The Rich Repladies Who Love Their Fake Birkins
A $10 million dollar house in the Hamptons, and flying everywhere in private jets. Those Birkins? They’re fake. Lisa, a 38-year-old Manhattan woman, has this superrich friend. She has a massive replica designer bag collection, a $10 million dollar house in the Hamptons, and flies everywhere in private jets. “I just assumed everything was real,” says Lisa. Then one day, the friend lets her in on a secret. Those Birkins? They’re fake. She gets them at “Tupperware parties” for replica luxury bags.
Lisa already owned a number of authentic pieces. But since discovering replica luxury bags, she’s sold almost all of them,
This was Lisa’s first brush with the replica luxury designer bags world, and soon she was hooked. A stay-at-home mom with a household income she says caps around $3 million a year, Lisa already owned a number of authentic quality pieces. But since discovering designer bag replicas, she’s sold almost all of them, funneling the money into a cache of replica HERMÈS Birkins.
Her Instagram, which is dedicated to her replica collection, is full of photos of them — arranged around her dog, on various pristine beaches, on the tables of expensive restaurants in the city. She’s spent something like $10,000 on designer bag replicas in the last year. “That way, my husband doesn’t get mad at me, because I’m not really spending real money.”
“I’m going to cut her out,” she thought. “That’s how I found RepLadies.”
And those Tupperware parties? Lisa was intrigued, but a lifetime of shrewd shopping told her the bag lady must be getting the goods from somewhere. “I’m going to cut her out,” she thought. “That’s how I found RepLadies.”
RepLadies is a sub-Reddit dedicated to replica designer bags and other luxury goods, and where a community of mostly millennial women gathers to acquire them. From exquisite designer bag replicas of every luxury brand designer shoes to RIMOWA suitcases are available, but the designer bags are the real attraction. You can get just about anything in any color for one to 10 percent of the price of the authentic — classic flap CHANEL, croc-skin Birkins, DIOR totes, even “fantasy” items in fanciful colors and prints or plated with something like glitter hardware.
Repladies take a shit on the “you can’t sit with us” mentality of designer brands”.
Founded in 2016, the sub-Reddit Repladies has nearly 200,000 members, making it neither the largest nor oldest replica designer community on the internet. It is, however, tight-knit with a distinct culture marked by a kind of derision for authentic designer goods and the belief that buying luxury designer replicas is a way of subverting the system and sticking it to the man; Repladies take a shit on “you can’t sit with us” mentality of designer brands,” as one RepLady put it in a post. The sub is a repository of insider knowledge, featuring detailed guides on how to communicate in Chinese, avoid getting duped, and buy bags from sellers with made-up names who stand for factories in the “middle of nowhere China.” Such are the challenges of doing business here, warns the FAQ: “We all want the best, but we’re dealing with a black market.”
RepLadies seem to be largely made up of wealthy women who own authentic designer bags, can absolutely afford more, and continue to buy replica designer bags.
Although the majority of RepLadies are based in New York City, you’d be mistaken to think of the subreddit as some kind of virtual Canal Street. According to a self-reported survey it released last year, the group spent more than $3 million on replicas in 2021, and among its members were several chief executives, venture capitalists, a diplomat, and a Big Tech ethics adviser. In fact, the community seems to be largely made up of wealthy women who own authentic luxury bags, can absolutely afford more, and continue to buy replica designer bags. There are hundreds of posts comparing the two, with RepLadies analyzing the fake within an inch of its life: Is the stitch count exact? The glazing rich? Are the specks of paint on a Goyard replica daubed correctly? Does it smell “fufu” or not?
Sometimes, the replicas are actually better.
These gimlet-eyed assessments usually reveal the replica designer bags as indistinguishable from the authentic. Sometimes, the replicas are actually better. But RepLadies aren’t just here for the quality; the know-how required to navigate the high-end replica designer bags market is in itself a kind of currency, one that seems to appeal to even the wealthiest of women. For this cadre of replica obsessives, status isn’t a massive collection of real luxury bags; it’s the ability to find a replica so perfect it feels more theirs than the authentic thing.
“It’s about the atavistic thrill of the hunt — the feeling of getting a bargain,” says a former real-estate developer who retired a few years ago at age 30. “I don’t just want a thing; I want to feel like I’ve gotten it for a deal.” She claims to own “hundreds, probably thousands of designer bag replicas” including nearly a hundred bags and a replica BULGARI necklace set that cost more than $10,000. (The real thing can run you over $75,000.) When asked about her money, she says she was born rich and “bet everything on a friend’s start-up that was sold to APPLE.”
In New York especially, wealthy people just have more interesting things to do with their money.
And in spite of her household’s seven-figure income, Lisa (who requested a pseudonym) loves a good sale. “My friends that spend a lot on authentics have either never worked a day in their life or they’ve married rich guys,” she says. “But if you’re working hard for your money, you don’t want to spend it on stupid stuff. In New York especially, wealthy people just have more interesting things to do with their money. They invest in stocks. They reinvest in their businesses. They invest in their children.”
Still, most of Lisa’s rich friends ignore her suggestions to buy replica designer bags. “It’s just a snobbery thing,” she says. “They’ve literally told me, ‘I’m too good to buy replicas.’” Instead, “they’re out here buying authentic HERMÉS, and they are stressing out every single day. ‘Will I get the bag?’ ‘What if it runs out?’ I’m just like, You literally don’t need this stress in your life; you can just be happy.”
“These days, the designer bag replicas just tend to be better made,”
She echoed a number of women I spoke with who think authentic customers are the ones getting played. “These days, the designer bag replicas just tend to be better made,” a Hamptons-based chief strategy officer tells me. “They last longer. There’s more attention to detail. You can tell that things have been done by hand.” Meanwhile, luxury brands have recently implemented thousands of dollars worth of price hikes — the cost of CHANEL’s medium flap bag, for example, has increased 60 percent since 2019 — leaving shoppers wondering what exactly buying authentic does for them.
Take Cindy, a stay-at-home mom in Flushing who found her way to replicass after spending a couple thousand on a DIOR that fell apart at the seams. “Imagine we were just spending all of our money on authentic designer bags,” she says. “You would never grow your wealth that way, right?”
Getting a good replica requires a certain amount of savvy, and while the internet is one way to do that, some New Yorkers turn to one of the city’s many middlemen. While there’s a markup, it’s less “sketchy,” says one buyer. “There’s a veneer of legitimacy because it’s an actual person,” explains Lisa. “You’re not just sending money to China hoping you get a bag in return.”
A party at which guests were encouraged to compare the doyenne’s real Birkins with the replica ones she was selling.
One reseller is something of an urban legend. A kind of counterfeit doyenne, she shills replicas out of her Tribeca penthouse and uptown, where the extra room in her classic six serves as a showroom. “All the moms buy from her,” one Upper West Side replica bags buyer noted, while another described a party at which guests were encouraged to compare the doyenne’s real Birkins with the fake ones she was selling. “I have seen a lot of influencers at them and a few reality stars,” says the Hamptons-based RepLady.
Lisa may have been approached by her out of the blue. “There’s this lady on the Upper East Side who looks like a rich Asian mom,” she says when I mention the rumors to her. “She stopped me on the street carrying a red HERMÈS Kelly and was like, ‘Do you like the Birkin I’m carrying? I can take you somewhere to get one.’”
Perhaps there is a kingpin, but what’s more likely is that a number of New Yorkers, some of them wealthy, are acting as middlemen, shipping the bags over in bulk and holding the parties. One of them is Bree, a 20-something single mom who works with a network of some 60 sellers to source bags for her “thousands of loyal clients” — mostly Long Island women she manages on a private Facebook page. The sellers usually let her keep 10 percent, and she estimates that she makes around $5,000 a month. She’s less concerned about getting in trouble with the law than about Facebook shutting her down. “Then I would have to start all over again,” she says.
Although designer bag replicas are something of an open secret, buyers do worry about repercussions. “I don’t want to be caught red-handed with thousands of dollars of Chinese merchandise,” frets one in the midst of building a second closet for her replicas. “You could get in minor trouble for that.”
Stateside resellers of replicas are violating trademark laws, he explains, but buyers “can always say, ‘I wasn’t aware it was inauthentic.’”
How much trouble? “No one has ever served prison time for importing a few of replicas for personal use,” says fashion lawyer Douglas Hand. Stateside resellers are violating trademark laws, he explains, but buyers “can always say, ‘I wasn’t aware it was inauthentic.’” The China-based sellers can also be punished, but even if they could be located, “we’re limited on what we can do outside of our border,” say representatives from Customs and Border Protection, who added that China “can be difficult to work with” when it comes to cracking down on replica designer goods.
Still, the bags do occasionally get seized, and RepLadies have shared terrifying disciplinary letters sent directly from fashion houses. They typically contain grand threats — prison terms, multimillion-dollar fines — and are “intended to shock and awe the recipients,” says Hand. But these letters are one of the few cards fashion houses can play; the global replica market is made up of countless, many-headed hydras, and with enforcement almost entirely on brands, there is little they can do outside of spending millions on lawyers to litigate trademark cases across jurisdictions.
CHANEL and LOUIS VUITTON, two of the most frequently purchased replica brands on RepLadies, declined to comment, but Hand says the companies are “acutely” aware of the problem, which is worsening as replicas become more sophisticated. As well as aesthetic accuracy, many have the same date codes, stamps, locks, French-tannery labels, and serial numbers used to distinguish their real counterparts. Some even have authentication technology — QR codes and chips — that have yet to be implemented in the real thing.
“Replicas get better and better with every new one that comes out.”
There are a number of theories among RepLadies about where the super-replicas come from. One posits that the fashion houses own the replica factories so they can monetize at every level, while another says that replicas are “factory extras” — designer bags that didn’t pass quality control and are being sold by employees on the side. Some say workers make replica bags with the unused materials from the authentics, while others claim that the replica factories operate completely independently of any brand. One RepLady heard this last theory from a popular HERMÉS replicator. “They buy an authentic, and they rip that bitch apart, and they use it as a pattern,” she tells me. “replicas get better and better with every new one that comes out.”
The mystery is part of the appeal, another mused. “It’s like, Oh, are you getting the real thing? Maybe.”
With the right contacts and social media accounts, anyone can get a replica designer bag, but access to high-quality replica bags is becoming more rarefied. RepLadies has, for some months now, been splintering into private social channels, where the savviest replica designer buyers seem to spend most of their time. Here, they can access more exclusive facets of the replica world, like its massive secondhand market and top-tier HERMÉS sellers, and even make custom orders with a factory.
It’s waltzing into brunch with a replica Birkin that takes chutzpah.
But these smaller, more intimate coteries go beyond a shared love of replicas. “We’ve been to each other’s houses,” Lisa tells me of her replica luxury bag group. “We’ve met each other’s kids. We all know each other. It’s not what you think a bunch of people buying replica bags would be like.” And for many women in circles where social currency can be purchased, replica-buying has evolved into a kind of edgy declaration of identity. To them, status isn’t having the means to join the $10,000-handbag clique—anyone could be so basic. It’s waltzing into brunch with a fake HERMÈS Kelly that takes chutzpah.
“What is even considered authentic?” Cindy mused. “Authentic could cost you thousands; used could cost you half. And now you’re telling me a CHANEL replica could be 10 percent of the real thing and you can’t even tell?”
Can you? For around $200, I procured a GUCCI Jackie Mini, which retails for $2,500. It came in an apple-green GUCCI box complete with tags, a dust bag, and GUCCI-branded desiccant packs. I brought them all to an authenticator in a popular Upper East Side consignment store, the nice, boutiquey kind that keeps “carefully authenticated” LOUIS VUITTONs in locked glass cases. After peering at the fake for several minutes, the woman behind the counter sighed.
“I can do $975 or give you $1,100 in store credit,” she said. “What do you think?
The article was adapted from thecut.com.