Picutre from www.wherethenighttakesyou.blogspot.com
Buying fake handbags is a contact sport in Chinatown. On a daily basis, groups of (mostly) women from all over the country bob and weave through the Canal Street crowds, many snapping up garbage sacks full of counterfeit products to take back home and sell on at â€˜purse partiesâ€™. Just as it was with music piracy, handbag piracy has birthed an underground subculture, and Canal Street is the nerve center.
So nothing seemed out of the ordinary about the cluster of women descending on a handbag vendor at the corner of Broadway and Canal one Saturday back in June. But something strange was going on. These particular women were running faster than everyone else, desperate to get to this particular vendor before anyone else, and the first five in line were elated when they discovered the particular purses they were looking for were there. Because not only were these designer handbags real, they had been put there by the designer herself.
The handbags were made by internationally renowned designer Rachel Nasvik, whose totes and clutches typically retail anywhere from $150 – $700 at high end boutiques. She is the last person youâ€™d expect to be hawking her wares in knock-off friendly stores, but this summer she did exactly that. Nasvik created a scavenger hunt that sent women chasing handbags across the city. She made 96 limited edition neon-pink purses, and hid them all over town. She set up a blog and used a twitter feed to drop clues as to their whereabouts. The hunt caused a fashion media stampede, and a more literal one as women flocked to the locations where the bags had been hidden. Some were simply left in public to be found, while others were given to pirate vendors (each vendor was given five, and asked to sell them at $10 a piece, which they did). It was a fantastic marketing campaign which created a large uptick in brand awareness for Nasvik, not to mention orders. But what really struck me about this was the truth highlighted by the bag hunt, a truth the hunt was designed in part to point out: Getting a handbag from a pirate vendor can be much more fun than buying the real thing.
This has been true on Canal Street for a good few years now. As counterfeiting has become more of a problem, the city has stepped up the fight, forcing the pirate bag sellers underground. But as the stakes have gotten higher for the vendors, so too has the thrill for consumers. The experience of buying a fake bag is exhilarating: Someone approaches you on the street, usually saying something along the lines of “Handbag? Handbag? Gucci? Prada? Handbag?” in hushed tones. If you say yes, a call is made to someone at a secret location, not far away. You are then led there, via false doors, secret staircases and rooms hidden in false walls in other shops. You are led down dark alleys or secret passages in subway stations. All of this can be scary for first timers, but it is one of the coolest and most authentic New York experiences you can have – one reason so many tourists flock to these secret pirate handbag stores in droves. Piracy is a huge problem for luxury goods companies, one that is growing every year. But the fact that the experience of buying a fake is so much fun could be an opportunity, one that more designers should be exploiting they way Nasvik did.
It all comes down to some pretty simple economics. With luxury goods like designer handbags, you get most of the satisfaction from them in the moments before you actually buy the good. The thought of wearing the new handbag at the party is more satisfying than actually doing it. This is why we are shopaholics. We all crave that first pure hit of customer satisfaction we donâ€™t get from the 200th time we lug the designer handbag to work on a Monday morning. So creating an amazing purchase experience should be the main focus of the luxury goods business. But down on Canal Street the pirates (and Rachel Nasvik) are doing it better.
A few blocks up from Chinatown in SoHo, you can buy a real bag in an impeccably turned-out glass and steel store, an experience which pales in comparison to the thrills and spills of the secret passages a few streets away. If the real and fake products look the same (or in some cases, are the same), then providing consumers with an authentic experience is the only way to compete. If youâ€™re selling a luxury good, or any good that can be easily copied, you better make sure the experience of buying it is great. If they’re just copying your stuff, you can sue them. But if the pirates are providing a better experience than you are, youâ€™re in trouble.