Fashion is proudly undemocratic. It exists because some people can have what others can't – that's what fuels the cycle of trends, lauded brands and sought-after items that make the industry so exciting.
For a while, the line between high fashion and streetwear was clear: Parisian and Italian ateliers catered to an audience interested in luxury tailoring, while the grassroots brands who produced effortlessly cool (and affordable) garments for young audiences did their thing elsewhere.
The arrival of young, culturally aware artistic directors like Off-White’s Virgil Abloh and Vetements’ Demna Gvasalia would trigger the rise of so-called "luxe" streetwear on the runway, such as their much-coveted hoodies and sweatpants. While fashion journalists praised the daring innovation of these newfound fashion greats, the spread of the "streetwear trend" meant the original fans suffered.
These days, picking up the latest pieces from a Thursday morning Supreme drop or Palace collection requires a quick hand or a fat wallet, with the original streetwear crowd going head-to-head with groups of fans (many new, some long-standing) who rely on questionable, paid-for bots that twist the system to grab the best pieces first.
Ultimately, somebody has to lose out. But instead of shelling out hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on resell prices, a number of fans are turning to a burgeoning, online market of replicas. Their favorite brands have been democratized: made affordable and available to the masses once again.
Legally questionable? Sure. But this community of counterfeit streetwear lovers offer fans a promising alternative to the pretty much unattainable garments: a Supreme box logo hoodie that looks almost identical to the original (or 1:1, as the replica community calls it), but costs you significantly less than the $148 retail price.
It’s not only Supreme that’s been mimicked by counterfeiters. Carefully replicated BAPE, Vetements, Fear of God, Off-White and YEEZY pieces can be purchased from China-based warehouses and shipped almost anywhere in the world. But what is it that caused this seismic surge in counterfeit fashion, and who, if anyone, should be held responsible for it?
Highsnobiety posed this question to the people heading up the counterfeit fashion factories, the fans who buy it, and one of many companies who see their pieces being reproduced with a cheaper price tag in a quest to get to the bottom of this intriguing industry.
Fake Streetwear Fans Speak
“I don't feel any different whether I’m wearing an H&M T-shirt or a Supreme replica,” one fan says, agreeing to speak to Highsnobiety under the condition of anonymity. “I wear [both of them] because they look good.”
This fan is one of tens of thousands of readers of FashionReps: a Subreddit dedicated to this growing counterfeit streetwear trend. He believes that there are three factors that have caused its exponential rise: availability, demand and pricing. “If you want something,” he says, “it’s either already sold out, everyone else wants it or [it costs a lot], especially since people only buy to resell.”
Matt, another FashionReps browser who has recently sold his 150 piece rep collection in favor of 15 authentic pieces, agrees that resellers and bots are the problem. “I used to buy rep streetwear mainly because I was against resell prices. I mean, people are paying $250 for a hoodie and then reselling it for over $1,000. It's not a battle of who has the fastest clicks to snag that BOGO; it's now a battle of who has the best bot or servers.”
Matt doesn't believe that buying cheaper replicas means the "legit" appearance or quality isn’t there, either. “You may hear the term "replica" and think of some foofoo-quality Gucci bag from the flea market,” he says, “but that's not the case anymore. There are factories that produce even better quality pieces than the retail [versions] I’ve had. It's scary.”
One of FashionReps’ moderators has noticed a seismic rise in traffic to the board lately. “I became a moderator of the sub at the age of 16, when it had under 50 subscribers,” he reveals. “I’m almost 20 now, and the sub has over 30,000 subscribers and a ton of lurkers.” He used to believe that the mainstream’s idea of "reps diluting exclusivity" was a myth. “Reps have never been popular enough to do that,” he believes. “But I have a feeling, like some of the users, that things may be changing.”
Sellers and Producers Play a Key Role
In order for communities like FashionReps to exist, though, there need to be sellers to provide pieces to them. One of Reddit’s most prolific producers of counterfeit YEEZY Boosts told us how he started out in the game.
As with many others, for him it was the personal pain of losing out that led him to investigate counterfeit culture. “I failed horribly at securing a pair of adidas OG White NMDs online, during launch,” he says, “and I was horrified to realize they were being resold for upwards of £400. I soon discovered that there were Chinese factories that produced decent replicas, and spent a summer in Putian, China exploring the rep manufacturing and distribution chain.”
“Demand for these replicas stems from the general inaccessibility of desirable yet expensive (or unobtainable) retail products,” he tells us, in obvious reference to the NMD and YEEZY drops that have been swiftly copped without a second thought. “Demand is burgeoning. However, the supply of authentic products is unable to meet the demands of customers.”
It's clear that FashionReps users' appreciation for counterfeit streetwear stems from a lack of understanding (or control, perhaps) from the retailers themselves. With demand severely outweighing supply and servers buckling under the pressure of an onslaught of bots, the fans are being left out in the cold. As one user of the prolific Sneakers subreddit put it around the time of the YEEZY Moonrock launch: “I've never seen a company more reluctant to accept $200 from my pocket.”
How Does adidas Feel About Fakes?
When questioned about the rise of counterfeit streetwear, a spokesperson for adidas told Highsnobiety the following: “adidas is committed to making our sneaker drops fair for everyone in the sneaker community. We take every opportunity to ensure that all high-demand product available via adidas.com and adidas Confirmed are delivered to the hands of consumers."
“The vast majority of YEEZY BOOST, NMD, ULTRA BOOST and other high-demand products are purchased and delivered to our fans," the rep continues. "We are committed to constantly enhancing our platform and will continue to do so in order to keep adidas.com and adidas Confirmed the most fair and easy way for those that truly love adidas to get the product they desire. For adidas this topic is paramount, we are listening to our consumers' feedback every day and we are incorporating this into our plans.”
adidas’ promise to implement plans that could put a stop to bot culture are promising, but adidas – alongside other brands, including Vetements, Off-White and YEEZY – either declined or couldn't find time to comment on the rise of counterfeit fashion itself. For these brands, a loyal fanbase will always cop the latest drops, whether the pieces are expensive or not.
So, to conclude, what was it that caused the streetwear obsession to tip over into the void of knock offs and 1:1 replicas, and who can be held responsible for it? It would be easy to point the finger at Demna and Virgil, citing a supposed "appropriation" of streetwear culture as the reason for everyone wanting a piece of the action, but in reality, this is a culture fueled by parties from all corners; one that the two previously mentioned fashion greats play a fairly small part in.
Instead, the buck primarily lies with the original streetwear brands; perhaps even more so than with those who produce these counterfeit garments and those who subsequently buy them.
The reason for this, as cited by the people we spoke to? Demand outweighing supply. The cycle of trends are fueled by desirability, and in order for the brands to achieve this "holy grail" status of unattainability, they need to produce just enough to satisfy a few, leaving many – or in some cases, the majority – disappointed. Would everyone want a pair of YEEZYs if they could walk into any old store, pick up a pair at any time and walk out of the shop wearing them? Probably not.
Without that desire, the counterfeit producers have nothing to produce, and thus, the buyers have nothing to buy. As profits for adidas and Supreme shoot up, the work of a number of replica streetwear sellers – however widespread – probably isn’t worth their time. It’ll take much more than a spike in interest in this culture for those brands to sit up and truly take notice.
Real streetwear fans only: here are the 10 best drops to shop in the last week.