An exterior view of the RealReal’s West Hollywood store, which opened its doors in July 2018. (Image courtesy of The RealReal)
Arcadia High School

Opinion: The RealReal controversy spotlights the harmful side of influencer culture

The RealReal, a luxury consignment dealer, has recently faced scrutiny over allegations that its authentication process may not be as credible as the company may claim. 

For those unfamiliar with the consignment process, vendors sell used luxury items to the RealReal. Afterward, those items would be “authenticated by an expert” from which point they would be posted on the site, available for purchase. The company gave consumers interested in designer goods an opportunity to purchase items at a discounted price and access to vintage pieces not currently available in stores.

However, reports published by CNBC depict that the behind the scenes of The RealReal is anything but praiseworthy: the company often employs poorly-trained copywriters to authenticate products to meet extreme quotas set by the company for each employee. This is obviously problematic given the high price of luxury items and The RealReal’s insistence that every product on their website is “100% real.”

For example, a second-hand Chanel bag on the website can cost up to $6,000, depending on factors such as the bag’s material, origin collection, and age. Not to mention, fake designer items have become increasingly convincing and therefore, increasingly difficult to distinguish from real items. The idea of paying thousands and thousands of dollars for a potentially inauthentic bag is an issue.

So, what role do influencers play in this debacle? Over the past few years, The RealReal has created partnerships with influencers. These sponsorships involve paying influencers to advertise luxury products from the company on social media platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, and personal blogs. Influencers have made a profit off of advertising these products, designer products that have been checked by inexperienced copywriters who lack the resources and background knowledge to properly identify whether or not a bag is authentic.

However, The RealReal controversy isn’t the first time influencers have promoted harmful or falsely advertised products. Notably, influencers across the platform have promoted fast fashion brands such as SheIn and Fashion Nova, both of which have murky employee treatment laws.

Furthermore, numerous YouTubers were criticized for promoting BetterHelp, an online therapy service, because they were accused of using their fans’ mental health struggles for profit. Many believed that the influencers should have limited their promotion of the site to a simple link in the description boxes of their videos to help viewers, rather than exploit their viewers’ mental health struggles.

Recently, a myriad of influencers have promoted care/of, a vitamin brand that stands out because daily vitamins are packaged individually in aesthetically pleasing, custom wrapping. This alternative to traditional vitamin bottles is significantly more wasteful for the mere sake of being visually appealing.

Celebrities like the Kardashian-Jenners often promote harmful weight loss products that push the patriarchal narrative of what a woman’s body should look like and that can lead to the formation of destructive eating disorders in young girls.

The lesson to be learned in this circumstance is that influencers must operate with the awareness that they are responsible for the products that they promote. They must consider all of the stakes of advertising a product, outside of the financial benefit or how “on brand” the product may seem. Without this consideration, influencers contribute to amplifying the toxicity of the social media realm and negatively affect the consumerist choices of their impressionable audiences.

As for The RealReal, the company’s fate is unclear. In order to survive, the brand will have to either limit employee quotas or increase the number of employees on top of replacing under-informed copywriters with well-trained designer authenticators. Even so, regaining buyers’ trust will be one of the larger obstacles that the brand will have to face.