An Impartial Thesis on the Subject of Sneaker Authenticity and the Early Release

ThinkPiece #001 (Part 2 of 3)




If you’re a sneakerhead, you’ve probably heard of such various terms as Authentic, Unauthorized Authentic, Fake/Counterfeit, and Replica/Knockoff. You may or may not have heard of the term B-Grade and/or Factory Variant being thrown around as well. While some of these terms are similar and related, we believe there are certain clear-cut distinctions within context that should be noted. Below, we attempt to loosely define and categorize them for clarity’s sake:


Category A: Authentic


Authentic is the easiest to define. A legitimate company designs and develops, manufactures and markets, and eventually, through their own authorized channels of retailers, distributes their own brand/line of sneakers. If purchased by a consumer, he/she has just copped an authentic pair of sneakers. It’s definitely not rocket science.


Category B: B-Grade/Factory Variant, Unauthorized Authentic (UA)


A B-Grade sneaker is one considered to be produced by the rightful maker, but that didn’t make the cut. For most legitimate manufacturers that develop product in volume, quality control is part of the process to ensure a certain level of standards. For whatever reason, those that don’t make the cut are considered B-Grade by the company. Whether the tongue is too short or the stitching length is off or slightly crooked, these minor variations, but not limited to, are possible indicators of why a particular sneaker might have not made the cut.


The Factory Variant term isn’t completely clear to us and may have the same meaning as B-Grade to some, but to others it might also suggest a shoe that is an unauthorized variation of an existing style of shoe manufactured at an authorized or unauthorized factory. For the most part, we define it as the former.


And finally, in our eyes, quite possibly one of the more important terms for this thinkpiece, the UA short for Unauthorized Authentic. UAs could loosely be defined as Authentic sneakers, but not having official permission by the brand to be released.


Quoting excerpts we found cited by @bryanbotakchin of @massesmy (google “unauthorized authentics massesmy” to find the cached link):


Major shoe companies do not stick to a set of factories to produce their shoes. They assign a certain number (i.e. 50,000) per model for each factory to produce. They will produce 20,000 to 30,000 extra pairs, some even 50,000 pairs. Reason being is that they need this [sic] extra pairs to replace the rejected pairs after they fail to pass quality inspection. But what gets left behind in the old factory is the 20,000-30,000 pairs of shoe [sic] that were rejected, or did not even get to see QC because the shoe company has already reached their quota. So that is how the term “UNAUTHORIZED AUTHENTIC” came about. All this [sic] extra pairs that are left over, are produced at the same factory, by the same workers, with the same material, just that they did not get licensed/authorized/quality checked by the shoe company OR [sic] rejected by the shoe company for not meeting their standards. The factory will then sell this [sic] left over shoes to sneaker resellers, sneaker dealers, and online stores.


(Although we're not necessarily sure about the numbers expressed above, we agree with the general idea.)


The excerpt shown below was taken directly from an actual online reseller that specifically (and seemingly proudly) markets themselves as a UA seller on their site:


Q: Are the shoes authentic?


A: Our shoes are UA shoes.“UA” stands for “Unauthorized Authentic”. UA shoes are very similar to retail Nike/Jordan Brand shoes but are never officially contracted with those companies to be made. UA shoes are usually made in the same factories, with the same materials, and the same workers that make the official retail pairs. They differ from replica sneakers because they are a much higher quality and many people cannot differ UA shoes from official products.


Category C: Counterfeit/Fake, Knockoff/Replica


Counterfeits/Fakes and Knockoffs/Replicas are basically the exact opposite of Authentic - sneakers that are imitated and unlawfully copied and reproduced and intended to knowingly deceive a consumer merely for someone or some entity’s financial gain. By nature, usually this category of product is more susceptible to subpar quality such as different materials, off colors and shapes, because, well, said entity didn’t build the brand and so they’re not really thinking long-term. Why would they put their blood, sweat and tears into it?  


To take it even further, some believe there are even subtle, yet clear distinction between counterfeits and fakes as compared to knockoffs and replicas in that the latter (specifically replicas) might be assumed by the reseller that the consumer understands said product is not authentic considering they are usually cheaper in price. This is where it gets very gray. Sometimes the knockoff or replica, whether intentional or unintentional, is blatantly different from an authentic. And although certain websites are actually infringing on trademarks and intellectual property, it seems understood or implied that most consumers know what they are paying for from such sites selling replicas. This could be analogous to (and the digital version of) seeing your favorite brands being sold at the swapmeet or a flea market back in the day. You might have copped them knowing they are fake. You might even see replica Jordans in made-up colorways that were never released. (Sidenote: There’s actually a very cool Complex article about fake shoe collectors.)


(To Be Continued...)

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