In this edition of the Getting To Know series, I am happy to introduce Gina Nixon from Authenticate First, The Leading Authority For High End Designer Authentications. If your a fan of resale then you have probably seen their logo or have heard their name being thrown around as one of the biggest handbag authentication companies around.
I was excited to talk with Gina to find out how her company works, how it started, what the future looks like and what is up with those negative online reviews! Gina was open and honest with all my questions and I look forward to watching her company grow!
How and why did you start authenticating handbags?
I started to learn to authenticate for my own needs. My first luxury handbag was a Louis Vuitton, and it turned out to be counterfeit. My heart broke, and my mind raced about all the money I had spent on a fake! I was new to luxury bags, so the money spent was a lot to me at that time. After that, I started to learn how to authenticate, so that I didn’t get taken again.
When did you start Authenticate First?
June 2013. We have been in business for a little over 3 years now, and going strong!
What is the process to authenticate a handbag? What do you look for?
To authenticate is like putting together a puzzle. There are many aspects to look for. Not only that, but you need to know what the counterfeit of that same bag looks like, so that you can accustom yourself to what the counterfeiters never get right. In general, we look at the stitching (color, thickness, accuracy), hardware engravings, fonts on hardware and heat stamps, lining material, embossing, zipper head and pull, external and internal material, logos, serial numbers, fronts and back of tags and labels. The process is to go over each of those aspects carefully, to see if a mistake has been made, or if it doesn’t match the designer standard in an authentic piece.
Which bags are the hardest to authenticate and which ones can you not authenticate?
Super fakes are the hardest to authenticate, which in general would be the newer bags in brands like Chanel, Givenchy, and Louis Vuitton. Due to this factor, we do not authenticate Chanel series 17 and higher. The counterfeiters will actually take an authentic bag apart, and pair it up with a fake, and then put it back together again. There’s no way to determine via photography on these type of situations. We recommend an in house inspection to our clients.
Do you authenticate the bags yourself? If not, how many authentication experts work for/with you?
Not anymore. When myself and my business partner started Authenticate First, we would authenticate the Louis Vuitton bags. However, we have always had authenticators to handle the other brands, ever since the beginning. As we began to grow, we had to stop authenticating, because the business aspect took up more of our time and attention. We have a team of authenticators worldwide, as a general rule, we have at least 2 experts for every brand. We also like to limit our experts to how many brands they authenticate for us. It’s hard to keep up with changes when you have to deal with multiple brands. We want to make sure that any manufacturing changes are kept up with.
Beside Chanel and Louis Vuitton, what is the most faked handbags?
Coach, Michael Kors, Prada, Celine, Fendi, and Givenchy would certainly top the list.
Word on the street is you authenticate for Fashionphile. Any other large companies you work with?
Yes, we are proud to work with many well-known clients. Our list includes Tradesy, Poshmark, Trendlee, Clothes Mentor, Goodwill, Snobswap, and Onquestyle to name a few.
How do you work with Poshmark? They are know for so many fakes on their marketplace. When does the actual authentication take place?
What does a typical day look like for you?
It’s not very exciting! Our days are completely computer based. First thing is to check emails, to see what came in overnight. We process any new orders first, then start working on photo requests from our authenticators, as well as finishing up the completed authentications. This means getting them ready for an emailed authentication, or a certificate of authentication. This typically takes an hour or so. After that, we work on other tasks while we wait for things to come in from our clients. Since our clients are on all different time zones, it’s a pretty steady steam throughout the day. Once in a while, we have conference calls with new clients, they want to speak with us personally go to over the authentication procedure, and get to know us and our business.
On average, how many authentications does your company process?
Hundreds per day, thousands per month. This does fluctuate, and we have our slow times. However, even during our peek seasons, we are proud to always meet or exceed our turnaround times. We have a full admin team to keep up on things. Speaking of which, I am proud to have employed a longtime friend who recently graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in Business, as well as 2 of her family members. They help myself, and my business partner Mary, keep things going smooth! We couldn’t do it without them.
Who is your favorite design house?
Louis Vuitton – I’ve been a fan for many years!
As you are probably aware, there are a few not so nice online reviews about your company. Care to respond?
Yes, of course. We’ve had 1 client in the past who likes to smear our company every time he gets the chance. It was our first business client, about 3 months or so after we opened. Everything went well for about 6 months, then we discovered that he was altering our authentication letters, and selling fakes under our name. After much deliberation, we decided to drop this person as a client. At the time, he had a fake Celine bag that was returned from his customer. When he got the bag back, he posted it for sale on Instagram! I couldn’t sit by and watch another victim buy the bag, so I called him out on it. Ever since then, it’s been a war. He posted a fictitious and slanderous “review” about us on a horrible website called “The Dirty”, opened up a Facebook account under our name, saying we are a scam, and has posted to other various social media spots, claiming we are scam artists. This could not be further from the truth. Unfortunately, this person is very cunning and can be very charming when he wants to be, so some people believe this as truth.
Besides that whole ordeal, we have a complaint here and there. Considering we authenticate thousands of items per month, and have been in business for 3+ years, I say we are doing pretty well. A few of the complaints are people who think they know more than our experts do, and we didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. We won’t bow down to people’s demands just to shut them up. We do what’s right, always. This is how we maintain our integrity, and have people’s trust.
Do you have any business associations or memberships?
Yes, we are a member of NARTS – the Association of Resale Professionals, as well as a member of the Better Business Bureau. We are proud of our A+ rating.
What’s in the future for Authenticate First?
To keep growing. We are always seeking out new business opportunities. Also, I am re-locating to the west coast in December. Southern California to be exact. This will give us the chance to visit with some of our clients in person, as well as seek out new clients. The majority of our clientele are websites and consignment shops, and I know there is a lot of opportunity and people that have not heard of us yet. We have a very bright future ahead of us!
If I might, I’d like to share what keeps up going in this business, despite the fact that it’s not always glamorous or “fun”. It’s the people who come to us for help. While we do work with many sellers, we also get clients who have been completely scammed by someone. This is our passion, to help these type of people. We’ve had ladies in the past, call us up crying. It honestly breaks our heart to hear their stories. Sometimes, they’ve lost thousands of dollars. They feel stupid, for falling for a scam, and not checking references, or authenticating prior to buying the item. Not only that, but many people save up for a long time to get their dream bag. So not only is their dream broken because they have a fake bag, but they are out a lot of money, and their trust is shattered. To help them get their money back is our greatest reward. Not to mention, we have to do a little bit of counseling, because most of us have been in their shoes! There is no better feeling than to know they were able to get their money back with our help.