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The Secondhand Market Contends With Potentially Looted Goods

Hope-Noelle Davenport of HauteTrader is challenging her fellow resellers to join her in keeping stolen items from appearing on their sites.
The Louis Vuitton store in Soho, NYC boarded up during the Covid-19 crisis in April.

The Louis Vuitton store in Soho, NYC boarded up during the Covid-19 crisis in April.

In late May, as tensions surrounding the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police and nationwide anger about police brutality against the Black community grew, protests exploded across the country. Some escalated into cases of property damage and looting, which has also opened a debate about what role looting plays in protests, if any. 

In GQ, Rachel Tashjian detailed how brands responded and how consumerism itself feeds into the act of looting. At The Atlantic, Olga Khazan lays out that while some argue that looters operate completely separate from peaceful protestors or are opportunists looking for the cover provided by large-scale protests, there are others who say that to dismiss acts of looting is to deny that hurting communities are seeking to regain power however they can through the protests and riots, and that destruction of property is often a valuable tool in expressing discontent.

No matter how you feel about looting, one fact remains: A lot of luxury goods are now flowing through grey markets. And with the resale market growing bigger every day, there are more outlets to sell secondhand items than ever before. 

Hope-Noelle Davenport, the founder of resale site HauteTrader, doesn't think that companies like hers should profit off of merchandise that was looted during protests. That is why she's issuing the #BloodFashionChallenge on social media, in which she asks her competitors — think Poshmark, eBay, ThredUp, Vestiaire Collective, Rebag, Fashionphile, The RealReal, Depop — to stand with her to "intercept attempts of looters to sell or exchange stolen merchandise in legitimate online marketplaces."

"From a practical perspective, there's going to be an availability for a lot of profit. There has to be a time where you back down from profit and put humanity first," she explains. "It's just wrong to me, what's happening with these items; what are these companies doing to take a stand against people who have totally taken advantage of the value of the protests and the meaning behind these protests, the inequalities that all of this represents is great? It serves no purpose if we're putting profit over humanity."

So far, a few companies have replied assuring that they will remain vigilant against stolen goods of any kind, though none have used the #BloodFashionChallenge hashtag issued by Davenport; two of them — The RealReal and Rebag — had goods looted from their own brick-and-mortar locations.

Through a representative, The RealReal explained: "We're applying extra scrutiny to consignments of styles that are currently available in stores. As we always have, we will continue to work closely with local and federal law enforcement to prevent the trafficking of stolen goods. Through LeadsOnline (the country's largest online investigation service), we give police departments nationwide full visibility into our inventory, including details like serial numbers, photos, and data and location of consignment that can help prevent the sale of stolen goods."

Rebag, meanwhile, sent Fashionista the following statement: "Rebag is always dedicated to ensuring a secure shopping experience for all customers. We have multiple levels of review to prevent any illegal activity. We are closely monitoring our platform to prevent stolen or suspicious inventory from being sold in any Rebag locations or online.” 

Other resellers are being proactive about the looting. Fashionphile reached out to the brands that they sell, department stores and even competitors who had been looted, asking for lists of items which had been stolen. "We don't want to buy the product in the first place," founder Sarah Davis explains. "We try to act proactively to implement things on our side; as long as [looters] getting paid, they have the motivation to continue."

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The bigger players in the market all have established protocol for weeding out stolen goods, whether that's using the aforementioned LeadsOnline database or working with local authorities. (In New York and California, resellers are obligated to follow the same laws as pawn shops when it comes to registering goods.) Davenport says her tech team already has algorithms pulled from her data set to detect listings of items which have potentially been stolen.

"People follow patterns," she says. "When a brand new person comes to this marketplace with items that are totally identifiable as brand new in the store — because that's the thing, they're going to advertise it to get the most bang for their dollar, so they're going to let the person know it's brand new — there's going to be certain aspects of the listing that will flag attention."

Fashionphile, too, has technology in place to identify this behavior, even for those who attempt to create multiple accounts. It won't accept multiples of the exact same item from the same seller — why would one person own three brand new, identical Celine bags, for example — and it requires receipts for brand-new items or pieces which are still in stores. 

The problem, Davis clarifies, is that the counterfeit paperwork has become even more believable than the counterfeit bags, in some cases, which makes it an imperfect system. Furthering the issue is that there's no centralized database for registering luxury goods. Davis compares it to the VIN numbers used by the automobile industry: "CarMax isn't buying stolen cars, because if they run the VIN number and it's stolen, they won't take it," she explains. The same is true in tech; serial numbers used by companies like Apple make stolen goods functionally useless. While companies like Chanel and Cartier assign in-house serial numbers, most companies don't use them at all, meaning once these goods leave the stores, there's no way to trace what happens to them. 

Of course, resellers take a big chunk of sales — anywhere from 20% to 40%, depending on the item, the value and the retailer. And getting paid for these items through the bigger secondhand markets leaves a paper trail. Davis thinks it's much more likely that these goods are being sold through places without much oversight, like Facebook Marketplace or through Instagram DMs. She says Fashionphile has been sent screenshots of items being listed on Instagram Stories, a virtually untraceable mode of moving product with no commission fees.

"The reality is, you could put it all on eBay or on Instagram where it's not traceable and you're not losing 30%, so quite frankly, we're not seeing a mass influx of this stuff, but I guarantee it's getting sold on all of these platforms," Davis says. "If you sell a Chanel bag to us, you're leaving your fingerprint and a government ID. Are you going to do that with a stolen product? No!"

At the end of the day, those who looted luxury goods were rebelling against a system of consumerism and, as stylist Law Roach put it to Page Six, "a hierarchy, to the people that made me feel like, 'You don’t belong here.'" It was more about what those goods represent than a potential payday. 

But for Davenport, that doesn't mean that sites like hers should be able to profit further from it. 

"This is a call to action, not just for the world, but for companies," she says. "Many consumers want to see the companies that they support and follow do more than a Black Lives Matter blackout; how are you really standing for this and what are you doing?" 

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