Entrupy: New fashion app tells you if your designer handbag is fake

Distinguishing an authentic Louis Vuitton bag from a well-made fake is a subtle art that involves counting stitches, feeling the leather’s grain and poring over print patterns.

A New York start-up says it has a technology that can spot counterfeits without the guesswork.

Entrupy’s solution is a handheld microscope camera that lets anyone with a smartphone check a luxury accessory within minutes. Since launching the service a year ago, the company says its accuracy has improved to better than 98 per cent for 11 brands including Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci.

Holographic tags, microprinting and even radio beacons woven into fabric have been used by fashion labels for years to help establish the authenticity of their products.

Apparel makers will spend $6.15bn (£4.75bn) on anti-counterfeit technologies in 2017, according to London-based researcher Visiongain, but the anonymity of internet shopping and the growing popularity of second-hand dealers is making the war against fakes harder.

“Even 10 years ago, a woman going to buy a second-hand bag would know very well that Chanel, Gucci and Prada don’t sell on the street corner,” said Susan Scafidi, director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University in New York. “But now, with so much legitimate and illegitimate commerce occurring online, it is very difficult for consumers to tell the difference.”

The issue was highlighted last year when the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition suspended the membership of China’s biggest online retailer, Alibaba, amid criticism that it and other e-commerce marketplaces weren’t doing enough to cull fakes.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma didn’t help matters when he said that Chinese-made knockoffs today can offer better quality than the genuine articles.

Second-hand online stores such as RealReal and Vestiaire Collective use experts with years of experience to determine the authenticity of the goods they buy and sell. It’s a painstaking process that isn’t absolutely foolproof, according to some online reviews from customers who complain they’ve been sold counterfeits.

Entrupy says its camera magnifies objects 260 times, so features invisible to the human eye become telltale signs: misshapen stamp marks, tiny gaps in leather grain, and paint overruns.

The device, which looks like a bulky flashlight with a wireless connection, can be leased for an initial fee of $299. Monthly plans start from $99. So far, about 160 businesses including pawn shops, wholesalers and online retailers have signed up.

“Today everything is done by humans,” Entrupy co-founder Vidyuth Srinivasan said by telephone. “For businesses that are growing, that’s not a scalable solution.”

Mr Srinivasan and two New York University researchers, Ashlesh Sharma and Lakshminarayanan Subramanian, started Entrupy in 2012, a year that was a turning point for computer vision.

A breakthrough in algorithms at a science competition called ImageNet vastly improved the ability of machines to identify everyday objects in photographs by using massive data sets to find patterns.

It was a watershed moment for deep learning technologies that also underpin self-driving cars and better speech recognition software.

With some help from Yann LeCun, Facebook’s director of artificial intelligence research and an angel investor in Entrupy, Mr Srinivasan and his partners started with a hunch that computers could be trained to look at pictures of luxury goods and extract a kind of genome, an essence of, say, a Fendi or an Hermes replica handbags uk.

The problem was that deep learning requires tons of data they didn’t have: none of the founders had a closet full of cheap designer handbags, fake or otherwise.

After some unfruitful spy missions to the women’s sections of department stores, they convinced several New York second-hand shops to give them access to their inventories.

Getting the knockoffs was easier: one of the co-founders brought a suitcase-full back from a trip to China. Entrupy’s database now has tens of millions of photographs from about 30,000 different replica handbags uk and wallets. The software learns as clients upload new pictures.

Mr Srinivasan says the company has no relationships with any of the fashion brands whose products they authenticate.

The parent company of Louis Vuitton and other makers of luxury goods prefer not to acknowledge that there is a second-hand market for their merchandise.

Entrupy in July raised $2.6m from investors led by a venture between Tokyo-based Digital Garage and Daiwa Securities.

The money will be used to design a faster and more portable camera and add more brands to Entrupy’s list, according to Mr Srinivasan, who said the company is also looking at other uses for its software.

“The technology works pretty well on everything except for diamonds and porcelain, because those are refractive and we use optical analysis,” Mr Srinivasan said. “We’ve already tested it on auto parts, phones, chargers, headphones, jackets, shoes, even crude oil.”

I’m not with the brand: why bag designers are losing the logo

Fashion news incoming: a statement bag is no longer about turning that statement up to 11. According to a report by market research group NPD, a third of the replica handbags uk bought by US consumers in the last year have been discreet, no logo replica handbags. Those over the age of 50 were the biggest no-logo consumers, with 40% buying them, but Generation Z in their teens and early twenties – perhaps more partial to conspicuous consumption and the big branding that plays out well on Instagram – are getting involved too. Their no logo purchases increased by 8%. The UK is no doubt going a similar way.

Here’s the funny thing – that information goes against what were lead to believe about today’s fashion, where logos are back in business in the last few years after the blankness of minimalism. See the now-infamous Vetements DHL T-shirt and brands like Moschino and Anya Hindmarch taking the household logos of pop art to their logical conclusion by turning them into purchasable items. The no logo handbag doesn’t fit into that.

Or maybe it does. When you’re wearing a logo T-shirt, the counterpoint is a discreet handbag – unless you want to channel early noughties logomania. As with any trend, though, it’s about the right no logo handbag – not just any old anonymous one – by the right brand. Michael Kors has the sales of his subtly-logo’d replica handbags (most of which retail at under £400) to thank for him becoming a millionaire. The Gracie is the most recent celebrity favourite, carried by Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, the young women that millions of other young women emulate, and the Mercer, a £310 tote, is a bestseller. Coach, another American luxury brand, is also going big with discreet classics in its 75-year-old archive for its anniversary. Three classics – the dinky, the duffle and the saddle bag – have been reworked in different colours. Most have such discreet branding that only those in-the-know would know about it.

There is of course an even more in-the-know bag (isn’t there always?) that insiders in on this trend carry. Enter Mansel Gavriel. The New York brand, founded by Rachel Mansel and Floriana Gabriel in 2012, has made its name with the bucket bag, a simple tie-up shape, with such discreet branding (just the name embossed in point 10 font at the base of the bag) and that kind of expensive-but-just-about-affordable price tag, of around £490. Compared to £2150 for a Saint Laurent tote, it’s a steal. The brand is now expanding into other, equally plain bags.

The rise of the no-logo handbag is also perhaps due to economics too. Without the hardware, the embroidered logos, the fuss, bags are in general cheaper. None of the brands mentioned here are at the blue chip end of designer fashion – they’re friendly, kinder to the pocket of a professional woman who buys cheap designer handbags but can’t quite bring herself to put down the equivalent of a mortgage payment on something to sling over her arm. It’s this consumer who buys these bags – she’s grown-up, interested in fashion, but risk adverse with her hard won disposable income. The growth of the no-logo bag as a bona fide trend shows she is #winning.