Authenticity Fail: Can Resale Sites Ever Fix Themselves?
In March 2022, Raphael Moschitz, a 25-year-old fashion enthusiast from Austria, bought a reversible Vetements bomber jacket from The Outnet. Several months later, decided to sell it on Grailed. To his shock, the Grailed authentication team flagged the jacket as fake. Surprised, Moschitz tried to re-list it, after which Grailed suspended his account, which he had had since 2015.
The global secondary market for fashion has exploded in the past 10 years and there is no end of its growth in sight. According to a 2022 report by resale platform ThredUp, it will more than double in the next five years from $96 billion to $218 billion, due in large part to the rise of the internet and app-based resell platforms. As these resale platforms have become important conduits for people to sell their used clothes or flip a product (and as many people have come to rely on them for discretionary income or their livelihood), they have become extremely powerful. What was once a cottage industry conducted by independent shops, on internet forums and in-person meetups, has become a behemoth dominated by big business, in which few players (and fewer of them, as GOAT recently bought Grailed) hold outsize power.
But with great power comes great responsibility. That counterfeit items make their way onto platforms like Grailed, StockX, and The RealReal has been well documented in the press and on social media. There is even a spate of lawsuits: Chanel is suing The RealReal for allegedly selling counterfeits, and Nike is suing StockX for the same reason. But what happens when you try to sell an authentic item and it gets rejected? How good are these authentication teams if they not only let the fakes through on the one hand, but also reject authentic goods on the other?
I have not thought about the latter — few people would — until it happened to me. I rarely use resale platforms, but sometimes they are the best avenue for selling things out of your closet. Earlier this year, I received a pair of pants and a jacket from a brand as part of its promotional effort. Neither fit me, and I decided to resell them on StockX. I have successfully sold several things on the platform before and was savoring the quick payout. I sold both the jacket and the pants to the highest bidders. The pants sold smoothly, but the jacket did not pass the StockX authenticity check. Furthermore, StockX informed me that they would be charging me 15% of the (non)selling price, or $145.50, for the privilege of telling me that my authentic item was fake.
I contacted StockX support, explaining that the jacket could not possibly be inauthentic since it was sent to me by the brand itself, and that furthermore, the pants from the same set passed their authenticity check. I received a reply from someone named Jordan, which stated the following: “During the authentication process, our team discovered an odor on your item as well as your item is missing the Italy [sic] tags.”
I wanted to point out that the jacket could not have been made in Italy by virtue of it being made in another country (just like the pants), which is what the wash tag stated, that the same tag had a QR Code pointing to an independent garment certification agency, and that sometimes a brand new item can have that brand new item smell. But Jordan’s email also stated, “I can assure you that our authenticators take our verification process extremely seriously and any item that does not pass verification is looked over by multiple authenticators to come to a consensus on the item,” giving his verdict an air of finality worthy of a Joseph Heller novel. (To his credit, Jordan graciously refunded the $145.50 fee, since it was my first “offense.”)
I wondered whether other platforms also engage in Catch-22 behavior. I listed the same jacket on Grailed, which passed its authenticity check after I uploaded multiple detailed pictures of the wash tags and the aforementioned QR Code. But my Undercover 85 jeans suffered the same fate on Grailed that my jacket suffered on StockX. After I uploaded carefully photographed tags onto the Grailed app, the jeans were rejected by its authentication team. The reason for rejection stated, “The branding, design elements, and/or construction of your listing seems to be inconsistent with authentic production.”
I emailed Grailed, questioning the integrity of its authentication team. Someone named Emily got back to me and asked me to resend all the photos, but now with a handwritten note in them that had my username on it, as well providing a receipt from the original retailer. I dutifully complied with the former, but I did not have the receipt because the jeans were from Undercover’s 2005 collection. The practice of asking for a receipt seems an imperfect solution given how many second-hand designer clothes are vintage and change hands more than once.
I wondered how commonplace such errors are. I took to Instagram, asking whether anyone else went through a similar experience. Affirmative replies came into my inbox fast and furious. Most were about Grailed, but also The RealReal and Vestiaire Collective, which rejected a vintage Hermes Kelly Sport bag from a young woman whose mother bought it in Paris decades ago.
Other cases were more gray — garments that the would-be sellers swore were authentic but were missing tags because they hindered the wearer, or those that were already bought second-hand and no receipt was available. Some second-hand items that did not pass authentication were bought on the platform that sourced them in the first place.
I reached out to both StockX and Grailed for comment, forwarding detailed information for both cases. StockX replied through a PR representative:
“We can’t comment on specific cases, but when something does not meet our authentication standard, we communicate to sellers the reason their item failed. We continue to invest in both our technology and our teams to maintain a standard of excellence, and to ensure that the products our consumers receive are what they expect.”
And the response from Grailed:
“Our philosophy at Grailed is to err on the side of protecting our community whenever possible. Our moderators are hired for their expertise in highly-specialized subject matter. They work with specific brands and designers, and typically do so because they have extensive background buying and selling the label in question. We find that using caution for high-value items is the best way to maintain trust within our community. We do not release our reasoning for rejecting listings, but upon re-review of your listing, our experts stand by their initial decision regarding how to handle your post.”
These were tacit acknowledgements that no matter what resale platforms do, it will be virtually impossible to correct human error and that mistakes will happen. But it’s only the sellers who will pay for these mistakes; not only will fakes continue to get through, but authentic items will continue to get rejected, and these platforms will continue to operate in an imperfect manner, leaving you at the mercy of their authenticators and potentially closing off important venues for reselling your clothes. So, the next time you want to flip something, remember — caveat venditor — “Seller, beware.”