This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
"If you want something bad enough, you'll find a way." That’s a quote from Jim Rohn, American entrepreneur and mentor to Tony Robbins, about how to get what you want. It's probably now been repurposed by spirituality Instagram accounts and Forex influencers, but it's no less true.
Related: before the New York streetwear brand released their bandana box logo hoodie, I'd never really lusted after a Supreme bogo (streetwear speak for items adorned with their rectangular logo). But this release – announced on the 9th of December, 2019 – was different. The baby blue and cotton candy pink colours spoke to me. They were carefree and fun. I thought, if I owned one, it might change my life (blame capitalism).
The baby blue bogo became my holy grail, and so, like thousands of Fortnite teens and ageing streetwear fiends, I loaded the Supreme website to cop a hoodie the minute they went on sale. Like 99.9 percent of them, I failed. The bots had won again. Undeterred, I moved on.
The fashion rep (as in "replica clothing") industry has been around for decades. A Museum of Counterfeiting opened in Paris in 1951. More recently, Gucci's 2017 Cruise collection featured clothing with the brand name replaced by "Guccy", seemingly mocking an industry of fakes long known to be rife with misspellings and poor design. Today's fakes aren't like that. They've levelled up.
Want to own the Iceberg turtleneck Headie One wears in the video for smash 2019 single "Both"? It's online, for £8. Some Stüssy shorts, now the weather's warmer? The internet's got you. Off-White, Yeezy, Noah, Bape – even Travis Scott Astroworld merch and those Jesus Is King Kanye sweatshirts – you can easily get 'em all, despite the originals either being sold out or on Grailed for £15,000 (in the case of a pair of red Air Yeezy 2 SPs).
I fired up the rep machines at the beginning of March and bought myself a counterfeit baby blue bandana box logo hoodie. It arrived the first week of April. While I waited, I discovered the world of Snapchat streetwear fashion reps and learned a little about how the fakes are made. More than once, I wondered whether cheap counterfeits could triumph over overpriced authentics and, eventually, I tested my fakes to see if anyone knew or cared I didn't have the real thing.
HOW DO YOU GET REPLICA STREETWEAR?
The highest quality streetwear fakes come from China. Listed on the Chinese site Taobao, they can't be purchased using a UK bank account, meaning you need to go through an agent to get them. Agent websites like Wegobuy act as a go-between – they purchase the Taobao products you ask for, store them in a warehouse and post them to you. This can all be paid for using a UK bank or Paypal account. To account for international posting prices, buyers usually combine several products into one cost-effective order, known among fashion rep heads as a haul.
For my haul, I bought the Supreme bandana bogo (£35), plus a white GOLF T-shirt (£6) and a pair of Yeezy Boost 700 trainers (£22). Postage to the UK came in at around £40 – so, all in, a little over £100. Posting took longer than expected due to travel restrictions because of COVID-19. But when the package arrived – oh boy, it arrived.
The Supreme bogo hoodie is the warmest, thickest sweatshirt I own. The GOLF T-shirt is comfy as fuck and the Yeezys feel and look like they've been slid across the counter at the adidas store. These aren't the same counterfeits you're getting down your local market, among the fake Ralph Lauren polos and Gucci handbags. They're better quality than many medium-to-high priced brands currently selling in the UK, and top the quality of what you'll find in nearly every high street store.
Of course, they're also illegal and, depending on your point of view, unethical. Counterfeiting diverts money from the intellectual copyright owners who knocked up the original designs. However, in the streetwear world many items are released in highly limited runs and then re-sold on sites like Stockx at several times the retail price (my bogo went for £541, almost four times its RRP). So, the logic goes, if the brand has made all the money they ever intended to make, what's the damage?
Whether you agree with that shaky justification or not, what's clear is that counterfeiting has become another cog in the hyper-lucrative streetwear trade. Everyone is either trying to get their drip or make a bag. Copping a fake is another part of that.
WHO'S BUYING THEM?
The main online rep communities are based on Reddit. There are a number of subreddits geared toward different tastes, including trainers, Supreme-type stuff and even couture. The most popular subreddit, r/fashionreps, pitches itself as "the world's largest replica discussion board". Its subscriber base of buyers and sellers have been gathering daily since 2014 to compare purchases and discuss the quality of their products. It's also packed with new replica items (known as "finds") that users have recently uncovered on Taobao.
I spent several months browsing these virtual shelves before I purchased my haul. Over that time, the breadth of replica items on offer seemed limitless, reflecting the change in seasons much like their real brand counterparts. I began my journey looking at North Face Nuptse puffa jackets and Stone Island rain coats. By the end, up for sale were Lacoste and Carhartt shorts, brightly coloured Nike socks and boxy Heron Preston T-shirts (the 2020 hypebeast look, in case you wondered).
It became apparent that someone could build their entire wardrobe from replica items. But in a community based around $50 socks and branded lighters, where hype rules and legitimacy reins, would anyone want to? Inauthenticity is the antithesis of streetwear, and getting caught cheating is a sin.
R/fashionreps moderator "repknowlege" came across replica clothing when he couldn't get his hands on the much hyped adidas Ultra Boost 1.0 trainers. He found a pair online for $65 (£52), shipped – much less than the $300 (£240) retail. "Nobody knew they were fake," he says. "Then I just kept buying and buying. Eventually, [I] became a pretty big [legitimate] Yeezy reseller, and used that money to purchase reps. Nobody has batted an eye my whole life of wearing reps."
His sentiment echoes that of many rep buyers I spoke with – the products are easier to find than retail, they're cheaper and, most importantly, no one can tell they’re fake. "The clothes the rep makers are creating are insanely similar to retail," says Reddit user "Znii", who estimates they’ve spent over £2,000 on reps. "I own a few replica versions of authentic items I already have in a different colourway, and I cannot tell the difference."
Most rep buyers aren't bothered about wearing or owning fakes – that's why they do it. But what about the ethics? It's easier to defend buying reps of limited run items from huge brands, but what about the smaller designers? It's a question that pops up among the community time and time again.
"If reselling and driving up prices weren't a thing then we'd most likely buy the real thing," reads a comment on one of a number of threads about the issue, posted this month. "Me personally, if I can cop retail I will. But I'm not gonna spend my life saving on sneakers when a rep exists."
"Many of the reps we see here is actually limited stuff that u (sic) can only find from resellers," reads another. "Almost any collaboration, or season item will go out of production relatively quick (sold once, or for 1 season), which means after that its just hurting resellers instead of legit business."
HOW LEGIT ARE THEY?
Since it's assumed no one outside of the rep game can tell what's real or fake, I thought I'd put the theory to the test.
Supreme Talk is a Facebook group where the brand's obsessives gather to discuss everything 'preme, making it the perfect place to ask for a "legit check" – community speak for assessing a newly purchased item to see whether it's authentic or bogus.
The results were… mixed. The first comment punched to the gut with an "F" rating, but others weren't so sure. One rated the replica "B" – meaning it's pretty good. Another Supreme Talk user said "legit", with an added sunglasses emoji. It became clear that many people weren't sure what exactly to look out for, and the results swung wildly from calling the hoodie fake to the real deal.
So what determines the legitimacy of a Supreme box logo hoody? One user – who replied in the comment section of my post – says it's all to do with the wash tags.
"Every hoodie from Supreme has a different wash tag. Fall / Winter 2016 is different than 2019, for example," he said in a private message. He then argued his case with two different wash labels. "The spelling of cotton is different. One is COTTON and one is 'C0TTON'. If I see a hoodie from 2019 with COTTON, I know instant it's a fake cuz (sic) 2019 is 'C0TTON'."
So there you have it: a comprehensive guide on how to tell if you've got authentic Supreme. I would be concerned about this, except my hoody's label reads "C0TTON", which I think means I could successfully dupe any Supreme super-fan who wanted to check my wash tags.
WHO NEEDS DOVER STREET MARKET WHEN YOU CAN GET COMME DES GARCONS CONVERSE FOR £20 AND NOBODY CAN TELL THE DIFFERENCE
I wanted to speak with replica makers to find out how they manage to produce such realistic bootlegs at such a low price, but most didn't reply to interview requests. The two who did – streetwear store 0832club and new seller Top Givenchy – said they purchase the real items to understand and (literally) unpick the manufacturing process, to make their products look and feel as real as the garms coming from the stores. When I prodded a bit more, they both went quiet. Beyond a few Whatsapp and Reddit chat conversations, it became clear I wasn't going to get a proper interview out of anyone. What they're doing is illegal, after all.
Despite the proliferation of replica clothing on Reddit, fashion repping remains a secretive industry operating behind closed doors. Like bootleg DVDs and fake cigarettes, there are rumours of links to organised crime, as well as improper practices in factories.
"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," said Ariele Elia, an assistant curator at the Museum at FIT, in a 2016 Complex documentary titled "Inside the Terrifying, Trillion-Dollar Bootleg Industry".
It was also found that the brothers behind the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack raised the money for their weapons by selling on €8,000 (£6,985) worth of fake trainers, per a 2015 story from French news magazine L'Obs that was republished in a 2016 report on counterfeiting and terrorism by the French Union of Manufacturers.
Reddit posts claiming to show screenshots of the counterfeit Stone Island seller TopStoney advertising his factory show a relatively spacious workplace, not too different from those run by small legitimate businesses. But without heading to the luxury streetwear rep factories in person, it's difficult to tell where this new crop of counterfeiters stand.
It's never going to be easy to get a Supreme bogo. They're both mad popular and in short supply – that's part of the allure. Navigating a drop and coming out successful is difficult, too. But weigh up what matters more: is it how the item looks and feels? Or does the thrill come from ringing the high-cost item through the register and getting a receipt? Whatever gets you hot, my wavey friend; to each their own, I guess.
Whatever your principles, big name streetwear fakes aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Where there's demand, there's supply. But right now, thanks to limited drops and bots, there's very little of the latter. Like the faux LV bags of Canal Street and the shoddy Ray-Ban sunglasses of Camden Market, they're going be here either forever or until no one wants them anymore. The difference is: these ones look like the real deal.