Portable scanner instantly detects fake designer bags – big in Hong Kong – and Singapore luxury reseller is an early investor

Entrupy takes microscopic photos and, using deep learning, compares them with database of genuine goods; reseller The Fifth Collection, based in Singapore, immediately saw scanner’s potential

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 May, 2017, 11:18am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 May, 2017, 11:18am

Counterfeits are a thorn in the side of luxury fashion brands, but they can be even more of a headache for resellers.

Consumers on the hunt for high-end clothing at a cheap price often seek out well-preserved second-hand pieces online, but hunting for legitimate goods in the global US$460 billion counterfeit industry (according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development data) is no easy task.

The report put the spotlight on Greater China as the largest producer of counterfeit goods. Hong Kong was listed at number one, with China as the number two “provenance economy”, meaning it either produces fakes or serves as a transit point for them. Of the total number of seizures, 63.2 per cent originated in China.

Given the ubiquity of fakes among resellers, buyers often examine pre-owned fashion to deduce authenticity, analysing stitching, font size and interior labels. But sometimes, a copy is just so well made that the human eye can’t tell it from the original.

That’s where technology can help.

Entrupy is a portable scanning device that instantly detects imitation designer bags by taking microscopic pictures that take into account details of the material, processing, workmanship, serial number and wear and tear. It then employs the technique of deep learning to compare the images against a vast database that includes top luxury brands and, if the bag is deemed authentic, users immediately get a Certificate of Authenticity.

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After launching as a paid service in September last year, the New York-based venture now has more than 130 paid customers, almost all of them American businesses drawn to the 97.1 per cent accuracy rate, says Entrupy chief executive Vidyuth Srinivasan.

Other investors include New York University, deep learning pioneer Yann LeCun, and Japanese venture capital firm Accord Ventures.

“We’re choosing to start with second-hand resellers initially as we see a huge lack of trust in the luxury goods space, especially online,” says Srinivasan.

In 2015, Singapore-based e-tailer The Fifth Collection, which specialises in second-hand luxury fashion, became one of Entrupy’s early investors.

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At the time, founders Nejla Matam-Finn and Michael Finn were self-funding The Fifth Collection and hadn’t even paid themselves a salary but they called the Entrupy investment a no-brainer.

“Authentication is core to our business and we have always strived to be at the cutting edge of the field,” the husband and wife duo explain. “This [Entrupy] was consistent with that vision and we felt it was worth the risk both for us and for the betterment of the second-hand luxury ecosystem.”

The sole player in Asia to possess Entrupy, The Fifth Collection says it has always guaranteed product authenticity thanks to an in-house curation process, so it wouldn’t be fair to charge customers for the verification service.

“This technology adds a new scientific dimension to our authentication arsenal, but the fundamental promise remains unchanged – why would we charge more for continuing to do exactly what we said we would do?”

Instead of an immediate return, The Fifth Collection gains an opportunity to become a leader within a new generation of luxury resellers committed to combatting piracy, explain Matam-Finn and Finn.

Entrupy isn’t the sole authentication technology on the market but its simplicity and ability to learn from every scanned item was a major draw for The Fifth Collection.

But what happens if Entrupy falls into the hands of a counterfeiter?

“We have mapped significant parts of how, where and when authentic goods were made, [so] for fakers to beat the system, they need to use the exact same specs as the authentic goods made in the last 100 years,” says Srinivasan. “I wouldn’t completely rule it out, but it is incredibly hard.”

Government needs to take a zero tolerance approach to counterfeiting in general, especially in places like Singapore that trade on their reputation for transparency
Nejla Matam-Finn

Still, technology can only do so much in the global fight against replicas.

State support and consumer awareness about unethical manufacturing practices are key, according to Matam-Finn.

“Government needs to take a zero tolerance approach to counterfeiting in general, especially in places like Singapore that trade on their reputation for transparency, trust and strong rule of law.”

Singapore regularly conducts raids and arrests individuals found selling or distributing goods with falsely applied trademarks but despite the threat of police action, fake goods remain pervasive in various retail areas.

All forms of intellectual property theft should be crushed in an effort to brand Singapore as the first counterfeit-free country, says Matam-Finn.