Tokyo: 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 hand-held 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% 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 $6.15 billion 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 Group Holding Ltd., 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."

Srinivasan and two New York University researchers, Ashlesh Sharma and Lakshminarayanan Subramanian, started Entrupy in 2012.

Entrupy in July raised $2.6 million from investors led by a venture between Tokyo-based Digital Garage Inc. and Daiwa Securities Group Inc. The money will be used to design a faster and more portable camera and add more brands to Entrupy’s list, according to Srinivasan. Bloomberg

Close