Image by Cathryn Virginia | Photos from Getty/Jason Merritt/TERM and Ebay
Say you want a designer bag but you’re a normal person, which means you don’t have thousands of dollars lying around. Or the environmental impact of buying new clothes freaks you out. Or you think Mary Kate Olsen’s Hermès Kelly bag looks exponentially cooler because she has slowly destroyed it. Where do you go to find reliable, authentic secondhand goods? Must you become an estate sale obsessive? Memorize the restock dates of your local thrift stores? Haggle with a British 17-year-old on Depop? No, no, and—thank God—no.
If you’re willing to invest a little time window-shopping, Japan-based eBay resellers have literal thousands of designer bags for resale. You might still need to drop a couple hundred dollars, versus the thousands it costs to buy first designer goods firsthand. But unlike some shadier secondhand options, at least what you’re buying is virtually guaranteed to be authentic.Marc Frank is a full-time, U.S.-based reseller who’s been flipping clothing for almost 20 years, For the past five years, he’s turned to Japanese eBay sellers when looking for secondhand designer bags, a fact he regularly shares on his TikTok account. “People are always in the comments saying, ‘OK, you can delete this now, we saw it,’ as a joke,” Frank told VICE. “But you can go on the page of one of these sellers and they have 10,000 bags. It’s not like I’m sharing a secret source for a few really cheap bags. Everyone can and should be able to find these things on their own.”When Frank first started buying bags from Japan, he found he was able to flip them for profit on the very same eBay where he bought them, simply because sellers trusted his New York-based business more than one from overseas—ironic, because he said he sees fake designer goods floating around the U.S. resale market all the time, especially on resale platforms like Depop and Poshmark.
“There are authentic designer bags in thrift stores [in the U.S.], but not as much or as frequently as it’s portrayed on TikTok,” he said. “The resale world is so big now, and it’s easy to take some crappy pictures at home and list an item on Poshmark or Depop, but 80 percent of those things that are being displayed [by TikTokers] are not authentic products. For someone to just be like, ‘I'm done with like my 10-year-old Prada bag, let me put it in the garbage,’ knowing the world around us is so secondhand- and designer-hungry… it's the first red flag.”What sets Japan apart is its already-robust luxury market—and its tight regulations around the sale of fake designer goods. “Japan has super strict laws with counterfeits,” Frank said. “It's like illegal drugs there. If an account is based in Japan, they're not going to try to pull off selling a fake knowing that the laws and regulations in their country are so intense. The only thing that may be questionable is how the transaction works out—their ship time and their professionalism. But if you like what you see and you end up buying something, that product will be authentic.” Part of why this strategy flies under the radar is ignorance. Nearby China is world-famous for producing counterfeit products that inch closer and closer to the real deal as manufacturing technology improves and demand increases, which Frank believes casts a pall on the Japanese resale market—buyers might see sellers based in an Asian country and automatically write them off as sketchy or scammers in the style of DHGate.So, how do you actually shop on Japanese eBay? If you’re familiar with the bag you want, a specific search is a great place to start, but something like “Louis Vuitton tote” or “Prada backpack” can also work—just review the results and click through to any of the listings that note the item is shipping from Japan (annoyingly, you can’t filter sellers more specifically than “U.S. Only,” “North America,” or “Worldwide” on the eBay website or app). You can also work backward by checking out the inventory from a few of the biggest resale accounts: Frank specifically recommended next-innovation and brandstreet.tokyo as reputable vendors.The point isn’t necessarily that you’ll get your goods for dirt cheap—some items might be cheaper, but some might outprice U.S. resale. The real benefit is that you actually know what you’re paying for: The most thorough sellers list the flaws of their goods in detail and rank items with a grade indicating their condition, with points docked for things like stains, peeling leather, faded colors, frayed seams, ripped straps, and even storage-related smells. That’s why Frank suggests buying from Japanese eBay users who offer free returns. “I've had to return a few,” he said. “If you get a bag and it’s not what you thought—you’re grossed out like, ‘I don’t want it’—you just need a printer and a box to send it back, so there’s really no reason not to give it a shot.”