown-world parade of disaster people who will probably spend their entire lives justifying what they know in their hearts is wrong. The frightening part is: if they can justify this kind of behavior, is there a limit? What is one’s personal regard for honesty when one has proven that they can throw off something seemingly regarded as a ‘yoke’ of truth when it’s for personal glory? If counterfeit bags are ok, what else, then – how about counterfeit medicine? How about selling the bags to an unsuspecting buyer? The article doesn’t venture into that territory – though it veers terrifyingly close – and if you were to ask any of these ladies yourself, I doubt you’d get a satisfying answer.

I am well aware of how controversial this topic is – even in our (usually!) agreeable Hermès community, the popcorn was popped and perhaps a few knives sharpened, and the discussion about this article got heated and eventually shut down – and of course, one could note how many ills are suffered at the hands of modern commercial industry.

However, if one actually took the time and effort to research the many and varied efforts that Hermès puts across all aspects of its Corporate Social Responsibility, including everything from ecodesign, employee wellbeing and waste reduction, to ethics, responsibility among its communities and diversity and inclusion – remember, this is a corporation that paid all employees at 100% of their salary and benefits throughout all of COVID and did so without taking financial support from the government, sustaining its entire community on its own without employee reduction, which was incredibly rare and should be lauded and supported. I have previously examined the thoroughly impressive corporate responsibility Hermès has taken over the years, but even if one was to look beyond Hermès, to other businesses, even looking at fashion in general; perhaps not all fashion businesses are as ethical as Hermès, what then? I suppose if you move the camera far back enough we are all going to be hypocrites, eventually, but even so, that is really not the point. Fakes are immoral, unethical, and illegal, serving no empirical benefit to anyone. Since I’m here and ranting, let’s examine how:

Moral (right vs wrong)

This doesn’t need very much explanation. Obviously, the production and sale of fake products are clearly wrong; not just because it violates Intellectual Property protections, but because the kinds of people who would produce fake products would also have nefarious business practices, including child labor; very-low-wage (if any!) labor; zero worker protections; faulty products; terrorism funding; drug funding; illegal and cartel funding: the production and sale of replicas certainly contributes to these things. There are far-reaching consequences to the counterfeit market. Further, what sort of person leads this sort of life: how do they teach their children values, and what is the right way to live? How can they psychologically separate right from wrong? Where, indeed, is the limit, and how can it be anything other than arbitrary?

Ethical (rules and behaviors)

Without getting too far into hyperbole, the mere concept thoroughly violates the Categorial Imperative, which, is still a foundation of a functioning society: if no one respected any ownership rights (trademark or otherwise), how far would we get? Just because something is expensive, or elusive, there is no right to duplicate it, because (in this case, the design) denotes a level of expected quality and is representative of a network of production affecting the lives of thousands of conceptualists, designers, artisans, transporters, textile manufacturers, etc. – all of whom are supported by the commerce created legally.

Legal (the law)

We operate by laws and rules, and under the laws of the United States, the production and sale of counterfeit goods are illegal under the Lanham Act. Federal Law, 18 USC 2320(a)(1), with 18 US Code 2320(b) prescribing either a very large fine or jail time, plus forfeiture and destruction of the counterfeit goods and restitution for those deceived by such. (18 USC 2320(c)). For an excellent discussion of the US law on this topic, read this wonderful article.

The counterfeit market is a massive problem worldwide. While possession isn’t illegal in the United States, in many countries it is, with financial consequences. The UK and European Union have their own regulations and France has strict regulations about replicas. It is very important to note that, as a legal matter, you can be heavily influenced by or even flat-out copy a design because, surprisingly, the design aspects of the bag are not protected: it’s the trademarks (hallmarks) that are. In the United States the LEGAL line between Counterfeit and ”mere” Knock-Off comes down to the presence or absence of these marks, although, just as importantly, the ethics and morality (see above) do not, and there are still legal consequences for selling either.

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lalarey
lalarey
6 months ago

I read this article after a friend sent it to me last week, it sparked a really thoughtful discussion about WHY we buy the things we buy and why we want the things we want. I can see how in a more open setting it might easily lead to some less-than-respectful dialogue. My sense after reading it was these are not women who enjoy beautiful things for beauty’s sake, but rather seemed 100% focused on status, which I think most of us are guilty of on some level, but maybe just in different ways or different types of status. What we wear signals something about who we are, whether it’s a Strand tote or a Birkin. Even when it’s not our intent to send that signal, it’s there nonetheless.

R A
R A
6 months ago

What I don’t understand is the glorification of certain “kinds” or any kind of wealth, it honestly stinks of classism. The idea that only “truly wealthy” people appreciate authentic things, because they understand the value of hard work and therefore understand quality is laughable. Are there wealthy people who work hard? Of course, but hard work, authenticity, and appreciation are not qualities that inherently belong to those of high socioeconomic status—in fact there are many who’re “self-made” or “old money” that are the antithesis of some/all of all the aforementioned qualities.

Plenty of people work hard, and many times the poorest work the hardest for the least, yet are viewed as lazy, incompetent, or undeserving because their inability to rise in a system the is a lie. Hard work is not nor has ever been a guarantee of financial success. Luxury goods are not a barometer ethics or “class,” and therefore should be separated from them.

Stop the focus and back and forth about what “actual” rich people do. Wealthy people doing or not doing something, does not indicate if an action is ethical or ok, or add any value to an argument. We live in a society that over values money and considers it a sign of virtue (particularly for certain groups of people). Make the meat of the argument about how certain actions hurt other people and and give substantive and quantitative evidence, not an afterthought about “marginalized communities.” That is how you will gain traction and punch the sails of The Cut’s article.

oh goody
oh goody
3 months ago
Reply to  R A

Please write regularly for this blog. This is the content I’m content I didn’t even know I needed. So thoughtful yet perfectly succinct.

olivia
olivia
5 months ago
Reply to  R A

So well articulated.

C D
C D
6 months ago
Reply to  R A

Completely agree. I come from an extremely old money New York family (we were part of Astor’s 400). My family lost the bulk of its wealth around 20 years ago. I was young enough when it happened that I was able to learn how to support myself when the safety net fell out. My older relatives, on the other hand, had no idea how to earn a living because they were told that their trust funds would provide them with lifetime income. They haven’t bothered to learn, and instead ask me for money while criticizing me for being a workaholic (classic dysfunctional WASP-y family dynamic, but I digress). The author of this opinion piece positions herself as an authority on the “truly wealthy,” opining that they’re too busy with “work” to pursue the time-consuming hobby of collecting fake birkins. What an absurd statement. I know hundreds of (currently and formerly) wealthy people. Not one of them works as hard as my middle class friends (all of whom have a day job and at least one side hustle, and still live paycheck-to-paycheck). The typical “truly wealthy” person I’ve encountered, unless they’re a senior level executive working 80+ hours per week, generally has plenty of free time on their hands (certainly enough time to attend fake birkin parties).

Kelly
Kelly
6 months ago
Reply to  C D

So glad you posted this. Although the topic of this article seems to be counterfeit Birkins, the real subject became a biased, holier than thou view of wealth and class. Honestly this article put me off Purseblog entirely. Also, I’m a philosophy student and technically speaking, morality is a subset of ethics and cherry picking one principle to substantiate a personal view is certainly not the point of ethics.

Trixie 883
Trixie 883
3 months ago
Reply to  Kelly

We’ll stated!

Ollie Ollie
Ollie Ollie
6 months ago
Reply to  Kelly

Completely agree. “If one is truly wealthy….” one works at one’s charities etc.? So very Downton Abbey.

K K
K K
6 months ago
Reply to  R A

This comment should’ve been pinned to the top, not the other ones that simply agrees with the author

sundayguinea
sundayguinea
6 months ago
Reply to  R A

Absolutely 100% this. There are some very valid issues to take up with the replica world, but many of the sentiments in this article left an extremely bad taste in the mouth.

WandaButters
WandaButters
6 months ago
Reply to  R A

If I could upvote a million times I would

Mopsy
Mopsy
6 months ago
Reply to  R A

Your comment says everything I wanted to say in response to this article but better and clearer!

Unfortunate blue
Unfortunate blue
6 months ago

This whole article sounds like it’s being written by someone who is afraid the masses will be able to afford 99% of the same things she spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to be “allowed the opportunity” to purchase.

Cara
Cara
6 months ago

You might just be the most entitled person ever, to think you “deserve” a 15k bag but without paying the correct price for it. Guess what, a 15k bag isn’t a necessity for anyone, some people do have obscene amounts of money so they buy them, it’s not a freaking tragedy!

Kensington-SF
Kensington-SF
6 months ago

This whole comment sounds like it’s being written by someone who is unhappy with their life.”
Wow, I don’t agree with what that person said, but do you really think their comment warranted that kind of response?

LAWMAMA
LAWMAMA
6 months ago

Why buy fake and pretend it’s real? Then post a nasty comment to make yourself feel better about it? And no the masses will never be able to afford 99% of what she or anyone else who buys real designer items spends “hundreds of thousands of dollars on.” That’s because they are exclusive items. Made with the highest quality materials by artisans. Not everyone can afford them and that’s ok.

If you are so obsessed with pretending that you have a real item, then trying to attack people who have actually saved up their money, or have otherwise worked their asses off to afford these items (which BTW are an investment), then you’re the one with the problem. Not the author.

Real is real and fake is fake. Anyone can spot a fake. They are worthless and a waste of money. And time. Just like your comment is a giant waste of time.

Enjoy your fake trash. Good luck getting a return on your investment.

Unfortunate blue
Unfortunate blue
6 months ago
Reply to  LAWMAMA

I’m sure the people she mentions who are sooooo wealthy don’t have to worry about whether a bag is an investment or not. For someone truly wealthy, you’d think a $10,000 handbag would be nothing.

This whole article was snobbish drivel, like someone said below – imagine being so insecure that you have to gatekeep wealth. For the author to say she’s not concerned about appearances when her entire Instagram profile is bragging about material goods, her claims are clearly untrue. She sounds sad that 99.9999% of people will never know the difference between the VCA and Hermes she brags about and someone who has the fakes.

Let them eat cake
Let them eat cake
6 months ago

Snobbish drivel indeed! LoVe the insinuation that “poor” people don’t work hard. Unemployed rich people working hard on their charities is another nugget.

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 months ago

You are 100% right but they are gonna drag you in the comments sadly.

Lol
Lol
6 months ago

And look, I found the replady!

C L
C L
6 months ago

I read the Cut’s original article as well as the (spicy!) TPF thread that was linked. The inherent contradiction that the pro-fake folks haven’t addressed is this: fake buyers say people paying $15k and up for authentic bags are overpaying, the quality is declining across the board, the replicas are just as good, it’s smart to get a good deal, and so on.

And yet! It seems to be very important to you (“you” being purchasers of fake goods) for other people to believe that YOU are someone who IS able to purchase the real thing, and lots of it. You supposedly think authentic buyers are foolish for paying too much for a subprime product, but you also really want strangers to believe that you’re one of *those* people. You think the game is stupid, but you want people to think you’re a top player in the game.

If it was genuinely only about the bag’s design and craftsmanship, there are any number of mass market and custom brands who can deliver on the key components you want, for cheaper than Hermes or even superfake manufacturers.

I’m just curious how people square this dissonance even to themselves. The many negative externalities of counterfeit goods aside, I’d begrudgingly respect someone who could matter-of-factly say to anyone who asked, “The status that comes with carrying a Birkin is important to me, but I am not able to/do not want to pay for the real thing.” For me, it’s okay to enjoy the facade of something and not care about what’s behind it, but let’s not try to make that out to be a sign of you being smart or thrifty.

Sheila
Sheila
6 months ago
Reply to  C L

And yet! It seems to be very important to you (“you” being purchasers of fake goods) for other people to believe that YOU are someone who IS able to purchase the real thing, and lots of it. You supposedly think authentic buyers are foolish for paying too much for a subprime product, but you also really want strangers to believe that you’re one of *those* people. You think the game is stupid, but you want people to think you’re a top player in the game.

This is such a great comment. I can’t upvote this enough.

A H
A H
6 months ago

I don’t think the Cut article is glorifying this practice at all. I find it interesting to learn about the perspectives of people buying fakes, especially when they could afford the real thing. Along those lines, I don’t think reporting about a segment of the market for fakes (wealthy buyers) is the same as claiming they represent most or all of the market. I think the article is highlighting an element of this market that is unexpected or invisible.

I do take issue with your claim that these people are not “truly wealthy.” If their claims about their finances are true (not saying they are), they are wealthy by any measure. I’m not sure what definition you’re using for wealthy, but it seems to be glorifying wealth as purposeful and fulfilling, which it isn’t. You write “the mindset of personally achieving real wealth generally tends to appreciate the work and time it takes to create, grow and build something and the values that undergird the importance of the genuine.” There are plenty of wealthy people who inherit wealth, got lucky, etc. and don’t have any particular “mindset.” I would’ve appreciated some insight into what definition of “true wealth” you’re using here, besides the generally accepted financial definition.

In my book, anyone with millions in assets (like homes) and tons of liquid cash (to buy real or fake purses) is wealthy, period.

AB66
AB66
6 months ago
Reply to  A H

Yes, imagine trying to gatekeep “true wealth”.

Torontosarah
Torontosarah
6 months ago

I also felt uncomfortable with the author’s comments about the profile of people who have “true wealth”. Also, I cannot stress enough how nothing in the profile of the women featured in the Cut article demonstrates clinical narcissism which is a complex and serious personality disorder (I work in mental health). Entitlement – sure, but clinical narcissism, no.

While I don’t personally purchase replicas, and I do care about the ethical implications of that market.

I found the tone of this article unpalatable and problematic. Whereas I found the Cut article to be an interesting dive into an absolutely problematic but also fascinating subculture.

Jaime
Jaime
6 months ago

While I do not support counterfeits this almost came off as telling your audience what to do. If I buy a used purse is it real or fake, these days the counterfeits are just as good. I read the reddit threads but not sure what we can do as customers to stop this. Always buy from a store never buy used isn’t fair to those that can’t afford a brand new bag. I’m on the hunt for a used Chanel bag but if I’m reading this I need to buy direct from a store only.

Cara
Cara
6 months ago
Reply to  Jaime

The real problem here is the people encouraging the counterfeiters, not the author of the article. And I agree, these super fakes are ruining the second hand market for the rest of us. When you have replicas immitating the real thing down to the stitching, materials, packaging, labels, who could ever trust a second hand retailer again?

Nechama
Nechama
6 months ago

I think this is very interesting. It’s certainly dishonest to pass off a fake as real, and a true mark of privilege—people might believe you have ten birkins if you have a ten million dollar home but they won’t believe any os us normies. And I think it’s actually quite a flex of privilege to appear in this article bragging about how you can pass of fakes as real. You need more privilege to pass off a mass of fakes as real than you need to buy a luxury bag or two.

that said, I’m not sure that buying an Hermes bag is that ethical, even compared to buying a fake. There are much more ethical uses we can put our money to—perhaps donating to help Ukrainian refugees for example. My point isn’t that no one should buy a luxury bag, but rather that it’s an absurd thing to brand as ethical.

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 months ago
Reply to  Notorious Pink

The whole luxury industry and most of fashion as a whole is unethical. I say this as someone who works in fashion. People act as if buying a fake bag is the worst thing you could possibly do in life – which I’m not sure if that shows how stupid people are? or how stupidly privileged they are, for that to be the biggest concern in their lives. What I will add is that these billion dollar luxury corporations do ALOT of dirty, unethical things behind the scenes, I mean at the end of the day no company or person becomes worth a billion dollars ethically. So what is the reason to shame people for buying fake goods? People act as if people cannot want what they want and simply not have the funds to get it or that because a billion dollar corp wants to sell a $10k bag that that’s just ethical and nothings wrong with it. Should only “WEALTHY” people be able to obtain certain goods? This whole luxury vs counterfeit conversation that has been happening over the past few months or so with all these articles popping up is starting to seem so disgustingly classist and racist but I don’t even have the time to break that down right now.

JetQueen
JetQueen
6 months ago
Reply to  Anonymous

Thank you for writing this. I actually found the tone of this article to be even more off-putting than the Cut article. Why? I expect silly nonsense from the women profiled in The Cut. What I don’t expect is highly emotionally-charged article of condemnation from an informational luxury bag group. All of this, of course, is just my opinion.

Aspen
Aspen
6 months ago

I’m against fakes just as much as you but to compare a counterfeit bag to counterfeit medicine is uhm…. A choice. One could kill you if ingested. The other? Not so much. Having the sentiment of “WHERE WILL IT STOP?!?” Is a bit dramatic. Just because someone bought a fake bag doesn’t mean they’re going to rob a bank and proceed to bury a body under their floorboard. Sometimes, the points used just make the entire article a joke and hard to take serious. If there were good points made, they’re instantly overshadowed by the o surf comparisons made. Sorry.

Jasmine
Jasmine
6 months ago

Author, you lost me with your profiling of ‘truly wealthy people’, and examples such as ‘counterfeit medicine’. To compare the desperateness of those who are forced to turn to counterfeit medicine to carrying a new bag is incredibly tone deaf (especially as you’re setting the tone of this article with ‘wealth’).

I expected an article along the lines of the last section, talking about the legal implications, trademarks, and respecting the designer’s work, etc. Instead, the majority of this article became commentary on what you see as being rich, the way you judge someone’s wealth, and failure to acknowledge how each individual may come into their money.

How disappointing that this was written in response to an article that you consider ‘ridiculously awful’, because it failed to address the real problems of fakes.

elenap
elenap
6 months ago

The original article was a bit perplexing but not surprising to me. I don’t find myself on Social media frequently as it’s never been my thing, but I found myself thinking after reading this. I don’t have many bags, but I do own some special items that I can count on one hand, one being my Chanel classic flap that I purchased after my first bonus in 2013. It’s been a long time since and my life has changed and so have my priorities. For example, I have financial goals that include providing for my children’s education in the future, and so things are just different now. I comfortably bought my first Chanel but that was my last. I have purchased on of these ‘replicas’ in a non-neutral color for fun but I don’t see any shame in it. I don’t think there’s a need to judge others for how they choose to spend their money, or even start to define profiles of what financial comfortability vs true wealth is. As with abortion rights – it’s your right to choose. I just make my own choices and I’m happy with that.

A Prada Holiday