They are mainly American women and half of them visit the forum daily. Most of them are white (50%), followed by Asians (36%). They tend to be over 35 years old and have an annual income of between $100,000 and $200,000. Many of them own authentic handbags, but they love imitations just as much and are not ashamed to own them. Indeed, they feel a certain pride knowing that they have bought, at a bargain price, a knock-off that is barely distinguishable from an original costing several thousand dollars. Their favorite brands are Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermès.
According to a survey created by its administrator, these are the women of RepLadies, a Reddit sub-forum with more than 200,000 female users created in 2016. Today, RepLadies is the internet’s largest forum for counterfeit lovers. Women compare good fakes with authentic products, make reviews of their recent purchases, post links to interesting products they have found while browsing, give each other tips to avoid falling for scams; they even help each other to communicate with sellers in other languages.
Reviews are the most particular sub-genre within this forum, as they have acquired a language of their own and are written following meticulous publishing standards: they include information about the seller (name, phone number or contact method and location), available payment method and order timeline (from the time one of the buyers contacts the seller until she receives her purchase). The review also includes photographs of the imitation bag and the original. Finally, it provides a brief analysis of the quality of the bag, the accuracy of the imitation and the reviewer’s satisfaction with their purchase. RepLadies is so popular that some sellers give them a discount: “I mentioned RepLadies and received a 10% discount,” said one user in a review of a Chanel knockoff. RepLadies also has its own glossary and acronym guide, where AE stands for AliExpress, ISO stands for In Search Of or MIF stands for Made In France and, of course, Rep stands for Replica.
The women of RepLadies also use the forum to share anecdotes and confessions. “What do you always (and never) buy auth [authentic]?” one user asked in a thread, explaining that they prefer authentic Celine bags, “because I think the quality of the leather is great [luxurious] to [replicas] and I like to treat myself with something extra nice once in a while.”
The cheapest Celine bag costs around €2,000 ($2100) while the most expensive, a crocodile leather bag with gold chain, costs €18,000 ($18,900).
“But,” the user continues, “I think I’m going to buy more [replica] shoes in the future, as I’ve been really impressed with the ones I bought recently.”
“I wear down my shoes almost, so I don’t care to spend too much money on [authentic ones].”
Many users agree on the topic of shoes, with one saying: “I can’t keep my shoes in pristine condition, I don’t plan to spend $700 on shoes.”
In a space known as RL Confessional, women share the experiences that have led them to RepLadies, including their demographic details as per the forum’s meticulous posting rules.
A 25-year-old tech worker from New York with an annual salary of $135,000 says that for her, handbags are like personal achievements: “I recognize that handbags are symbols of status and wealth, and none of these are healthy goals to pursue . But I’d like to think of my bags as more than that: they represent a deeply personal journey that marks events in my own life.”
This user says she bought an authentic Yves Saint Laurent purse to celebrate a recent pay raise, and has a collection of both authentic and knock-off handbags.
A 44-year-old from Illinois who earns $70,000 a year says that fake handbags are more nourishing to her than dinners out: knock-off purses, on which she has spent more than $15,000, “fill me up more.”
An engineer in her mid-30s from New York earning $200,000 a year says that she has never been particularly committed to buying authentic products. “I think my first replicas were pirated versions of Digimon,” she writes, saying she owns more than 47 handbags and does not know or care if they are real or fake.
It’s not that the women of RepLadies can’t afford authentic handbags. They simply like their knockoffs and most consider the price of an original to be excessive.
US media outlet The Cut recently chatted with some of the forum’s members, asking their motivations for buying knock-off handbags. The answers can be categorized as excitement (“it’s about the atavistic thrill of the hunt — the feeling of getting a bargain” for a former real estate agent who retired in their 30s); thrift (“my friends that spend a lot on authentics have either never worked a day in their life or they’ve married rich guys,” one woman explains – “but if you’re working hard for your money, you don’t want to spend it on stupid stuff…”); and practicality (“imagine we were just spending all of our money on authentic handbags,” says one stay-at-home mom. “You would never grow your wealth that way, right?”).
Wealthy and privileged, the women of RepLadies are a sociological phenomenon: skirting the strict rules of their own social class and doing so with a certain amount of pride; providing each other with a safe network for confessions, candid observations, and mutual support.
To be sure: if all of us lie at times for the sake of appearance, RepLadies makes it clear that not everyone does it for the same reasons.