When it comes to pre-loved luxury, authenticity is key. But how can you be sure the item you're buying is the real deal and not a replica? Aoibhinn McBride reports.

In the past, second-hand was always seen as second-rate when it came to luxury goods. But thanks to a dual-focus on more sustainable shopping habits and the advent of circular fashion, and an increased demand for rare or limited edition pieces, pre-loved is no longer a taboo.

In fact, even those who can afford to buy brand new are turning to consignment stores and resale websites to get their designer fix and according to a new report by Research and Markets, the industry is expected to grow by 10 per cent in the next five years, from $32.61billion to $47.13billion.

However, the report also found that the biggest challenges facing the market are lack of trust in buying second-hand luxury and fraud, and with good reason - a new study, Social Media and Luxury Goods Counterfeit, reveals that around a fifth of all items tagged as luxury goods on Instagram are actually fakes, and in April Gucci and Facebook filed a joint lawsuit against a digital ring selling counterfeit handbags and accessories.

So, how can consumers and those trading in luxury goods guarantee their highly prized items are legit?

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Over the past year TikTok influencer Charles Gross has amassed a huge following thanks to his posts about how to spot a fake, and is often tagged by followers asking him to authenticate or uncover if an item is counterfeit.

In 2012 he started trading luxury bags, predominantly the Hermès Birkin which retails for anywhere between €40,000 and €500,000, and has become so synonymous with accuracy that in 2020 he was asked by two companies to investigate counterfeit items sold online.

He says that sometimes it’s so difficult to tell the difference, you need to go to the brands directly to check if something is real or fake:

"Go to a store that has a repair centre, drop off the bag and say I’d like to have it cleaned… or I’d like to have it repaired," he recently advised his followers. "If they accept it, typically that means it’s authentic. If they tell you they cannot work on it, typically that means it’s not."

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Patrick Coughlan, Managing Director of Dublin-based Designer Exchange, and his team have made verification and fostering consumer trust the most fundamental parts of the business since they opened their doors in 2012.

That year, Coughlan travelled to Turkey to purchase counterfeit handbags so he could pick them apart, literally and figuratively, and see for himself the details to look out for. He says that most fakes can be spotted on sight and by feel, and if any elements seem questionable, go with your gut instinct as it’s usually right.

"We’re talking about mirror replicas but my attitude is that there’s no such things as you will find out why it’s a replica. If you pick up a Louis Vuitton or a Chanel and say to yourself, 'I wouldn’t expect that type of stitching finish from top luxury craftspeople’, then there’s a red flag and you investigate that further."

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Other defining factors Coughlan and his colleagues look out for include weight, the quality of the hardware and brand stamping on zippers. He also says that a lot of the fake market will be selling styles that simply don’t exist. Ultimately, if something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

There’s also the question of ethics and you can guarantee that dodgy stitching is usually accompanied by dubious production practices, as Coughlan explains: "Some people think it’s fine to buy a replica, to buy a stylish bag but they don’t look into how they’re made. We’re going back to the sweatshops, back to the malpractices, funding money laundering and drug trafficking."

Designer Exchange also works with Enrupty, an app that uses a microscopic camera and artificial intelligence to authenticate items. With an accuracy rate of 99.1 per cent it also provides users with a certificate of authenticity, backed by a financial guarantee.

"It doesn’t replace the authentication that we do, it just adds an extra layer of security for our customer," Coughlan elaborates. "Because there is that trepidation in the pre-loved market and when there’s other people doing it right within the industry, it raises the profile, and gives people a lot more comfort from it. Why would you not give your customer an extra layer?"

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Something Colin Saunders, CEO and co-founder of Open for Vintage also advocates. As the e-commerce site gives high-end vintage boutiques a platform and marketplace to sell their goods and doesn’t buy stock from individual sellers, each product it lists has been screened or verified by in-house or third party authenticators.

"Generally, for authenticators most fakes can be spotted by a quick glance at the product, however more sophisticated fakes require further investigation on details like the hardware, authentication stickers and stitching," he offers.

His number one piece of advice is to know and trust your source: "Not all vintage items come with their original papers or authenticity cards, so it’s really important to buy from a reputable and reliable seller."