In the world of sneaker culture, just like anywhere, fake items will always exist for any popular item. Ten years ago, most fake items might’ve still been fairly obvious, but with the industry continuing to evolve so do the fakes, which has led to the current situation where items we call superfakes which are undistinguishable from the real ones have become widespread. I asked Mr. Kamamoto, who has experienced the street culture of the nineties about the actual situation of fake culture.
---Has the number of fake items people bring to your store been increasing these days?
“There have been a lot of those from the beginning. But in the past a lot of people took them here without actually realizing they were fake. There just wasn’t a lot of information available, so there were few people who were looking at the tiny details of the real items. But these days, with information leaking from social media and the rise of internet shopping, that kind of information is being shared throughout the world so these days anyone can easily find out all the details. In that sense, these days people bringing in fake items often realize they’re in fact bringing fakes.”
---I also heard that people ask you to just appraise the items rather than actually buying them.
“That’s true as well. We appraise the value of any brought in items for free, so when the items are fake, we tell people honestly and ask them what they want to do. Then again, these days the biggest problem for our business is that people bring several tens of pairs of shoes but go home after having them appraised without selling us any. Basically, there’s an increasing number of customers who visit the store just to have us check whether their items are fake or not. Then again, we can’t really put a price on appraisals so there’s no helping it really.”
---When do you think the production of fake items started?
“To be honest, fake items have become their own kind of culture, not just for sneakers but also for Supreme items for example. It’s hard to pinpoint a single moment, but if you follow the history of this culture, the beginning was probably the vintage boom that occurred around ‘92, ‘93. After that, in ’95 the Air Max 95 model arrived, which created a new opportunity for fake items. Fakes were already in circulation before the real Air Max 95 boom arrived in Japan, and fake versions of basically all popular series were being mass-produced and circulated around Japan and beyond in Asia.”
---What do you think caused that?
“I feel the existing Japanese habit of importing any kind of culture or item that is popular abroad and the fact that the Japanese like gathering items worked together here, which lead to a very early start for sneaker culture in Japan. At the time, most fakes that were being made were those based on items already popular in Japan, which were then sold all across Asia. These days the Chinese market is the biggest producer in fake items, but at the time buyers who saw the boom in Japan and realized they could make good money out of the situation had them made in Korea and Taiwan based on old materials.”
---So these Jordan XI are also the same?
“That’s right. This model was sold in ’95, but by ’96 a lot of fake items started being sold. This was just after the boom of the Air Max ’95, so the real items were of course sold out directly after going on sale. The prizes went up to four, five times of the original prize, which also lead to an increase in the sales of fakes. A lot of fake items also appeared in fashion magazines those days, which probably made the problem even worse. Recognizing fakes used to be easier those days than it is now, but even then, the average person wouldn’t realize. It’s really become harder these seven, eight years.”
---Didn’t the manufacturers give out a warning when this happened?
“At the time, none of them did. NIKE only started warning people about fakes on their website quite recently. I think that only started after the kind of fakes we call ‘superfakes’ started to appear in great numbers. While the factory they are made at is different, the machines they use are the same, so they are made in a situation which is basically the same. The differences are so slight that it’s really hard to crack down on these items and the manufacturers are having a real hard time responding. That’s the reason why they took measures to use all possible means to create an original and unique look by using the slightest details.”
---What is the most important point to look for to determine whether an item is real?
“The manufacturers have been taking a lot of different measures recently. NIKE has started to include QR codes on the size tags. In the old days with the easiest fakes you could tell they were fake by whether the font of the numbers in the size tag was different or not. NIKE uses their own original font, so you can usually tell when it looks differently. Unfortunately, most fakes have adapted to the same font as well these days.”
---So has the font for the size tags stayed the same all this time?
“No, they keep on changing it every time. It differs for every pair of sneakers, but the fakes keep on being made just after the real ones are sold. There’s always a limited stock to these items, so the differences are really at a level that only us professionals can understand. I’ve heard rumours that people at the NIKE factory in China have been selling only the size tags for several hundred yen a piece. Recognizing fakes becomes even harder when only the tags are real. Usually the security at these factories is fairly strict, so you can only enter with empty hands. Apparently, these people look for an opportunity and then throw the samples out of the window, where a friend from the fake industry is there to catch it, or so friends often tell me.
“The problem is that the way people sell these fakes has changed. In the past the buyers also knew they were buying fakes, so these were priced lower than the real thing. But since these superfakes have started appearing, people no longer realize they’re buying a fake, and so they buy them at a prize several times higher than usual. So the loss these victims are making is actually quite large. These days fake items are being sold which even the people who are selling these items are having a hard time recognizing as such, which means that at large chain stores buying old brand items, one store in twenty will definitely be selling fake Jordans. These people don’t realize they’re selling fakes so they take money as if they’re the real thing. There are even people going especially to these kinds of stores to sell their fakes. Of course, these stores are not allowed to sell fakes so this can become a pretty big problem in a short while. Of course, this is only normal. They don’t have an area of expertise like we do. It would be just as hard for me to tell which clothes are fake.”
---I assume the current vintage boom probably also has some role to play in the evolution of the fake culture.
“Of course. A lot of salespeople haven’t experienced the culture of that time, so unfortunately, I often see fake items being sold as normal vintage items at resale shops. “I’ve never seen this model, but it must be an original item that was sold at some point in time”, that’s probably what people are thinking. I’ve seen fakes of a Jordan I that was made in the 90’s being promoted on social networks as having “just arrived”. Then again, the same goes for me as well. I don’t know a lot about the culture that people 20 years older have experienced, so I have no way of telling if items from that period are real or not. I’ve never seen a fake, so I would assume that is the real thing. In that way I don’t know anything about the 60’s and 70’s. I wasn’t living that period, so deciding whether those band T-shirts they’re selling at second-hand stores are real or not is particularly difficult. That said, the expectations of consumers coming to a second-hand store to buy clothes are probably on a different vector than those who come to use, so maybe they wouldn’t care that much about such things.”
---Is there anything to recognize superfakes that even the ordinary person can find?
“First, the fact that real items come with a box. For the Jordan XI, you can recognize then by this plastic box cover. In the case of a fake, the texture feels completely different. Apparently, it’s really hard to recreate the rough feeling of the real items, so if you touch it you will know immediately. I think that while they’re succeeded in recreating the shoes from the same materials, it’s hard to do the same thing for the box and the plastic used in and around the box. That is, at this moment in time. For us it’s easier to look at come along with the sneakers rather than looking at the shoes themselves.”
“This goes not just for Jordans, but can also help you recognize fakes among any NIKE sneakers. So even for VaporMax and Air Force sneakers. In other words, if you don’t have the box it becomes much more difficult. If you decide to buy, it might be best to start looking from the ones that come with a box. That being said, a lot of the items at our store actually don’t have a box. The main reason for that is that we buy a lot of items from abroad, but I do feel kind of bad for contradicting my own words, haha.”
“The second point to look for is the difference in translucency of the toes. This, however, is only applicable to the Jordan XI model. I say this because there’s especially a lot of fake items based on the Jordan XI. You see a lot of these sold by individuals at Mercari as well. To tell you a story that actually happened, we’ve had a customer who bought the real model, only to bring it back because “The size wasn’t right”, while the shoes he returned were fake. Of course, I told him that we absolutely do not sell fake items.”
---So we should take care especially when we buy from individuals.
“That’s not everything though. Auction websites like Mercari often use pictures of real shoes, while in reality the items they send you are fake. In other words, buying online is always accompanied by a certain degree of risk. You should definitely pay attention when the item is sold by an individual without any pictures taken by the owner. If you plan on selling your Jordan XI shoes, I would definitely recommend to upload your own pictures.”
---With more and more tools available for individuals to use for resale, it seems like the easier it gets to sell, the easier it gets to make money by selling fake items.
“That is definitely true. Even more, the prices for every single item are fairly high. With superfakes being sold everywhere even more so. We used to see a lot of items where the famous NIKE “swoosh” was completely in the wrong direction, so in those days it used to be much easier.”
---Compared to clothes, are sneakers more difficult to recognize as fake?
“It’s hard to say for certain, but I think that’s the case. Compared to clothes, it’s much easier to gather the same raw materials needed to make sneakers. Because they’re made to be easy to wear and comfortable, they’re always made with the idea of being worn like that as well. Parts like meshes, leather and cushions are easy to find because they’re being mass-produced. That means that it’s just as easy for the people in the fake industry to gather them as well.
As for clothes, every brand has their own vision and unique design, so it must be particularly hard to find the same materials. Sometimes the amount of work that goes into producing it just doesn’t lead to even greater profits, which is probably the reason why there isn’t a lot of fake clothes in the first place. As for size, these days wearing clothes that are slightly too big seems to be a trend, so the prices might be slightly different for the same brand, and which size sells best depends on the brand as well. Sneakers, in that aspect, don’t really change that much, and collectors don’t wear the shoes either way so the bigger sizes sell just as well. They’re easy to make, the size doesn’t really matter, so all you really need to take care of is following the recent trends. That said, compared to clothes there’s less fear of trends changing all the time. In that sense, I can understand why people in the fake industry are putting their full weight into sneakers.”
Just around the time that the sneaker culture in Japan had matured and has gained a firm standing, superfakes started to find their way around. Along with the origins of culture and hypes, fake items will always circulate, and because they find themselves on the same battlefield, it will be impossible to uproot them for good, thus speaks Mr. Kamamoto. The dilemma that the bigger a trend becomes, the fake culture around it grows at the same speed, and while worrying about this problem, OR NOT aims to use the knowledge gained in the conversation with him to keep on standing head-on against fake culture.
Business hours: 11：00～20：00
Address: Tokyo, Musashino, Kichijoji Minamicho, 1 Chome−18−1
D-ASSET Kichijoji 1F
Born in 1978 in Aomori Prefecture.
Owner of sneaker shop “SKIT”. Currently has four locations in Japan.
Carrying rare items at reasonable prices,
SKIT is being noticed by sneakerheads from all over the world.