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read this before the flea market: why most vintage is actually fake

vintage jeans hanging

yup, your vintage Levis are probably fake...

It seems like in the past 5-6 years an influx of vintage denim, bomber jackets, and t-shirts have made their way to local street markets and thrift stores, and yet, somehow all the products look eerily similar. How is it that all of these hipster curators came to acquire such large sums of vintage clothing in the past few years and why does it all have a uniform look?


Spoiler: It’s because it’s all fake!

what is happening?

It’s all coming from Cambodia and Thailand, and it’s all been made in the past few years. Cambodia and Thailand are known for their superior knockoffs. Knock-offs are part of their culture and in some travelers opinions, part of the fun in shopping the street markets. 

but how does it all look vintage if it’s new?

Here is what's happening, first, new clothes are made in Cambodia's cheap factories using scraps of material from other orders, or leftover aka deadstock, fabric from customer orders. Then the clothes are given to agriculture workers to wear in the fields as a “uniform”, sometimes they are paid a small amount. The clothing is worn and not washed for about 1 - 3 months. After a few months of manual labor and field work, the clothes have that 20-year vintage look. They are commercially washed and are ready to be sold as vintage.

Many of these vintage jeans are actually sold in giant bags by the pound! That’s how rare they are (insert eye roll here), they sell them by the pound! They are brought back to the US by some savvy importers and are distributed, and redistributed under a vintage markup price. Most of the sellers at street fairs and boutiques have no idea where the clothes really came from - we’re looking at you Brooklyn Flea.

so what's the big deal?

With sustainable fashion on the rise, it has become a popular opinion in the blogosphere that buying vintage is the shopaholics answer to revamping their closet. And it could be, if the clothes are actually vintage. Repurposing something has a lighter footprint than buying something new, but that's not what is happening here.

The process taking place in Cambodia and Thailand is part of the problem of overproduction and overconsumption that contributes to the 14 million tons of clothing that will end up in the landfill each year. Not to mention it can be argued that the workers forced to wear the jeans for the manufacturer's profit are being exploited. 

how can you tell a fake?

Unless you are an expert in vintage fashion, it’s pretty hard. Often the trims and tags are a giveaway. Here is a great article from loomstate about spotting fake Levis 

We recommend buying vintage in shops that specialize in the history of fashion and are experts in spotting fakes.

If you are buying vintage as a way to reuse fashions and to try and be part of the waste solution, the local street fair is not the place to buy into the recycled fashion practice. Do your research before purchasing.

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1 comment

  • Who would think that vintage is not actually vintage? Very informative.

    Elle D

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